Strafing, Spats, and Skirmishes: Social Dynamics of Negative Campaigning on Twitter
27 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2016 Last revised: 13 Jul 2016
Date Written: June 22, 2016
What drives candidates to “go negative” and — in the case of multiple candidates — against whom? Using a unique dataset consisting of all tweets made by the seventeen Republican presidential candidates in the 2016 contest, we assess predictors of negative affect in online interactions with other candidates. Twitter is a free platform, and candidates therefore face no resource limitations when using Twitter; this makes Twitter a wellspring of information about the sort of campaigning candidates might do given unlimited resources. We find that tweet negativity within the network increases as the election approaches. In virtually none of the candidate pairs characterized by asymmetric negativity are attacks waged by a higher-status on a lower-status candidate. We also find support for the idea that tightening competition leads to increased negativity among all candidates (even and especially among frontrunners). Finally, we demonstrate that overall inter-candidate tweeting intensifies as the field narrows, with tweets per dyad per week increasing by orders of magnitude at each stage of the race.
Keywords: social network analysis, social media, campaigns and elections, U.S. presidential elections, Twitter
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