The aims of this study were:
- To evaluate vaccine-related tweets posted by state and federal legislators during the COVID-19 era and to describe the content of these tweets;
- To examine the differences in vaccine-related tweet content between Democrats and Republicans; and
- To quantify partisan differences in vaccine-related communication.
These authors abstracted all vaccine-related tweets produced by state and federal legislators between February 1, 2020, and December 11, 2020. They used latent Dirichlet allocation to define the tweet topics and used descriptive statistics to describe differences by party in the use of topics and changes in political polarization over time. They included 14,519 tweets generated by 1463 state legislators and 521 federal legislators.
The authors found that Republican and Democratic legislators used different language in their Twitter conversations about vaccination during the COVID-19 era, leading to increased political polarization of vaccine-related tweets.
Other studies have found associations between politicized discussion of vaccination and decreased support of vaccine mandates and intention to vaccinate. These findings suggest that the language politicians use to communicate with their constituents about vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic may play an important role in determining vaccine uptake.
Communication about vaccination from state and federal legislators is also of particular importance given that, in addition to communicating with their constituents, these legislators enact policies that impact vaccine development and distribution.
Dr. Buttenheim and team concluded in their JMIR Publications Research Output that “Republican and Democratic legislators engaged in substantively different conversations about vaccination on Twitter during the COVID-19 era, which led to an increase in political polarization of vaccine-related tweets throughout much of the pandemic. Republicans were engaged in a focused conversation about the successful development of a vaccine, and Democrats used a broader range of topics, which was more consistent with public health messaging about vaccination. These patterns have the potential to contribute to vaccine hesitancy, and future research is needed to determine the real-world impact of political communication on COVID-19 vaccine uptake.”
Keywords: social media, Twitter, vaccination, partisanship, COVID-19, vaccine, natural language processing, NLP, hesitancy, politicization, communication, linguistic, pattern
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