October 2, 2013

On Twitter: Dueling views on the shutdown and Obamacare

FT_13.10.02_shutdownTwitter_420pxThe simultaneous Oct. 1 shutdown of the federal government and launch of the health insurance exchange portion of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) have become inextricably linked in the current partisan showdown in Washington.

In recent days, two separate, but related conversations have taken place on Twitter—one about the government shutdown and the other about the ACA, the landmark legislation at the heart of the Congressional impasse that triggered the shutdown.

Opinions about the shutdown in the run-up to the deadline were dominated by those opposed to it and who largely blamed Republicans. But there was more conversation on Twitter about the ACA than the shutdown in those three days, and views there were driven by opponents of the program and were largely critical of the president.

FT_Govt_ShutThe Pew Research Center analyzed about 600,000 tweets that directly referred to the government shutdown from September 27-30. The largest component of the conversation (35% of the assertions) was made up of tweets relaying straight news accounts and information without comment, while 26% focused on impact of a government shutdown, such as the effects on the stock market, federal employees or the economy as a whole.

Almost a quarter of the conversation about the shutdown (23%) focused on who was to blame. And, by more than a 3:1 margin, the verdict was clear: In the discussion focused on finding fault, 77% of the assertions on Twitter blamed Republicans in Congress while 23% blamed Democrats in Congress or Obama.

In the same time period, there was substantially more Twitter conversation (900,000 tweets) about the health care law than the shutdown.  In this case, the single biggest component of that conversation (43%) involved expressions of support or opposition to Obamacare. Here, the verdict was almost the exact opposite of the shutdown sentiment. Of the Twitter conversation that included opinions, 71% opposed the health care law while 29% either supported the measure or opposed the Republican efforts to defund it.

Almost as much of the Obamacare conversation (42%) focused on straight news as opinions over the law (43%). Much less of the discussion involved the implementation of the health care changes. Confusion and concerns about potential problems associated with implementing the law made up 10%, while messages pointing people to where they could get information about enrolling in the new exchanges made up 5%. (The analysis ended on Monday, Sept. 30, the day before the exchanges became active.)

Note: You can see the methodology for this analysis here.

Topics: Health Care, Domestic Affairs and Policy, Government Spending and the Deficit, Social Media

  1. Photo of Paul Hitlin

    is a senior researcher focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Nancy Vogt

    is a research analyst focusing on journalism research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Eric3 years ago

    Curiously, how did you classify the tweets? Did you algorithmically determine the topics as news, jokes, support/opposition towards democrats and republicans? If so, is there any supplementary information on your methods?

  2. Courtney4 years ago

    You misspelled Affordable as “Afforable” in the graph 🙂

    1. Andrea Caumont4 years ago

      Thanks Courtney, this should be fixed now.

  3. David Dickinson4 years ago

    Okay, but how many people support the Affordable Care Act while opposing “Obamacare”? A lot of people don’t know that they’re the same thing, but they support the ACA even though they say they oppose “Obamacare”. Also, it is necessary to say why people oppose Obamacare. Some oppose it because it strengthens insurance companies’ hold on our health care finance system. They want a single-payer system and believe that Obamacare is inefficient and insufficient. Others oppose it because they want a completely capitalistic health care finance system. Those two groups do not support each other even though they both oppose Obamacare. Finally, how many of the people who oppose Obamacare would rather have that than nothing?

    Those and similar questions must be answered before there is any meaning to polls about Obamacare. Such reports as this only add to the noise. They do not shed light on how the American people want to fund their health care system.

    1. Brian3 years ago

      I’m sure that most people don’t actually look at the details of Obamacare. All they hear is the bad stuff that the media (which is primarily controlled by who?) shows the public. Moreover, a big reason that Obamacare is insufficient is because it was like trying to nail a feather to a rock when Democrats tried to work with Republican-dominated congress. If you really do follow the paper trail, you will find that at nearly all the clogs in congress were caused by Rebublicans.

      1. Joseph Mosebar2 years ago

        Bad stuff? Brian, really from the news media? You & I must read & watch different sources. My concern has been funding. Here we are two years later & health care cost for 2016 will increase 36 o/o. I am on the finance committee for a very small company. We won’t be able to buy ins. For 5 employees. We’ll have to let them buy their own (for which they can get it cheaper). If we increase their salary to offset their cost they’ll pay more in taxes & thereby lose the difference. Let’s just declare the Democratic Party the Socialist Party & be done with it.

  4. Meredith4 years ago

    Interesting data on AFA and shutdown. Need to keep in mind the demographics of those using Twitter, as well as the percentage of users who may have opinions, but elect not to express them on those venues.

  5. Angela4 years ago

    I like to know why people will be punished at the end of the year when they do their taxes.
    if they do not want health care? I think it should be a choice not a punishment. Is Obama trying to make a name for himself? I am sure when he leaves office it will be voted out.
    What amazes me is the food stamp programs. How people receiving food stamps are also receiving free food for their children in other program Especially when a family is receiving 1000 dollars in food stamps every month. I seen people selling their food stamps for drugs and cash.These are programs the government need to investigate into. They are being abused. A lot of people are getting tired of their tax dollars being use for lazy people . Make these lazy people get off their lazy asses and go to work. There are the jobs out there. They use excuses not to go to work, so lame.

    1. Leslie4 years ago

      If you do not want to have any health care insurance because you cannot afford any health care insurance, you will not pay the $95 fine in April 2015 when you file your tax return.

      If you choose an individual plan on your own, or work and get health care coverage as an employee benefit, you will not pay any fine.

      The food stamp program primarily serves the poor, the unemployed, the under-employed and working poor who cannot afford to feed themselves and their families.

      The average family of four, food stamp benefit is $668. If anyone works, 30% of their income is deducted from their allotment. For a family of four earning only $900 each month, their food stamp allotment would be: $668 – 30% ($270) = $398. That’s $13.26 a day for the four people, or $3.32 a day to feed one person.

      You go out and try that Angela. Try eating with only $3.32 each day and every day.

      When you want the government to “make these lazy people . . . go to work” there have to be jobs for everyone, and jobs that pay enough for people to buy food with their own wages each month.

      Now, Angela, you write a letter or e-mail to your representative in Congress and you tell them the USDA website that advises people about food stamps is shut down, along with the rest of the government, because the Republicans are obsessed with repealing a law that gives everyone health care insurance. And tell them 47 million Americans go hungry when they go to bed tonight.

      Stop using excuses for not contacting your Congress members. Do something worthwhile.

    2. Ray4 years ago

      The reason for mandatory health insurance is because there would be a market failure in the insurance industry now that they lack the ability to differentiate rates based on pre-existing conditions. If all rates are equal and insurance companies set their rates to cover costs (or make a profit), healthy individuals will be paying more than before, while individuals with pre-existing conditions will be paying less. In this scenario, if health insurance coverage weren’t mandatory, some healthy people would opt out, meaning the insurance companies would raise rates to cover the costs of having a higher percentage of people with pre-existing conditions. Those higher rates would cause more healthy individuals to opt out, and the cycle would continue until it fails.

      The other reason is that without affordable health insurance, people were postponing medical treatment until a point where it would be necessary for them to go to an emergency room. Legally, a patient can’t be denied care, even if they can’t pay for it and the hospitals make up that money by charging more to those who do have insurance. Mandatory insurance makes it so that the monetary burden doesn’t translate directly into higher healthcare costs, which again creates a reinforcing cycle where healthcare costs go up, so people postpone more, and so on.

      I have to ask, if you think people shouldn’t have to pay for healthcare if they don’t want to, does that mean when they do get sick (everyone does eventually) that they only get care up to the point they can pay for it? Should we swipe our credit card when we’re wheeled into a hospital and get treated until our card is declined and then thrown out?

      1. cindycindysat2000@yahoo.com4 years ago

        this is a comment from a small individual. I’m 55 live in michigan, made 9,090 last year. I keep a roof over my head , no help from the state , would love to get a little help for a yearly exam. Call me what you want . But when I call for a doctor for a exam and I’m refused because I have neither insurance or medicade. What the f***. So the lump I have or the rash , or the lack of any medical services if I can’t pay half of my monthly wages, by the way, go to keeping that roof over my head. There are people worse off than me. I’m sick of hearing that it’s a extra benefits. Do they not remember Franklin D. Roosevelt . he helped our country, remember your history, or repeat it

        1. cindycindysat2000@yahoo.com4 years ago

          by the way i was talking about how fdr created a system helping people . and now the crazy old white guys that benefited from that generosity what to strip it from this country.

    3. Brian3 years ago

      I used to think similarly but I was wrong in thinking that a lot of people on food stamps sell them for drugs or even buy drugs. But in light of recent news, ” in Utah, only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening. The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people.” (Daily Beast, August 30, 2013)
      The fact is that the percentage of people who use drugs while accepting food stamps is actually lower than the national average.
      Also, speaking from personal experience, it is not easy to find a job that you can support yourself on. My dad, a certified dental technician and my girlfreinds mother, a certified hygenist (ironic huh?) have been unemployed for 5 and 3 years respectively. Sure they have each held several jobs for a few months in between but were let go because the employer didn’t have enough money to pay more workers. You cannot support a family on minimum wage even with food stamps.
      I personally blame the people who support the growing income inequality (ahem, Tea Party). According to the inflation projection, minumum wage should be $22. But of course, that would cut into the profits of the CEOs who own their billion-dollar corporations.