What the 2022 midterm candidates tweeted about at the federal, state, local level

As Election Day approaches, candidates for office at the federal, state and local levels are vying for the support of the voting public both online and off. A new Pew Research Center analysis of the Twitter accounts of more than 8,000 candidates nationwide shows that online campaigning is in full swing. Since the beginning of the year, candidates for office at all levels of government have shared nearly 3.4 million tweets, including nearly 14,000 tweets per day in October.

Here are some key themes of how candidates used Twitter during the 2022 campaign:

The Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to understand the themes that candidates for all levels of US political office have emphasized on Twitter as the 2022 campaign draws to a close. To conduct this analysis, the researchers obtained a list of candidates running for office at the federal, state and local levels in 2022 and who have a public-facing Twitter account. The researchers then collected all tweets shared by those accounts between January 1 and October 24, 2022. The center then classified each of the nearly 3.4 million tweets based on the topics mentioned in the tweet, as well as whether the tweet was retweeted. Tweets refer to candidates’ opponents or individuals from national political parties. For details, read the full procedure.

One in five candidate tweets in 2022 mentioned race, abortion, education or the economy. In opinion polls, the economy consistently ranks among the most important issues for registered voters ahead of Election Day. But on Twitter, discussions of candidates across the country have focused on a number of issues – with the economy as key areas of focus as well as race and ethnicity, abortion and education rankings.

A bar chart shows that race, abortion, education and the economy are among the most mentioned topics among the 2022 midterm candidates on Twitter.

Tweets mentioning these topics accounted for nearly 20% of all political candidate posts in 2022 and had the highest average weekly rankings during the study period. More than three-quarters of the candidates included in this analysis tweeted about these four topics at least once in 2022.

Democrats generated most of the candidates’ tweets around issues such as climate change and abortion, while Republicans generated most around immigration.. Across all three levels of government, Democratic candidates generated the majority of all tweets regardless of topic (55% of the total). Republican candidates made up just 33% of all tweets. This pattern aligns with other Pew Research Center studies showing that Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Republicans and GOP-leaning to use Twitter in general.

A bar chart shows that Republicans made up nearly two-thirds of all candidate tweets mentioning immigration in 2022.

But in addition to these differences in basic tweeting behavior, there are partisan differences in how political candidates are discussing specific issues this year. So far in 2022, nearly three-quarters of Democratic candidates mention LGBTQ+ issues and identities, and two-thirds or more mention environmental issues or abortion.

By contrast, Republican candidates generated nearly two-thirds of tweets about immigration — nearly double the GOP’s total share of candidate tweets overall. Republican candidates generated a larger share of tweets mentioning issues such as foreign policy (43%) and taxes (43%).

“Critical Race Theory” vs. “Systematic Racism”: Republicans and Democrats often use different language when talking about the same broad issue area. Republicans and Democrats often use very different language in their tweets, even when posting about the same general topic. For example, in their tweets mentioning race, Republican candidates often refer to the Black Lives Matter movement and use phrases like “critical race theory” and “wook”. In contrast, Democrats’ tweets about race are characterized by terms like “equity,” “inequality,” or “systemic racism.”

A chart shows that Democratic and Republican candidates use different language on Twitter, even when talking about the same topic.

When discussing the economy, Republicans and Democrats usually refer to inflation or the cost of living. However, Republicans often frame the issue with terms like “crushing”, “skyrocketing” or “bidenflation”, while Democrats usually refer to “recovery” and frame inflation with terms like “price gouging” and “corporate greed”.

Although a recent survey by the Center found that Republican voters are more likely than Democrats to consider violent crime a serious problem, candidates from both parties tweeted about violent crime at similar rates throughout the year. However, Republican candidates’ tweets about crime are often characterized by words such as “murder” or “robbery” and refer to urban areas such as “Chicago” or “NYC”. In contrast, Democratic candidates often frame violent crime in the context of mass gun violence, particularly in schools.

Republican candidates are more likely than Democrats to use negative language on Twitter—in general and for all major issues studied. When examining all candidates’ tweets in 2022, Republican candidates were more likely to take a negative tone: 33% of Republicans’ tweets used negative language, compared to 25% of Democrats’ tweets. Republican candidates are most likely to use negative language when discussing issues such as immigration (54% of such tweets from Republicans were negative in tone), the economy (53%), the pandemic (51%), climate policy (46%). and LGBTQ+ issues (45%).

In fact, none of the 16 key issues identified in this study saw a greater share of negative tweets from Democratic candidates than Republican candidates.

A bar chart shows that across many issues, GOP candidates are more likely to use a negative tone on Twitter than Democrats.

Discussions of the economy were a constant on Twitter during the 2022 campaign, but other topics fluctuated over time. Candidates’ tweets mentioning the economy have been relatively consistent in terms of overall activity, with Democrats and Republicans leading the way in terms of total tweets mentioning the economy from week to week. Similarly, immigration has been a relatively consistent theme, except for a small increase coinciding with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision in September to send immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

Other topics have shifted in both overall volume and biased composition over the course of the year. For example, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, caused significant spikes in tweets by candidates mentioning abortion and guns, respectively. And in each case, Democratic candidates continued to tweet about these issues at significantly higher rates than Republicans.

A line graph shows that candidate tweets about certain topics — including abortion, foreign policy, guns and immigration — spike in response to news events.

After a brief period of interest early in the year, candidate talk about the COVID-19 pandemic has largely faded from view. A defining event of recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic, has largely faded from the political conversation during the 2022 campaign. Candidates for office have tweeted nearly 70,000 times about the pandemic since Jan. 1, but nearly half (46%) of those tweets were posted in the first three months of the year. From September 1 to October 24, candidates mentioned the pandemic in just over 11,000 tweets.

For registered voters, the pandemic has also slipped as a campaign issue. In an October survey by the center, only 23% of voters said that COVID-19 was very important to their vote this year — the lowest percentage of the 18 issues asked in the survey, and down from 33% in March.

As Election Day approaches, partisan antagonism has become more common in candidates’ tweets. As the campaign progressed, candidates from both parties mentioned the opposition — including certain prominent government officials — more frequently in their tweets. The overall volume of these tweets increased from about 5,000 per week in the early stages of the campaign to about 10,000 per week by October. And when candidates did mention the opposition, those references were almost universally negative. Some 95% of these tweets expressed disapproval, while less than 4% expressed some level of agreement.

A chart shows that candidates often mention the opposition on Twitter — and almost always to express disagreement

In tweets mentioning specific issues measured in this study, Republican candidates mentioned Democrats in 20% of their tweets, while Democrats mentioned Republicans in only 11% of their tweets. Republican candidates are particularly likely to mention Democrats in tweets about issues such as foreign policy, taxes, climate and environment, the economy, immigration and energy production. Meanwhile, Democrats are particularly likely to mention Republicans in tweets about the Jan. 6 hearing, tax policy, immigration and abortion rights.

Mentioned by political candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump have mentioned many problem areas on Twitter every time. Although 2022 is not a presidential election year, Joe Biden and Donald Trump each loom large on political candidates’ Twitter feeds. About 4% of candidate tweets mentioned the current president or former president—comparable to the share of candidate tweets that mentioned the economy.

Although Democratic and Republican candidates mentioned Trump in comparable shares of their tweets this year, Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to mention Biden or his administration (5% of tweets vs. 1.6% of tweets). Mentions of Biden are most common among Republican candidates at the federal level (7% of tweets in this group mention the Biden administration), but they are also fairly common among GOP candidates at the state and local levels (3% and 2% of tweets, respectively).

References to bipartisanship on candidates’ Twitter accounts this year are largely non-existent. Over the years, neither party’s candidate has said much about bipartisanship. Democrats were about three times more likely than Republicans to mention cooperation across borders, but even among Democratic candidates, the concept was mentioned in only 0.3% of tweets — versus just 0.1% of Republicans’ tweets.

Candidates in California contributed heavily to Twitter discussions about climate change, while candidates in Texas contributed heavily to discussions on immigration. California candidates posted 8% of all candidate tweets in the center’s analysis, but about 18% of tweets mentioning climate change or environmental issues. Similarly, candidates in Texas accounted for about 10% of all tweets, but about 20% of tweets mentioned immigration during the campaign.

Nearly two-thirds of all tweets from candidates running for office in 2022 did not mention any of the 16 issues included in this analysis. Much of the Twitter conversation between political candidates this year has focused on something other Center than the 16 key issues classified in this analysis. Much of this content seems to be less about discussing the issues and more about raising general support and awareness for the candidates and their campaigns.

Note: For details on how we conducted this analysis, read the full methodology.

Sono Shah A computational social scientist focusing on data science at the Pew Research Center.

Samuel Bestwater A computational social scientist focusing on data science at the Pew Research Center.

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