Tweeting for Hearts and Minds? Measuring Candidates’ Use of Anxiety in Tweets During the 2018 Midterm Elections
By Bryan T. Gervais, University of Texas at San Antonio, Heather K. Evans, University of Virginia’s College at Wise and Annelise Russell, University of Kentucky
This article considers whether candidates strategically use emotional rhetoric in social media messages similar to the way that fear appeals are used strategically in televised campaign advertisements. We use a dataset of tweets issued by the campaign accounts of candidates for the US House of Representatives during the last two months of the 2018 midterm elections to determine whether candidate vulnerability predicts the presence of certain emotions in social media messages. Contrary to theoretical expectations, we find that vulnerability does not appear to inspire candidates to use more anxious language in their tweets. However, we do find evidence of a surprising relationship between sad rhetoric and vulnerability and that campaign context influences the use of other forms of negative rhetoric in tweets.