A new study of nearly a million tweets from over 10,000 Twitter users has found a person’s political ideology can be determined from the words they use.
Researchers discovered that liberals swear more, conservatives are more likely to talk about religion, and liberals use more individual words like “me” while conservatives opt more for the group-oriented “us.”
Investigators from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) studied tweets sent between two weeks in June of 2014. The tweets were sent by followers of either Republican (conservatives) or Democrat (liberals) party Twitter accounts.
While liberals are more likely to swear, with “f__k” and “s__t” in their top ten most used words (after the most commonly used English words are removed), the researchers believe this is associated with their use of more emotionally expressive language.
Liberals were also more likely than conservatives to express positive emotions, and to use language associated with anxiety and feelings.
Conservatives were found to be more likely to discuss religion, with “god” and “psalm” being popular words.
As might be expected, there were also clear differences in the discussion of politics and topical issues. In this case, liberals were more likely to discuss international news, frequently mentioning “Kenya,” where 60 people were killed in violent attacks during the time of the study, and “Delhi” which was also regularly in the news at the time.
However, while you’d expect Democrats to mention Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi regularly, it was actually Republicans who talked about their opposition most, while Democrats conversely were more likely to talk about Dick Cheney.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, showed that the language used on Twitter fits with previous understanding of the psychology of liberal and conservative people.
For example, previous studies suggested that liberals have a greater sense of their own uniqueness, whereas conservatives are more likely to emphasize group identity and consensus.
In the current study, researchers found this preference also surfaces in everyday language on Twitter, with liberals more likely than conservatives to use words like “I” and “me,” while conservatives use words like “we” and “our” more.
Researchers believe the clear distinctions between the language used by conservatives and liberals could make it possible to identify the political leanings of tweeters, and give pollsters a greater understanding of political conversations on social media.
The language identified may also help online networks better understand people’s psychological characteristics.
Dr. Matthew Purver, from Queen Mary University of London and co-author of the report, said, “Open social media provides a huge amount of data for use in understanding offline behavior. The way people talk and interact on Twitter can provide a more robust and natural source for analyzing behavior than the traditional experiments and surveys.
“The results closely matched our predictions based on existing understanding of political supporters’ psychology. This means we could use Twitter data in future to better understand people’s behavior and personality, while also using psychological research to understand more about Twitter users.”