Politics in the United States have witnessed a surge in negativity, with many attributing this trend to the influence of former President Donald Trump. However, a recent study sheds light on whether Trump is indeed responsible for the escalating negative tone in American politics.
Published in the esteemed journal Scientific Reports, this groundbreaking study seeks to fill the void in our understanding of how political language evolved during Trump's tenure in office. While the perception was that politics had grown coarser and more negative after Trump's election in 2016, concrete evidence had been lacking.
Robert West, a co-author of the study and professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, stated, "In 2016, when Trump was elected president, everyone had the impression that the tone of politics had become rougher, uglier, and more negative." However, the absence of data connecting news quotations to their sources hindered researchers from confirming this impression.
Data Collection Effort
To address this data gap, West and his colleagues embarked on a four-year endeavor to compile a comprehensive collection of quotes. By the time their collection was complete, Trump's presidency had concluded, and they had amassed an astounding quarter-billion quotes from 127 million online news sources, spanning from mid-2008 to April 2020.
This vast dataset was organized into a publicly accessible search tool known as Quotebank, allowing others to explore quotes based on keywords. In the U.S. section alone, there were over 24 million quotes from more than 18,000 politicians.
Using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count tool, the researchers analyzed the quotes for tone and content. Quotes were assessed based on whether they evoked negative emotions, and the results were striking. The study revealed a significant increase in the use of negative language coinciding with Trump's entry into politics, particularly during the 2016 primary campaigns that began in June 2015.
Furthermore, the prevalence of negative language persisted throughout the study period, which concluded in April 2020, aligning with a surge in political polarization on online platforms. The study's authors explicitly identified Trump as a key driver of this negative trend.
Intriguingly, when the researchers excluded Trump's quotes from their analysis, the frequency of negative language dropped by a substantial 40 percent. This compelling finding underscores the significant impact Trump had on shaping the negative discourse in American politics.