The Coronavirus Conversation

As the Coronavirus pandemic captures the nation’s attention and impacts everyday life, we took a look at what people are saying about the national emergency on Twitter.

In the last week alone, there were 158.8 million tweets about the Coronavirus – an increase of roughly 120 million tweets from the week prior. Among topics that we analyzed for this report, the government’s response to the Coronavirus drove the largest share of conversation, with 13.5 million tweets about the federal, state and local government. Outside of government-focused conversations, people talked in equal numbers about the social impact and business impact of the pandemic.

Who is driving the conversation?

Key influencers were identified using GPG’s Network Influencer Tool, which analyzes participation, engagement, connections, information-sharing and reach within a given topic to determine overall influence scores and rankings of those involved.

As the Coronavirus conversation took off during the last week, the most influential people on Twitter were the President, the CDC, and media outlets and journalists. Celebrities also influenced the conversation as they encouraged people to #stayhome.


Conversation about the Government and Coronavirus

Actions by the federal government have captured more attention than state and local leaders.

Influential people in government and the media tweeted directly at the President to issue calls to action to address the Coronavirus pandemic. Tweets were often partisan, drawing contrasts between responses from the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Others called for a change in rhetoric after President Trump referred to Coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”

Conversation about state and local governments was more limited but peaked on March 16th as more governors and mayors took action to limit public gatherings and shut down bars and restaurants.


Conversation about the Coronavirus Impact on Social Issues

The impact on education dominated the conversation about the social impact of Coronavirus, especially early in the week as K-12 schools, colleges and universities began to announce remote learning plans and closures.

Most used Twitter as a way to share information broadly about school closures. Some also engaged in conversation to pressure more districts to close classrooms (e.g. tweeting at Mayor DeBlasio to close NYC schools). School conversations sometimes overlapped with food security conversations as people worried about students who rely on school meals.

Most of the paid leave conversation focused on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Some also took to Twitter to call on specific companies to expand paid leave policies for their employees. Senator Sanders shared a message on Twitter to pressure Jeff Bezos to guarantee paid sick leave to Amazon’s 800 thousand workers in warehouses, which thousands liked and retweeted.

Conversation about elder care was driven by local leaders who shared information about steps to protect adults age 65+ who are most at risk. Individuals also tweeted reminders to remotely check in on elderly neighbors, family and friends without putting them at risk.


Conversation about the Coronavirus Impact on Industry

Sports dominated the conversation, followed by airlines.

Early in the week, most of the sports conversation focused on breaking news about delayed seasons and events. Some tweeted about comments from President Trump early in the week when he expressed concern that the NFL would follow the NHL’s lead and preemptively delay the season. As more NBA players tested positive for the virus, a debate emerged on Twitter about whether it is fair to prioritize access to testing for the rich and famous. A tweet by MSNBC contributor David Corn that shared President Trump’s comments on the debate over who should have access to testing gained some traction online.

Following sports, conversation about airlines was the most dominant. People shared news about airlines cutting back on flights and debated whether they should be bailed out by the federal government. Many took to Twitter to oppose a federal bailout for airlines, which they accused of unfairly increasing ticket prices and prioritizing profits over consumers. As travel restrictions intensified, Twitter also became a platform to raise awareness of long lines at airports and chaotic scenes that put travelers at risk of contracting the virus.


Conversation about the Coronavirus Impact on the Economy

Americans worried about the economic impact of the virus. Equal attention was paid to the impact on small businesses and big business bailouts.

Twitter was a popular platform to share daily updates on stock market performance and draw historical comparisons to 2008, 1987 and the Great Depression. It also became a place for speculation about how the Trump Administration will act to stimulate the economy (e.g. bailouts for big business, lowering interest rates, banning stock buy-backs, universal basic income).

There was more sympathy on Twitter for small business than big business. Many described small business owners as “the backbone” of local economies and took to Twitter to share information about different opportunities for individual Americans to support small businesses in their communities. People also tweeted support for federal legislation to provide relief for small businesses (e.g. payroll tax holidays).

The Trail

“Most Popular”: A Tale of Three Front-Runners

As the campaign trail heats up, we took a look at nationwide polling, online engagement, and FEC fundraising filings to see how candidates compare across three key metrics—and we’re starting to get a clearer picture.

As the 2020 Democratic presidential field continues to shrink, we took a look at candidates’ performances across three key metrics: polling, social media engagement, and fundraising.

In the first two categories, all five candidates are ranked in the same order. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) takes a particularly strong lead when it comes to average retweets, with over double the amount of his next closest opponent—4,686 to former Vice President Joe Biden’s 1,966.

When it comes to fundraising, the remaining billionaire, self-funding former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, cinches a clear lead, with over $200 million in contributions. That’s twice more than Sanders, who comes in second with over $109 million, but whose campaign is funded largely by individual contributions under $200.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) came in a consistent fourth in polling and average retweets, but edged out Biden for total contributions.

With voters in 14 states making their choices tomorrow, we’ll be watching to see if their votes line up accordingly.

The Trail

“Most Mentioned”: Who is Trump’s Achilles Heel?

Here at The Conversation, we spend a lot of time studying the President’s tweets. We analyzed how, and how much, he discussed the 2020 candidates during the month of February. The goal? To try and figure out who he feels poses the greatest risk.

Over the month of February, we analyzed the number of times President Donald Trump mentioned 2020 Democratic candidates to see who is—and isn’t—at the top of his mind.

The result? Trump loves to insult former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who he also calls “Mini Mike,” during his performance in the February 19th debate in Las Vegas, calling him a “pathetic debater” and “stumbling, bumbling and grossly incompetent.”

In contrast, although Trump has previously tweeted frequently about “Crazy Bernie” in the context of Russia, his tenor towards Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been different lately. A recent tweet: “Congratulations Bernie, & don’t let them take [the Nevada caucuses] away from you!

On the opposite end of the mention spectrum, Trump only tweeted about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) four times during the month of February.

Does Pres. Trump’s encouragement of Sanders mean he views him as less of a threat to his reelection bid than Bloomberg? Does largely ignoring Warren mean that he views her as the smallest threat—or the biggest? Only time will tell.

The Trail

“Most Followed”: Follower Growth by Debate

After each Democratic primary debate, who grew their followers the most?

For some candidates, exciting or unexpected debate performances can drive online follower counts. We took a look at how the debates have played out online through follower growth.

Of the remaining candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has seen the most follower growth of any Democratic candidate following each of the seven debates. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was a steady second.

Since he began qualifying for debates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has replaced Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) in third place when it comes to follower growth rankings, as she has not qualified for recent debates.

Perhaps most surprising is former Vice President Joe Biden’s low rankings, which do not reflect his high polling performance.

Could follower growth rankings signify waxing or waning enthusiasm for certain candidates? With 1,357 delegates at stake tomorrow, we’ll soon find out.

The Trail

Twitter Feed, Twitter Feed on the Wall, Who’s The Most Popular of Them All?

Over the month of January, former Vice President Joe Biden took the lead for most mentions by journalists. But the candidate mentions in the broader Twitter universe tell a very different story.

As primary season heats up, Democratic candidates are fighting to be heard on all platforms. So The Conversation took a look at which candidates’ handles Twitter users and political journalists were mentioning most.

During the first month of 2020, Washington, D.C. journalists and pundits mentioned the Twitter handles of Former Vice President Joe Biden; former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg the most. Other than Biden’s peak in early January, pushing him to the top of the list, candidates’ Twitter handle mentions all had peaks and troughs, with slight differences in volume.

But candidates’ handle mentions from users across the wider Twitter universe told a very different story. Twitter users at large mentioned Sanders the most, 4.3 million more times than Biden, the most mentioned candidate among journalists. In a surprise twist, entrepreneur Andrew Yang was the third-most mentioned candidate overall, with two million mentions—despite not making it into the journalists’ top five. And Bloomberg, the fifth-most mentioned candidate by D.C. journalists and pundits, couldn’t crack the top five overall.

What does the chasm between D.C. journalists and pundits’ and Twitter users’ mentions say about candidates’ popularity? Tonight, we’ll start to find out.

The Trail

DC State of Mind

Between impeachment, coronavirus, and Iran, there’s been no shortage of news in January. But who’s talking about what? Our analysis of tweets from 2020 Democratic presidential candidates and D.C. journalists and pundits is telling.

As the first caucuses and primaries of the 2020 presidential election approach, The Conversation looked at…the conversation on Twitter among presidential candidates and Washington, D.C. journalists and pundits. In comparing their top terms, we found that candidates are much more focused on the campaign trail than D.C. journalists and pundits—though both mention Trump most of all.

Between January 1-27, Democratic hopefuls were focused on campaign milestones, frequently using terms including “Iowa,” “DemDebate,” “New Hampshire,” and “2020.” The candidates often mention President Trump in discussing how they will beat him.

Meanwhile, D.C. journalists and pundits are clearly spending most of their time talking about impeachment, overwhelmingly mentioning terms such as “Senate,” “Ukraine,” “Bolton,” “House,” and of course, Trump himself—over 3,000 times. And if you compare that to the top topics of Trump’s campaign ads—the media, immigration, impeachment, and the economy—there is little overlap.

As voting starts, will media attention turn increasingly towards the Democratic campaign trail—or will Trump continue to dominate the headlines? We’ll be watching.