PBO vs. BHO: The Twitter Differences Between Democrats and Republicans

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

James Pethokoukis points me to a paper in PLOS ONE about different word usage on Twitter among Democrats and Republicans. Some of it was unsurprising. Democrats curse more, use more internet slang, and are more touchy-feely. Republicans are more religious and like to emphasize group identities.

The authors also report on the results of an algorithm (too complicated for me to understand) that ranks the top words among Democrats and Republicans. Some of them are just products of the time the tweets were collected (June 2014). The Kenya references among Democrats, for example, were related to the Kenya hotel bombing on June 16. We also learn that Republicans refer to President Obama as bho while Democrats prefer pbo.

But here’s an interesting tidbit. Compared to Democrats, Republicans appear to tweet much more about specific political figures, and to tweet about things they’re mad at. Five names make their top 20, and (by my count) 16 things they’re outraged about. Among Democrats, one political name makes the top 20 and two things they’re outraged about. I can’t really account for either of these results. There are plenty of Republicans that Democrats don’t like, and plenty of things they’re outraged about. But apparently Dems don’t tweet about them much.

One caveat: despite being a registered Democrat myself, there are a whole bunch of top Democrat words that I can’t make sense of.  What is qampa? Is journey the band, or do Democrats just like to talk about travel? What about maya and nene? Are those the poet and the singer? Or the Mesoamerican civilization and the bird? And what’s up with arsenal? Is this the football club or the place where weapons are stored?

Conversely, the top Republican words are all too easy to understand. I’m not quite sure about loi, but that’s it.

To summarize: Republicans are pissed, and Democrats are young enough to use lots of words I don’t get. Sigh.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend