Pandemic Messaging: Congressional Communication and the Mechanisms of Polarizing Rhetoric

Tanya Gardner, Annelise Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


U.S. senators are increasingly turning to Twitter to stoke partisan divisions, and it’s not just what they say, but rather how they say it. Senators spent the Spring of 2020 responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the tone and framing used to engage a digital constituency was largely dependent on partisan alignment with President Trump. We use senators’ Twitter activity during the outbreak to offer new insight into the mechanisms of lawmakers’ party polarizing trends in congressional communication. We show that divisions stemmed from senators’ sentiment and framing—with Republicans more likely to incorporate positivity into forward-looking steps for economic recovery and Democrats preferring a negative tone to address government failings and inadequate response by President Trump. This article extends the literature on polarizing rhetoric in the Senate by using the pandemic response to illustrate how the dynamics of senators’ digital rhetoric, even during a moment of shared crisis, continue to fuel partisanship and polarizing narratives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-290
Number of pages34
JournalCongress and the Presidency
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©, Copyright © American University, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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