How the Facebook Sharing Habits of Democrats in Congress Changed After Trump Won

Pew Research Center examined links to news outlets that were posted by lawmakers

Pew analyzed 447,684 Facebook posts from 581 unique members of the 114th and 115th Congresses franckreporter/iStock
Headshot of David Cohen

The election of President Donald Trump spurred Democrats in Congress to share more stories from national news outlets on Facebook, and to do so with more anger.

That was one of the major findings of Sharing the News in a Polarized Congress, a report released Monday by Pew Research Center.

After Republican candidate Trump took office in January, 16 percent of all Facebook posts by Democrats in Congress linked to national news stories, doubling the mark of 8 percent prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Meanwhile, the needle barely moved for the victorious Republicans—9 percent of posts before the election linked to national news stories, slipping to 8 percent after the inauguration.

The mood changed drastically, as well. Pew found that before the election, 5 percent of reactions to national news links posted by Democrats were angry, as were 9 percent for Republicans. In the six months following the election, angry reactions by Democrats more than tripled, to 18 percent, while the Republican number edged up to 10 percent.

Pew analyzed 447,684 Facebook posts from 581 unique members of the 114th and 115th Congresses between Jan. 2, 2015, and July 20, 2017, finding that roughly 40 percent of those posts, or 177,467, contained links to other websites.

Digging deeper, 9.4 percent of all posts examined by Pew, 42,219, contained links to national news outlets—a total of 106 of them—with stories that were shared at least 25 times.

Of those 106 national news outlets, 32 were predominantly linked to by Republicans, 30 by Democrats and 44 by members of both parties.

Partisanship in Congress extended itself to Facebook, as Pew found that 48 percent of links to national news outlets shared by members of Congress were to outlets predominantly linked to by members of just one party, and 5 percent of those links pointed to outlets that were exclusive linked to by members of one party.

How did Facebook followers of members of Congress respond to these posts? A lot depended on the national news outlet pointed to by the links.

When Democrats shared stories from more liberal sources, those stories were re-shared 21 percent more often than those from outlets that were more toward the middle of the spectrum. The same was true for the GOP: Posts shared from more conservative outlets were re-shared 22 percent more than those from outlets in the middle.

Conversely, when lawmakers shared posts from outlets that fell on the other end of their respective ideological spectrums, they were shared less frequently—17 percent for those shared by Democrats and 18 percent for those shared by Republicans. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.