‘Midterm Monitor’ Captures U.S. Election Narratives on Social Media

Threats to demo­cracy. Polls show this is a top concern among voters
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Photos: YouTube

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. – The Alli­ance for Secur­ing Demo­cracy (ASD) at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law Thursday launched the Midterm Monitor, an inter­act­ive tool designed to capture voting and elec­tion messaging from a select group of candid­ates, U.S. media, and foreign state-backed sources across multiple social media plat­forms. The monitor allows users to track elec­tion narrat­ives and better under­stand those messages.

Designed for academ­ics, elec­tion offi­cials, journ­al­ists, research­ers, and other inter­ested indi­vidu­als, the Midterm Monitor has been collect­ing data since early summer and already includes close to 40,000 posts related to voting and elec­tions. The tool lets users explore its data based on geography, source, plat­form, language, and more. The dash­board also offers a menu of filters for elec­tion-related search terms, such as “ballots,” “vote by mail,” and “elec­tion secur­ity,” to help users put together a fuller picture of the conver­sa­tion around voting and elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion.

MIDTERM MONITOR DETAILS: The Midterm Monitor collects posts and metrics from Face­book, Instagram, Twit­ter, and YouTube accounts affil­i­ated with candid­ates for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and candid­ates for governor and secret­ary of state. The monitor also collects posts and metrics from accounts affil­i­ated with influ­en­tial national media outlets and pundits, most-followed local media outlets in 10 battle­ground states, non-English language U.S. media outlets, Span­ish-language U.S. media outlets, and state media and diplo­mats asso­ci­ated with the Chinese, Iranian, and Russian govern­ments.

Read the full meth­od­o­logy here.

WHAT RESEARCH­ERS ARE WATCH­ING AND FIND­ING SO FAR THIS ELEC­TION SEASON

Analysts from ASD and the Bren­nan Center have been examin­ing and will continue to exam­ine emer­ging narrat­ives on several key topics this elec­tion season, such as elec­tion deni­al­ism, the Span­ish-language inform­a­tion space, and more. So far, analysts have learned the follow­ing:

Threats to demo­cracy. Polls show this is a top concern among voters, and initial data from the monitor indic­ates some agree­ment across party lines that demo­cracy is under threat, though the why and how may differ. Early monitor find­ings show that, between July 1 and Septem­ber 5, 2022, 196 tweets by U.S. polit­ical candid­ates mentioned vari­ations of the phrase “threat to demo­cracy.” More than a quarter were posted after Pres­id­ent Biden’s Septem­ber 1 speech on demo­cracy. Seventy-five percent (147 of the 196 tweets) were by Demo­cratic candid­ates.

Between July 1 and August 31, more than half of the 117 tweets from Demo­cratic candid­ates that mentioned vari­ations of the phrase “threat to demo­cracy” framed the source of the threat as the Repub­lican party, former pres­id­ent Trump, the candid­ates’ oppon­ents, or a combin­a­tion of the three. Of the 16 tweets by Repub­lican candid­ates in that time frame, seven focused on censor­ship of conser­vat­ives on social media or criti­cized the “liberal media.”

Voting and elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. The laws, policies, and processes surround­ing voting have been the subject of unpre­ced­en­ted atten­tion since the 2020 elec­tion. Initial monitor data shows more than 600 tweets mention­ing voting laws, 270 tweets refer­en­cing voting machines, and more than 150 tweets about voter suppres­sion since August 1, 2022. Analysts will continue to track key terms in elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion across plat­forms, party, state, and specific races.

Foreign inter­fer­ence in elec­tions. In 2016 and 2020, we saw foreign state-backed actors like Russia and Iran seek to inter­fere in U.S. elec­tions through inform­a­tion oper­a­tions (among other tactics). While the U.S. govern­ment concluded that China considered it but decided not to inter­fere in the 2020 elec­tion, the intel­li­gence community has recently issued warn­ings of Chin­a’s campaigns to influ­ence U.S. state and local lead­ers.

Initial monitor data shows that claims by U.S. accounts of elec­tion meddling and inter­fer­ence have largely focused on domestic, not foreign, threats. In candid­ate tweets between July 1 and August 31, 2022, mention­ing the terms “meddle” or “meddling,” only one tweet mentioned a foreign adversary, and it claimed that the FBI and Face­book were more respons­ible for meddling in the 2020 elec­tion than Russia. In the same time period, the U.S. media accounts tracked on the monitor posted at least 29 tweets about steps taken by the U.S. govern­ment or private compan­ies to combat foreign inter­fer­ence. Of those tweets, there were at least six tweets by media accounts that mentioned a State Depart­ment reward for inform­a­tion about Russian inter­fer­ence in the midterms.

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