U.S. shutdown: its last week on Twitter

by Smaranda Tolosano


Making sense of politics on Twitter with NexaIntelligence

You may have seen the videos of TSA agents playing uncensored versions of explicit rap songs at U.S. customs, or heard about singer Cardi B’s (also explicit) videos criticizing the American government shutdown on social media, but if you want to know what the rest of the American people were saying on Twitter over the last week of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, read my analysis summary below and download the full report (PDF). 

I used the NexaIntelligence social data mining tool to analyse multiple datasets and to sift through all the tweets to find both trends and exceptions to the norm. I worked with three data sets starting January 17 to 21, then Jan., 21-23 and Jan. 23-25 to see the evolution of opinions on social media as the events leading to the end of the shutdown unfurled. I used the same series of keywords and hashtags for all three queries and got about 1.5 million tweets overall.

Most frequently used hashtags and their meaning

From January 17 to 21, the popularity of #maga (Make America Great Again), #buildthewall, #fundthewall and #paintourcountryred showed the prevalence of Trump supporters on Twitter in this time lapse. That’s when I discovered Trump’s 2020 election hashtag “#kag” – short for Keep America Great – was making its way up in the ranking of most used hashtags.


Tweets containing #TrumpShutdown, however, were most often critical of Trump and blaming him for the shutdown. Following the same logic, posts containing #PelosiShutdown or #PelosiSchumerShutdown were largely blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for the blockage and praising President Trump for his willingness to negotiate.

The hashtag #shutdownstories emerged and was consistently present throughout the week, peaking between January 21 and 23, with government workers sharing relatively harrowing stories about the financial state the shutdown has left them in, with some finding no other recourse but to fundraise online or ration vital medical supplies such as insulin.

Notably, #wheresmitch was used both in posts critical of Trump and Mitch McConnell for failing to end the shutdown, as well as in posts accusing Democrats of being uncooperative with Trump. It was a rallying cry for people seeing McConnell as able to end the shutdown and restore cash flow to unpaid government workers.



Inflammatory posts about Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was mentioned consistently (“pelosi” was the 9th most frequent word in this time period and the only name) in mostly negative terms including through #PelosiShutdown and was heavily criticized by Trump supporters in regards to her planned diplomatic trip to Brussels, Afghanistan and Egypt. I applied a filter to search for “pelosi” throughout the collected tweets on the shutdown, and the results were mostly negative opinions and blame for the shutdown.

Schumer was also mentioned by association (#SchumerPelosiShutdown), most often in negative terms by Twitter users accusing him and Pelosi of putting the needs of their party over those of the country.
Prime time for conspiracy theories

Several conspiracy theories about Pelosi and the destinations of her then canceled trip made their way online:

And one conspiracy theorist using #maga also accused Nancy Pelosi of being the puppet of “globalist billionaires”:



Trump critics gain popularity on Twitter as shutdown nears end

The second data set I used for analysis was from January 21 to 23, closer to the end date of the shutdown, January 25.

In the hashtag realm, one significant change occurred: #endtheshutdown had a notable gain in popularity between Jan. 21 and 23. It was previously 24th in our ranking (1,635 tweets) and suddenly jumped to 4th due to 8,699 tweets referencing it.

#endtheshutdown 24th in Jan 17-21 ranking (left) vs. 4th in Jan 21-23 ranking.

The final data I looked at were all the Twitter posts between January 23 and 25, aka the last 48 hours of the longest shutdown in U.S. government history. The most shared link was a Fox News article announcing the end of the shutdown with a corresponding video of Trump’s announcement that the shutdown would be halted for three weeks (until February 15) and that bipartisan discussions would resume. (Read the full PDF report for a complete list of most shared links and the time frame comparison)


Popular retweets

The first two most retweeted posts epitomized the two stances dividing the U.S. today: the first was a list of republicans to “remember” (aka blame) for ending the shutdown without funding the wall by Trump supporter Ryan Fournier, also Chairman of “Trump Students”, while the second most retweeted post supported Nancy Pelosi’s cancellation of the State of the Union and was posted by Travis Allen.

Lessons from the Lexical Map and Actor Interactions

When comparing the Lexical map from January 17-21 to that of January 23-25, the change in focus in people’s discussions is clear. At first, people tweeted to mock Pelosi as she was grounded by Trump (many accused of leaving her country at the worst possible time), they applauded TSA workers were told to continue working despite pay being withheld and random acts of kindness like free food for furloughed workers. By the end of this time period, however, Twitter chatter accusing Trump and redeeming Pelosi erupts, people write and retweet posts showing the hardships faced by Americans whose food stamps are being denied, and theories of a recession hitting the country begin to spread.

Read the full PDF report for the full comparison with January 23-25 lexical map and actor interactions.

Actor Interactions: who did the conversation revolve around?

From January 17 to 21, our Actor Interactions map showed that @realdonaldtrump was the biggest influencer (the user being mentioned the most, with 40,488 interactions) on Twitter in regards to the shutdown, followed by @speakerpelosi (12,148 interactions) and @potus (11,238 interactions).




Over one week, I saw the conversation surrounding the shutdown evolve from one where people blamed Nancy Pelosi for refusing to negotiate with Trump on funding the border wall to one in which many came to recognize their government risked far more than a border security issue if it remained shut down any longer. It also became clear that bipartisan talks and concessions would be paramount to end this episode.

Looking at polls like the CBS’s in addition to studying our own data helped me confirm that a majority of Americans expressing themselves online were not ready to sacrifice their country’s stability for the sole purpose of building a wall at their southern border. Based on their most shared links, I saw people cared about the fate of their fellow citizens and applauded acts of kindness like food donations, free coffee, and free access to museums.

Overall, however, the Twitter chatter surrounding the shutdown highlighted how divided the nation currently is and shows that the current presidency does nothing to appease tensions and unite Americans. The data I found here highlights the ongoing polarization of the country as well as the tendency for people to profusely share extreme thoughts over social media in times of exacerbated tensions. If you want to understand the buzz around politics today, NexaIntelligence becomes indispensable to see through the clutter and find real insights.

Download our full report (PDF) here. Need help understanding visualizations? Read our guide here.

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