May 4, 2012

Twitter Conversation about Student Loans is More Personal, Less Political

Calls to Keep the Rates Low Stories about Student Loan Debt Straight Facts Anger at Dems and Obama Anger at GOP and Romney Praise for Obama
Personal Appeals 32 6
Straight Facts 38
Political 11 7 4

32%Amount of Twitter conversation focused on calls to keep student loan rates low

The political fight over the looming rate increase in student loans was one of the top stories in the mainstream media last week. From April 23-29, the subject accounted for 4% of the newshole, making it the No. 4 story behind the 2012 presidential election, the economy, and immigration policy. It also marked the first time that education-related coverage was among the top five subjects since the week of December 12-18, 2011.

Republicans and Democrats have expressed interest in keeping the loan interest rate at the current level, but have disagreed over how to fund that, with Republicans proposing cuts to health care programs and Democrats calling for closing tax loopholes for large corporations. And much of the mainstream coverage has focused on a partisan battle that drew President Barack Obama and likely foe, Republican Mitt Romney, into the debate.

In social media, and specifically on Twitter, however, the conversation about student loans was considerably different. Twitter users focused far less on the unfolding political drama and instead made numerous appeals to not increase the interest rates.

Using computer technology from Crimson Hexagon to evaluate the key themes of the Twitter discussion, between April 23-May 1, PEJ found that the largest component of that discussion-38%-urged Congress to keep rates low (32%) or featured personal stories from people whose lives had been affected by student loan debt (6%).  

The second largest element of the Twitter response, accounting for 36%, was the sharing of straight news accounts and facts about student loans and the legislation in Congress.

Next, at 22%, was a conversation about politics and Congress’s inability thus far to agree over how to pay for keeping the rates low. Democrats bore the brunt of the criticism, with 11% of the twitter conversation blaming Obama and Democrats in Congress compared with 7% that was critical of Romney and Congressional Republicans.

Although Obama and his party were the subject of more negative assessments, the president was the only figure to receive some praise in the Twitterverse, as 4% of the discussion lauded the president’s efforts to keep student loan rates low.

Note: You can see an explanation of how Pew Research uses Crimson Hexagon here.

Monica Anderson of PEJ