Shift in Opinion or Change of Expression Public Reaction on Twitter to Abortion Policy Changes
Abstract: In 2019, nine US states voted on drastic policy changes to restrict access to abortion. Did the American population react to these policy changes, and if so how? Theory suggests that if the public disagrees with the policy changes, public opinion moves in the opposite direction of the policies. This is referred to as the Thermostat theory. Public opinion is commonly measured with public opinion polls, but these polls are not always available or used. Instead people use other channels of information, for example social media. On social media platforms people are not asked on their opinion but provide it voluntarily. This means that people can mobilise and express themselves differently. The study uses Twitter to answer three research questions. The first is whether the American public reacted to the policy changes. The second is if sentiment on Twitter changed. The third is if a sentiment change was a shift in public opinion or a change of expression. The analysis find that people reacted to the policy changes and that sentiment on Twitter increased for a short period. The results indicate that the sentiment change was a result of new people joining the debate who has a more liberal view on abortion. The results show that the Thermostat theory is not at play but instead there is a mobilisation of opinions. If this change of expression is mistaken for a shift in public opinion, politicians risk working for further policy changes of which the public disapproves.
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