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Sentiment, we-talk and engagement on social media: insights from Twitter data mining on the US presidential elections 2020

Linus Hagemann (University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany)
Olga Abramova (University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 17 January 2023




Given inconsistent results in prior studies, this paper applies the dual process theory to investigate what social media messages yield audience engagement during a political event. It tests how affective cues (emotional valence, intensity and collective self-representation) and cognitive cues (insight, causation, certainty and discrepancy) contribute to public engagement.


The authors created a dataset of more than three million tweets during the 2020 United States (US) presidential elections. Affective and cognitive cues were assessed via sentiment analysis. The hypotheses were tested in negative binomial regressions. The authors also scrutinized a subsample of far-famed Twitter users. The final dataset, scraping code, preprocessing and analysis are available in an open repository.


The authors found the prominence of both affective and cognitive cues. For the overall sample, negativity bias was registered, and the tweet’s emotionality was negatively related to engagement. In contrast, in the sub-sample of tweets from famous users, emotionally charged content produced higher engagement. The role of sentiment decreases when the number of followers grows and ultimately becomes insignificant for Twitter participants with many followers. Collective self-representation (“we-talk”) is consistently associated with more likes, comments and retweets in the overall sample and subsamples.


The authors expand the dominating one-sided perspective to social media message processing focused on the peripheral route and hence affective cues. Leaning on the dual process theory, the authors shed light on the effectiveness of both affective (peripheral route) and cognitive (central route) cues on information appeal and dissemination on Twitter during a political event. The popularity of the tweet’s author moderates these relationships.



The current article is the extended version of the paper presented at the 55th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS 2022) (

The authors would like to thank Prof. Christy Cheung, the Internet Research  editor, and two anonymous reviewers for the helpful comments.


Hagemann, L. and Abramova, O. (2023), "Sentiment, we-talk and engagement on social media: insights from Twitter data mining on the US presidential elections 2020", Internet Research, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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