To advance knowledge of China and centralize resources toward that goal, the China Data Lab at UCSD’s 21st Century China Center engages in data-driven research and analysis of a wide range of topics across Chinese politics, society, and the economy. Scholars there have created helpful data visualizations to explain complicated concepts, some of which can be found on the China Data Lab blog. A recent post discusses the evolving sentiment of U.S. policymakers towards China by analyzing congressional tweets.
Various opinion polls such as the Gallup and Pew Research Center surveys have long tracked the ordinary Americans’ views of China over the years. Elite opinions toward China, however, are elusive. They are notoriously difficult to access and evaluate by traditional survey methods. Yet it is important to understand them as they reflect, even drive, the country’s foreign policy agenda. When the American elites sour on China, troubles in the bilateral relationship ensue. We believe that the current downward spiral in the U.S.-China relationship owes much to the changing views of the U.S. elite.
Enter the U.S. Congressional Tweets project: an ongoing 21st Century China Center endeavor to assess Congressional opinions towards China through analyzing the tweets by members of Congress. Congressional members belong to the elite ranks. They matter because they are both policymakers and leaders in public discourse. When a Congressperson turns very negative on China, it is more likely than not that his or her views will be reflected in legislative and political activities pertaining to China.
For this project, we gather approximately 3,500 China-related tweets by current Senators and Representatives dating back to 2008. To contextualize the opinion measures we develop, we also collect and analyze about 1,000 Congressional tweets related to Iran and 1,000 tweets related to Canada. Does U.S. congressional opinion about China as expressed on Twitter align more closely with opinion of an ally and partner such as Canada? Or does it instead mirror views of a country such as Iran, which has received widespread condemnation in the U.S. political arena? Are the two political parties split or converging in their views of China? What issues are most salient to them? By going back to 2008, we hope to benchmark the current Congressional opinion towards China in relation to previous periods.