Has the Rise of Spoken-Word Mass Media Transformed Modern Congressional Speech?

Malkovich, Leah, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kirkland, Justin, University of Virginia

What is to blame for the decline in congressional compromise? Is it a rise in polarization, or is there more to the story? In this paper, I argue that a growing lack of compromise in Congress is due to a surge in emotionality and resulting disconnect in speech: when one party is especially negative, the other is especially positive. I posit the claim that this increasing divergence was precipitated by the rise of spoken-word mass media (radio and television), in which emotionality is rewarded. Working with a dataset consisting of every floor speech from 1873 to 2017, I utilize sentiment analysis to determine the level of emotionality in each year’s Congress. As a result of my analysis, I find significance at my expected breakpoints.

MA (Master of Arts)
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