Breakdown of democratic norms? Understanding the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election through online comments


This study examined how comments posted on news stories about the 2016 presidential election reflected the disruptive discourses of the campaign itself. A quantitative content analysis and a qualitative textual analysis of user-generated comments (N = 1,881) showed that while incivility was less frequent than impoliteness, overall there was ample evidence of the violation of democratic norms of political talk in these comment streams. Findings also showed that comments posted on stories in The New York Times were less uncivil than those posted on either Fox News or USA TODAY stories. However, comments posted on USA TODAY stories were more impolite than those posted on stories on the Times’ or Fox News’ websites. Norms of political talk that ascribe to some aspects of deliberative discourse were more frequent in comments posted later in the campaign, except among comments posted on Fox News stories.