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Graham’s about-face ignites social media

Posted September 22, 2020

Sen. Lindsey Graham’s change of heart about considering a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court in the same year as a presidential election is kicking up controversy on social media.

According to the Social Media Insights Lab at the University of South Carolina, comments about Graham have exploded since the death Friday of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Insights Lab analyzed 11,179 South Carolina posts made between Sept. 16 and 22.  More than 30 percent were critical of Graham, twice as many as those supporting him. Popular hashtags included #sendlindseyhome, #lindseyswordmeansnothing and #usemywordsagainstme.

“A lot of people on social media are calling out Graham for what they perceive as his hypocrisy,” said Kaitlyn Park, Insights Lab manager.  “Graham’s race against Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison already was tight and this controversy will make it even more contentious.”

In 2016 when the Republican Senate refused to consider Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Graham said:

"I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, 'Let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’”

Monday, Graham reversed course and stated he plans to vote for anyone President Trump nominates to replace Ginsburg.  As chair of the Senate Judicial Committee, Graham would oversee the confirmation hearing for any nominee. 

Posts supporting Graham emphasized the importance of confirming a replacement for Ginsburg as soon as possible. 

The Insights Lab used artificial intelligence to better understand these discussions. In looking at who is commenting, the lab found the top groups were, not surprisingly, people interested in politics as well as people interested in family and parenting. 

“This conversation includes more than journalists and political insiders,” said Park. “In South Carolina, family and parenting are often Republican issues and the scope of this conversation indicates Graham’s turnaround could impact his re-election bid.”

Previously, the Insights Lab analyzed more than 450,000 social media comments about Graham made since 2014. In an August report, the lab noted Graham’s popularity has trended significantly downward since 2018. 

About the Social Media Insights Lab

The lab is part of the College of Information and Communications. It is used for teaching, academic research and public reports intended to help people better understand issues of the day.

The Insights Lab software, Brandwatch Consumer Research, formerly known as Crimson Hexagon, uses artificial intelligence to interpret data. View a full list of reports  and follow the lab on Twitter at @UofSCInsights

For media inquiries or to request graphic files, contact Rebekah Friedman at or 803-576-7270.

How is sentiment calculated?
The lab uses software, Brandwatch Consumer Research, formerly known as Crimson Hexagon. The software gauges the emotional tone of conversations using auto-sentiment artificial intelligence technology. This feature is useful for identifying patterns within large sets of social media data, but it should be noted that auto-sentiment has its limits. For example, it does not always recognize sarcasm, nor does it account for posts which may express more than one emotion.


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