Different Politics, Different Realities? The Structure of Partisan Sensemaking About COVID-19

  • Shannon Cruz
  • Xun Zhu
  • Rachel A Smith
  • James P Dillard
  • Lijiang Shen
  • Xi Tian


The COVID-19 pandemic has been a source of conflict between liberals and conservatives in the U.S.,with many politicized debates focusing on college students and universities. To understand this partisan conflict and how it might be mitigated, one useful approach is to examine how collective sensemaking about the virus and virus response, as reflected in language use, has differed between different political groups. Using semantic network analysis of a corpus of college students’ descriptions of their worries about COVID-19, we found that there were many similarities in sensemaking across the political spectrum, but also important differences between ideological groups. In particular, collective sensemaking for conservatives (more so than for liberals and moderates) was organized around words related to anxiety and close personal relationships.These results have implications for addressing partisan intergroup conflictabout COVID-19.

Keywords: collective sensemaking, semantic network analysis, political ideology, intergroup conflict, COVID-19, intergroup communication

How to Cite:

Cruz, S. & Zhu, X. & Smith, R. A. & Dillard, J. P. & Shen, L. & Tian, X., (2023) “Different Politics, Different Realities? The Structure of Partisan Sensemaking About COVID-19”, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research 16(4), 320-343. doi:

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Published on
19 Oct 2023
Peer Reviewed