Illuminating Message Categories

For the past year, we have been creating a system that automatically classifies each message into a category based on what the message is trying to do.

Candidate-Generated Messages


Any message that is about supporters, focused specifically on encouraging them to do something (persuasion), is a call-to-action. There should be some force placed on the reader of the message to do something, even if it is softly expressed (e.g. “please come;” “we hope to see you there,”). Includes questions “have you seen our new ad?” Excludes rhetorical questions.

Subcategories include:


Any message that is explicitly religious, gives thanks, praise, pays tributes, honors, or expresses condolences (using the terms that are associated with those) to family members, or the public around national holidays or commemorative events. Includes messages about winning or losing the election, including hope, anticipation, or disappointment around the election outcome. Includes messages that are simply jokes/puns/humor without reference to any of the other categories. Includes praise/cheers for sports teams/sports games (but not statements about the candidates at or watching events that have no praise).

Conversational Twitter Only

Messages that are simply a direct address to a single person or a small group (2-3) of people in the form of a response to a message they received. These messages should feel like conversational replies to prior messages, even if it’s only “thanks”, and must contain a direct reference to the person/people they’re responding to.


A message that that is to or about supporters (and observes of the campaign, such as the news media) focused specifically on information about the campaign (presented neutrally, without a persuasive appeal or action verbs is an information message).


A message that advocates for the candidate, highlighting their strengths as a leader, describing their prior policies or personal history, describing or featuring their family, describing or highlighting their current and future policy positions, or featuring their positive personality characteristics, is an advocacy message. Includes generic claims about the candidate being a good candidate, being supported, or being good for the state without explicit references to policy. Includes messages that position the candidate in opposition to policies or other candidates.


A message that criticizes the opponent or opposing administration or party on their personality, leadership skills, past behaviors, family, policy issues, campaign events, or any other negative focus on the opponent (or their campaign, surrogates, or family) is an attack message. Must be an explicit or strongly implicit reference to opponent, their party, or surrogates. Includes generic references to responses to attacks or attacking the opponent. Typically explicit references to the opponent are attacks, even if the attack is somewhat implicit.


Messages that feature an endorsement or support for the candidate from an important political person, celebrity, or organization: law enforcement, unions, the local newspaper, a prominent political figure.

Public-Generated Messages

For public-generated messages, we currently only display messages that are on a given candidate’s Facebook wall and are referencing the candidate or their surrogates, political party, or another prominent, related politician (such as the President, a governor, or a senator).


A message that criticizes the candidate, their surrogates or party, primarily concerning issues/policies or on grounds of character, personality, style or values.


A message that advocates or shows support for the candidate, their surrogates or party, primarily concerning issues/policies or on grounds of character personality, style or values.

Messages can be assigned both attack and support codes, but messages cannot attack and support the same thing (e.g., “Jeb did great, too little too late” cannot be both attack and support).


Target in messages refers to attacking/ supporting whose images or issues in public comments. For Facebook, attacking or supporting messages under a given candidate’s wall might or might not attack or support this candidate; therefore, we would like to investigate the targets in public talk to see whom the public is attacking or supporting. The rules which we are building to identify the targets of attacking and supporting are built on several variables, such as whether candidates’ names or pronouns exist in public talk, e.g. you, he, she, and whether a public comment replies to candidate directly or reply to another public’s comment.