New Member Social Media Analysis
Members of Congress are now able to instantly communicate directly with their constituents and the general public by posting a message on Facebook or sending out a Tweet. In fact, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, in 2018 every Representative and Senator had an official Twitter account while 99 percent of Representatives and all 100 Senators had an official Facebook page.
Effective use of social media channels allows members to control their message and communicate in the way they see fit. The speed and changing forms of communication between elected officials and their constituents has resulted in increased clarity of Member positions on policy issues and an ability for constituents to immediately influence elected officials, both individually and as part of a group.
Every member has campaign-specific social media accounts that differ from their official accounts. Most members continue to post on their campaign social media accounts while they are in office. The House and Senate each have their own rules for how members are allowed to use social media. Individual states also have widely divergent rules on elected officials' use of social media. Going forward, many members may use their campaign or personal accounts more than their official social media accounts because of the differing rules governing what can be posted, the amount of followers they have, and how much their personal brand is tied to their personal social media accounts. Something to keep an eye on.
Analysis of New Member Social Media Posts
The 2018 Congressional elections resulted in 101 new Representatives and 10 Senators joining their colleagues in the legislature. The new members came from every region of the country and have been described as the most diverse freshman class in history. Every one of them arrived in Washington with their own legislative priorities and an established presence on social media.
To discover some insights and trends about the social media habits of this large freshman class, the Twitter and Facebook posts of 10 new Congressmen and all 10 new Senators were collected during their first eight weeks in office, beginning on their first day, January 3, 2019. This was not designed to be a representative sample; a smaller proportion of the House members was chosen because of time limitations. While not a statistical representation of the House freshman class, the 10 members include six Democrats and five women because the new class includes 67 percent Democrats and 40 percent women.
Kim Schrier (D-WA)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)
Ilhan Omar (D-MN)
Donna Shalala (D-FL)
Steven Horsford (D-NV)
Jesus (Chuy) Garcia (D-IL)
Carol Miller (R-WV)
Dan Crenshaw (R-TX)
Russ Fulcher (R-ID)
Dan Meuser (R-PA)
Top issues discussed by members:
Black history month
Border wall funding
State of the Union
Green New Deal
Overall, Twitter was more than twice as popular than Facebook with the new Members. The 20 members posted 1,318 Facebook posts and 2,775 tweets over their first eight weeks for an average of 347 tweets and 165 Facebook posts per week.
Democratic and Republican members discussed many of the same topics in their social media posts. The messages were different by party (Democrats discussed different issues than Republicans) but members of each party discussed similar issues (Democrats posted tweets opposed to the government shutdown while Republicans posted tweets supporting border security). This is likely because the members regularly meet to discuss messaging strategies and make a point to generate a consistent message on topics that are being discussed in Congress.
Senators and Representatives of the same political party generally posted about the same topics, but the topics varied greatly between the parties. The January government shutdown was a major topic for the Democrats because they were opposed to the reasons behind it, while the Republicans remained mostly silent on the issue. Conversely, many Republicans posted about how opposed they were to the Green New Deal, while it rarely came up among Democrats. Abortion was one issue discussed by members of both parties, and their support or opposition to the controversial topic predictably broke along party lines.
Five female freshman Representatives (four Democrats and one Republican) and five female Senators (three Democrats and two Republicans) were included in the analysis. Topics discussed by the female members did not vary from their male counterparts. The female members' topics generally followed partisan patterns based on political affiliation.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she is known, is a rising star on the national political stage. However, she only posted 14 tweets and six Facebook posts on her official accounts during her first eight weeks in office. She used her personal accounts for her tweets and Facebook posts and not her official accounts, which makes sense because her personal Twitter account has 3.59 million followers and her official account only has 147,000 followers.
Some members, including Florida Senator Rick Scott and Representatives Donna Shalala (D-FL) and Chuy Garcia (D-IL), wrote many of their posts in both Spanish and English. Not coincidentally, they represent districts with large immigrant and hispanic populations. Their social media posts also included international-related topics not discussed by other members, including the political unrest in Venezuela and Cuba and general immigration issues.
Members used social media to talk about themselves and activities in their districts and states. Many members posted links to their television and radio appearances and also re-tweeted positive press coverage of their recent legislative actions, including bill sponsorship or a speech given on the House or Senate floor.
Senate Democrats 26 20
Senate Republicans 19 7
House Democrats 17 7
House Republicans 9 5
Female Democrats 22 11
Female Republicans 14 7
(Average Per Week)
The research conducted was both qualitative (subjects of tweets and Facebook posts) and quantitative (number of tweets and Facebook posts) and resulted in a non-linear data pattern (members posted a different number of posts each week). The data was collected in a non-reactive manner because the members did not know their data was being gathered and analyzed, but all information was taken from the public domain.
These results should not be considered a representative example of the social media habits of the entire Congress. A more in-depth study of the entire freshman class and the Congress as a whole would need to be conducted in order to establish trends and conclusions about Congressional use of social media in 2019. The project data can be found here.
Jacky Rosen (D-NV)
Krysten Sinema (D-AZ)
Tina Smith (D-MN)
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
Mike Braun (R-IN)
Kevin Cramer (R-ND)
Josh Hawley (R-MO)
Mitt Romney (R-UT)
Rick Scott (R-FL)