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April 26, 2014

House Republicans are more active on Twitter than Democrats

WASHINGTON — Your representative in the House is almost certainly on Twitter. Your senator definitely is. But how are they using the social network? Are Democrats more active than Republicans, or vice versa? Who has the most followers on the Hill? I recently scraped together summary Twitter data — follower count, following count and number of tweets — for every member of Congress. Some of the more interesting findings are below.

Keep in mind that simple counts are a blunt instrument for measuring activity on Twitter, and moreover that follower counts in particular should be treated with a certain amount of skepticism. A 2012 study found that nearly 40 percent of congressional Twitter-account followers were either inactive or from bots.

Still, the summary statistics are useful for comparing Twitter activity between congressmen, and between the parties as a whole. And there's a lot more at stake here than simple bragging rights.

1. Republicans have more followers than Democrats.

The median Republican House member has 6,872 Twitter followers, compared with 6,015 followers for the median Democratic member. Republican senators enjoy an even wider advantage: 23,252 followers vs. 19,429 for Democrats. Considering that Democrats hold a technological advantage over Republicans in other realms of voter outreach, these gaps are fairly surprising.

Democrats' efforts to maintain control of the Senate and continue treading water in the House will hinge largely on their ability to get out the vote, particularly among young and minority voters. The Pew Research Center notes that Twitter adoption levels "are particularly high among younger adults and African-Americans," so the fact that Republicans have the larger Twitter follower base represents a potentially serious deficit for the Democrats this fall.

All told, Democratic House and Senate members have a 5.5 million Twitter followers, compared with 7.2 million for the Republicans — a deficit of 1.7 million followers. In an era when razor-thin electoral victory margins are becoming increasingly common, this gap matters.

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