Congressional Republicans are winning at Twitter in 2014


When it comes to Twitter followers, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is king of the Hill. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Your congressman 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.

But 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, while the median Democrat has 6,015, a difference of about 13 percent. Republican Senators enjoy an even wider advantage - 23,252 followers versus 19,429 for Democrats, a gap of 17.9 percent. Considering that Democrats hold a technological advantage over Republicans in many realms, these gaps are fairly surprising.

follower counts

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 total of 5.5 million Twitter followers, compared to 7.2 million for the Republicans - a deficit of 1.7 million followers, or 26.7 percent. In an era when razor-thin electoral victory margins are becoming increasingly common, this deficit matters.

2. Republicans also follow more people on Twitter

The median Republican in Congress - House and Senate - follows about 100 more Twitter users than the median Democrat - 613 versus 517. Following more people might mean that Republicans have a better sense not only of the national conversation on Twitter, but also of what their constituents are saying. This would give them an edge in crafting messages that their constituents care about.

following count

3. House Republicans tweet more than House Democrats, but Senate Democrats tweet the most

The median House Republican has tweeted 1,282 times, while the median House Democrat has only 986 tweets to their name - a 26 percent difference. But it's a different story in the Senate, where the median Democratic tweet count is 1,792 compared to the Republicans' 1,605.

tweet volume

4. Seven of the top 10 most-followed legislators are Republicans

With 1.9 million followers, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is Twitter's reigning king of the Hill. He has about 400,000 more followers than the No. 2 legislator, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) comes in third with 640,000, followed by Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) at 595,000. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) fill slots five through seven. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) round out the top 10.

Use the tables below to find the exact follower, following and tweet counts for your Senators and Representatives.

5. Seven of the 10 most-frequent tweeters are also Republican

Having tweeted nearly 38,000 times, Booker, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, is twice as active as the next most-frequent tweeter, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). But the Republicans still win by volume. Boehner, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) round out the top five.

6. Only eight House members do not have individual Twitter accounts

Four Democrats - Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Ed Pastor (Ariz.) and Alcee Hastings (Fla.) -- are Twitterless, as are four Republicans - Rob Woodall (Ga.), Tom Petri (Wis.), John Mica (Fla.) and Sam Graves (Mo.). Every single senator is on Twitter.

A note on the data

I scraped the data from legislator's Twitter profiles on April 19. To determine Twitter usernames, I started from a list maintained by govtrack.us and added/amended usernames based on my own research. Many congressmen maintain multiple accounts - an individual account and a campaign account, for instance. In these cases I used the account that appeared to be most active, as determined by number and recency of tweets.

Update: An earlier version of this post used press office Twitter accounts for Sens. Marco Rubio and Claire McCaskill, rather than their individual accounts. This has been corrected.

Christopher Ingraham is a data journalist focusing primarily on issues of politics, policy and economics. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
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