Congressional parties and social media – who is winning the Hill Twitter wars
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President TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE has famously promoted his views and bypassed traditional media filters through regular use of social media. Franklin Roosevelt had radio; John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE had television; and Donald Trump has Twitter. Like his predecessors, the 45th president is exploring new terrain on the media innovation landscape to advance his agenda.

While receiving less attention than the president’s use of social media, congressional parties are also using the latest communications tools to their advantage. Are there differences between Republicans and Democrats in the volume and content of their messages? And do these differences have any political impact?


The short answer is yes. Analyzing the use of Twitter by congressional parties provides some key insights. The data presented below were compiled through Zignal Labs to compare and contrast the ways congressional parties use a social media tool like Twitter. What do the data show?

First, Democrats punch above their weight in terms of sheer volume. While they control roughly 44 percent of all congressional seats, House Democrats produced nearly 59 percent of the total number of tweets in 2017. In contrast, House Republicans control about 55 percent of total House seats, but they produced only 41 percent of the total number of tweets last year.

Looking at the Senate reveals a similar pattern. The Democratic minority in the Senate sent about 60 percent of the total number of tweets in 2017, while the Senate’s GOP majority generated about 40 percent.

Democrats not only produced more tweets by total volume, but their dominance was sustained on a daily basis as well. In 2017, House Democrats tweeted on average 1,570 times a day, while House Republicans tweeted approximately 1,090 times per day.

Second, the data strongly suggests that consistent content matters, and it’s in this arena that Republicans have recently seized the advantage. Last year, the dominant Twitter topic among House Republicans was taxes, while health care was the leading theme for their Democratic colleagues. On the Senate side, Republicans spent equal time tweeting on health care and taxes; while, again, health care was the primary issue for Senate Democrats.

Message discipline is an essential rule for any successful communications strategy, and Republicans’ sustained message on taxes appears to be bearing political fruit. National polling has shown a steady uptick in public support for tax reform, with popularity of the law rising as more Americans learn about it. Republicans have embraced the power of promoting this message through their social media followers.

Prior to passage of tax reform in the House, Democratic lawmakers tweeted 44 times a day on average about taxes compared to 41 tweets per day by Republicans. Yet since President Trump signed the law, Republicans’ daily tweets about tax reform have outpaced Democrats by a more than 4-1 margin. For their part, Democrats have moved on from taxes, tweeting most frequently about immigration-related issues like DACA in early 2018.

There are a number of lessons policymakers and political junkies can take away from the social media habits of the two political parties.

For starters, the Twitter activity of both sides dips significantly during district work periods, suggesting Republicans and Democrats are more interested in tweeting while in Washington than in their districts.

Yet for many constituents, the work a member of Congress does back home is just as important—if not more so—than what’s going on in Washington. This is an untapped opportunity for both parties to better showcase engagement with local citizens on issues of local importance.

Additionally, both parties now fully realize the power of social media to make or break one’s policy agenda. For example, Democrats’ relentless social media pressure helped stymie Republican efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare in the Senate. It seems Republicans are equally determined to apply the same intensity and consistency with tax reform.

Indeed, Republicans are dominating the social media discussion on taxes since reform was enacted last December. Correlation is clearly not causality, yet it’s interesting to speculate whether this persistent social media campaign is contributing to the growing popularity of the law and whether Democrats are conceding the debate at their own peril.

Just as President Trump has leveraged social media to promote his agenda and motivate supporters, congressional parties are increasingly doing the same. While Democrats are holding their own through the sheer frequency of social media engagement, Republicans are winning the consistency battle on taxes. Whether these trends continue in the coming months may well determine the balance of power in Congress for years to come.

Gary Andres was the Majority Staff Director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 2011-2017. He also worked in the Office of Legislative Affairs for Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He is currently the Senior Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. The views expressed are his own.