This post was written by a student in the Stanford’s Winter 2011 Networked Rhetoric class; it was designed to focus in on a particular source or research experience related to his/her project on social media and digital culture . See a more detailed overview of this assignment.
My research looks at the relationship between American voters and their politicians through Twitter. Ever since the micro-blogging website gained a major following in 2007, politicians have been adopting it as a way to reach their constituents. There are many examples of this, one of which is Barack Obama’s multi-pronged campaign to reach voters through Twitter, Facebook, Myspace… etc. There has been much research on older forms of media, like television and newspapers, that politicians have used to reach constituents. Now that Web 2.0 offers a new method of outreach, is the American political landscape changing as much as it did when television was introduced in the 60s?
An article by political scientists at the University of Toronto offers analysis on the kind of congresspeople who use Twitter. A striking observation was the significant differences across party lines in regards to Twitter usage. The percentage of votes that a congressperson garnered in 2008 was statistically more significant to predictions of Democratic Twitter adoption than Republican adoption. On the flip-side, the number of bills that a congressperson sponsored was the more statistically significant variable when looking at Republicans.
This makes sense. Republicans, being the minority party, are more likely than Democrats to be performing outreach, that is advertising their bills/ideas to their supporters as well as trying to reach those on the other side of the ideological spectrum. Democrats seem to use Twitter as a way to demonstrate transparency, since their Twitter usage does not seem to correlate with “quantitative” measures of their work. Younger Democratic politicians tend to adopt Twitter more than experienced Democrats, since younger congresspeople are still “proving” themselves to their constituents.
So is this revelation ground-breaking or revolutionary? I wouldn’t say so. It seems that the relationship between the majority party and minority party will always yield these political tactics. The minority party wants to convince people to support their ideas, and the majority party wants to demonstrate that it is doing what its voters asked for. The tactics themselves aren’t interesting or novel; it’s the fact that there is a difference at all between majority minority party tweeters that lends credence to the notion that nothing has really changed in representative-voter relationships. Twitter is only another tool for politicians to use or have to deal with.
Original Paper: Twitter in Congress: Outreach vs Transparency.