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Do Congressional Partisans Use Twitter More? Better?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, October 6 2009

With the help of Klout.com, a web service that analyzes Twitter usage and influence, I've been looking at the full list of Members of Congress using the tool, looking for potentially interesting relationships in the data. With about 125 House Members now using Twitter (roughly 2/3 Rs and 1/3 Ds), many of them on a daily basis, there's a rich data set to look at. I've uploaded Klout's rankings of the House Members to ManyEyes, so if you want to entertain yourself by finding out where your favorite congresstwitter rates, go ahead.

But I also thought it might be interesting to see if there's a relationship between how well a Member is using Twitter, or just more basic metrics like the number of followers they've accumulated or how many tweets they've posted, and the kind of district they come from. Might Twitter usage have anything to do with Members who represent safe seats vs marginal seats? In other words, if your district is heavily Democratic or Republican, might that make you a more voluble and interesting Twitterer? Using Charles Cook's "Partisan Voting Index,"which assigns every congressional district a number based on how much the presidential vote in the last two elections varies from the national average, here's what I found:

For the sake of simplicity, I gave Republican leaning districts a positive PVI and Democratic leaning districts a negative PVI. You can mouse over the graphic and details for each Member charted will appear. As best as I can tell, there's no obvious correlation between how partisan a district is, and how well or how much a House Member is using Twitter. You can see that when you make the X axis PVI and the Y axis Klout score:

If we shift the graph to look at whether there's a relationship between Twitter followers and the partisanship of a district, again the data scatters.

Finally, there doesn't seem to be a strong relationship between how partisan a Member's district is and how often they tweet.

The outliers on this chart are Rep. John Culberson, who's probably been on Twitter longer than any of his peers, with 2,442 tweets. He's in the top right. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, with just under 1,000 tweets, is in the upper left corner.

It's probably too early to draw any firm conclusions from these kinds of analyses. Many of the Members included in this data set have barely been on Twitter for more than a few months. In many cases, it's their staff doing the tweeting on their behalf. But since this is a more personal medium than just about any other currently being used by politicians (i.e. more elected officials are personally tweeting--likely from their blackberries--than are updating their Facebook or MySpace pages), it's worth watching closely how their use evolves.

P.S. If anyone with more statistical inclinations wants to have at the data, be my guest. That's why I posted it on ManyEyes, an invaluable public data visualization service built by IBM.