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.
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 vs. 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.
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 made only 986 tweets. But it's a different story in the Senate, where the median Democrat's tweet count is 1,792 compared with the Republican's 1,605.
4. Seven of the 10 most-followed legislators are Republicans.
With 1.9 million followers, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, is Twitter's reigning king of the Hill. He has about 400,000 more followers than the No. 2 legislator, Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, comes in third with 640,000, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, at 595,000. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, fill slots 5 through 7. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, and Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, and Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, round out the top 10.
5. Seven of the 10 most frequent Tweeters are also Republican.
Having tweeted nearly 38,000 times, Booker is twice as active as the next most-frequent tweeter, Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican. Boehner, Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, round out the top five.
6. Only eight House members do not have individual Twitter accounts.
Four Democrats -- Reps. Alcee Hastings, Fla., Ed Pastor, Ariz., Collin Peterson, Minn., and Nick Rahall, W.Va. -- are Twitterless, as are four Republicans -- Reps. Sam Graves, Mo., John Mica, Fla., Tom Petri, Wis., and Rob Woodall, Ga. Every senator is on Twitter.
A note on the data: I scraped the data from legislators' Twitter profiles on Saturday. To determine Twitter user names, I started from a list maintained by GovTrack.us and added/amended user names based on my own research. Many members maintain multiple accounts -- for instance, an individual account and a campaign account. In these cases, I used the account that appeared to be most active, as determined by number and recency of tweets.