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Now that the drama, excitement and controversy of the 2020 election is behind us, it’s time to consider how social media is dramatically remaking the political landscape in Washington, D.C. It’s perhaps no surprise that members of Congress have become very adept at using social media not only to get elected, but also to build momentum for their political ambitions. Moreover, as we have seen in 2020, there are no longer any purely “local” Congressional races – in the ongoing battle to control both the House and Senate, national political figures have absolutely no hesitation about swooping in to campaign in hotly contested local races.
Pew Research numbers on Congress and social media
Where things get really interesting is when we deep dive into how individual members of Congress are using social media platforms in different ways. For example, Pew Research Center recently published an online report detailing the differences between Democrats and Republicans in how they use both Twitter and Facebook. On Twitter, Democrats have more followers and are far more active than their Republican rivals.
According to Pew, the average Democrat member of Congress has 17,000 more followers and produces nearly twice as much content as a Republican. In an average month, a Democratic Congressional member will post 130 tweets, compared to just 73 for a typical Republican. On Facebook, however, the two parties are much more similar both in terms of follower count and overall reach. Based on these numbers and anecdotal evidence from the mainstream media, it would appear that Democrats have turned Twitter into a more effective political weapon than Republicans.
Where Republicans do have the advantage, though, is in terms of engagement. According to Pew Research Center, engagement is much higher for Republicans. Any tweet or Facebook post will get more reactions, shares, favorites and retweets when it comes from a Republican. And this, too, seems to confirm the anecdotal evidence. During the 2020 election season, Republicans seemed to draw bigger crowds for rallies and it was much easier to galvanize the Republican base with certain hot-button issues and topics.
The 10% Rule
While these statistics are certainly illuminating, just keep in mind that a fairly small number of Congressional leaders are skewing these statistics. As Pew readily admits, the Top 10% of all members of Congress are responsible for more than 75% of all favorites, reactions, shares and retweets. Thus, someone like AOC or Cory Booker or Kamala Harris can have a huge impact on the national discussion around a topic or issue. As Pew documents, since January 2019, a whopping 907 million of all 1.1 billion “favorites” are actually coming from the Top 10% of all Congressional Twitter accounts.
Implications for 2022 and 2024
The big picture takeaway here is that both parties are most likely to be successful in 2022 and beyond if they recruit, support and fundraise for candidates who are adept at social media and who can have a huge voice on the national stage. In years past, it might have been possible for someone running for Congress in the state of Pennsylvania to take a narrow approach to winning a local election. Now, that same person might be involved in a huge national debate over just about any issue. A good example here is the debate over fracking and American jobs – again and again, Pennsylvania emerged as a hotbed of debate over the future of American industry. In the final weeks of the presidential campaign, both Biden and Trump crisscrossed the state.
Thus, anyone hoping to be successful in politics needs to be proficient at social media. In 2020, says Pew, the average member of Congress tweets twice as often, has 3x as many followers and has 6x the number of retweets as they did back in 2016. On Facebook, they are creating 48% more posts than they did in 2016. As a result, it’s now possible for someone to appear out of almost nowhere (as we have seen with AOC) and completely dominate the national political agenda. That’s what’s possible when you have a huge built-in social media audience on both Twitter and Facebook. Look for similar types of young political figures to emerge as we head into tough 2022 Congressional races and a potentially historic 2024 presidential election.