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Democrats tweet the most, but individual Republicans get more engagement: How social media use differs across the aisle

July 16, 2020, 6:00 PM UTC

As politicians increasingly turn to Twitter and Facebook to speak directly to their supporters, a new study draws a dividing line between how politicians from opposite sides of the aisle are using social media. Democratic members of Congress are more active on social media and get the most engagement as a group—but it’s their Republic counterparts that often get the most retweets, shares, and reactions on an individual level.

In terms of posts by all Congress members, 73% of all Twitter favorites and 66% of retweets went to Democrats. Similarly, they also received 74% of all Facebook reactions and 66% of reshared posts, the study by Pew Research shows. A typical Democratic member of Congress has upwards of 17,000 followers more than a typical Republican member and tweets about 130 times a month, nearly double the amount of their counterparts. But a typical Republican gets nearly 14 more retweets and 29 more favorites on Twitter, as well as 38 more reactions and seven more shares on Facebook posts. 

“These findings speak to the ways in which Democratic and Republican lawmakers have wittingly or unwittingly carved out different collective approaches to social media communications,” the report says. “Republican lawmakers tend to be less active posters and have fewer of these highly successful accounts, but their posts tend to receive more audience engagement at the level of individual members.”

Republican-Democrats-Twitter Usage
Democrats tweet the most, but individual Republicans get more engagement, according to a Pew Research study.
Photo Illustration by Fortune; Original Images: KeithBishop/Getty Images; Courtesy of Twitter

The study comes at a time when social media is becoming increasingly politicized. Politicians are regularly using social media to express their views, which in some cases have become increasingly inflammatory, and to rebuke their opponents. Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are getting hammered for not controlling the amount of misinformation, hate speech, and discrimination—much of which is politically fueled—on their sites. 

Pew Research analysts reviewed every Facebook post and tweet maintained by every voting member of Congress between Jan. 1, 2015, and May 31, 2020. Their study indicates that overall, Congress members across the board are using Facebook and Twitter more. Compared with 2016, a typical member of Congress tweets 81% more often, has three times as many followers, and receives more than six times as many retweets on an average tweet. 

And most of the activity can be pinpointed to a small group of lawmakers. About 10% of Congress accounts for more than three-quarters of all reactions, shares, and retweets, for example. 

The study also revealed a couple of other trends: the most exclusively terms used by Democrats (“equal pay” and “gun safety”) and Republicans (“pro-growth” and “bureaucrats”) in the past five years; and that posts mentioning political opponents and hot-button issues like impeachment and immigration often get the most reactions.

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