Who Do Members of Congress Follow on Twitter?

WASHINGTON - JUNE 5: The U.S. Capitol is shown June 5, 2003 in Washington, DC. Both houses of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives meet in the Capitol. (Photo by Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)
Photo: Photo: Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images

Twitter has become such an integral medium for political communication that, according to our count, 97 percent of members of Congress now have an official Twitter presence. But Twitter is a two-way street — you spread your message, and you listen to what others have to say. So who are members of the House and Senate (or, doubtless more often, their staffs) listening to on Twitter? Daily Intelligencer decided to find out: With help from the wizards at Twiangulate, we identified every congressional Twitter account, then analyzed which other accounts they follow most often. Read on for rankings of which news organizations, journalists, and other politicians members of Congress follow, and which congressmen and women have the most and least followers. The takeaway, on Twitter as in life: The two parties don’t listen to each other very much.

Topping the overall list of most followed accounts are four D.C.-based political news outlets, which, thanks to their bipartisan appeal, are followed by around 60 percent of members of congress. But taking a look at the top twenty accounts divided by party shows zero overlap beyond the Hill, Politico, Roll Call, and CSPAN: Although they like a few of the same publications, Democrats and Republicans tend to lack interest in … each other.  Also of note in the party breakdown: President Obama is only the eighth most-followed account among Democrats in Congress, which seems odd. On the Republican side, John Boehner, apparently the world’s most interesting tweeter, is hogging two spots in the top ten. 

Meanwhile, somewhere in his den of filth, Mike Allen is smiling. The Politico Playbook scribe is not only the most followed journalist among members of Congress as a whole, but he also tops both the Democratic and Republican charts.

Chuck Todd, Chad Pergram, Jake Tapper, Chris Cillizza, and David Gregory also enjoy relatively robust followings from both sides of the House. Otherwise, the partisan split remains here, with each party largely reading the tweets of like-minded writers and pundits. You could probably show each list unlabeled to 100 random people, and every single one would be able to guess which was the Democrat and which was the Republican chart.

Similarly, Republicans are following @RedState and @Drudge_report more than they’re following @AP or @nytimes. Democrats, meanwhile, are keeping close tabs on multiple NPR accounts.

The rankings of most-followed colleagues show the starkest divide of all. Guess what? Members of Congress overwhelmingly do not follow colleagues from the opposing party. Republicans aren’t too interested in what Democrats have to say, and vice versa. 

But here’s an interesting question to ponder: Why do Republicans demonstrate so much more consistency in who they follow? To take just one example, @SpeakerBoehner is followed by 89 percent of Republicans in congress, while @NancyPelosi is only followed by 68 percent of Democrats. The pattern is consistent throughout all of the above charts.

Is this proof of the GOP’s superior party discipline, as evident in their nearly lockstep opposition to the Obama agenda? Or is the explanation more mathematical? For whatever reason, Republican members of Congress follow a median of 573 accounts each versus a mere 451 accounts followed by Democrats. The greater number of accounts each member follows, the more likely they are to follow the same accounts.

Some members of Congress are certainly more follow-happy than others. Paul Ryan, for example, follows exactly one account — @NationalDebt — while Darrell Issa leads the GOP by following 38,335 accounts. But Al Franken tops them all, following a whopping 45,779 accounts. You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, Al Franken likes you. 

Enough about who members of Congress are following: Let’s take a quick look at how many people are following members of Congress. In this straight-up popularity contest, Republicans are dominating, claiming the top three spots and seven of the top ten. For all the Twitter jokes about old man John McCain imploring whippersnappers to get off his lawn, he’s actually quite dominant on Twitter. 

Meanwhile, the social-media prowess of some members of Congress rivals that of your local drycleaner. Democrat Joyce Beatty of Ohio holds the unfortunate title of the member of Congress with the fewest followers overall, although, to be fair, she only joined in late June, and has been tweeting pretty consistently. We’re pulling for you, Congresswoman Beatty. Everyone go follow Congresswoman Beatty!