Democrats and Republicans on Twitter – transparency and outreach

Twitter plays a pivotal role for Democrats and Republicans in the US, but both parties use the micro-blogging service in very different ways, with the Democrats being significantly more open and transparent online while Republicans go for outreach, according to a report by the University of Toronto.

The study, called Twitter in Congress: Outreach vs. Transparency, found that Republicans mainly use Twitter for “outreach”, while the Democrats mainly use it for “transparency”. Both provide citizens with information, but there is a subtle and very significant difference between the two.

The distinction between the two is highlighted with a definition from Professor Edward Felten, director of the Centre for Information and Technology Policy at Princeton University: “Outreach means government telling us what it wants us to hear; transparency means giving us the information that we, the citizens, want to get.”

The findings paint both parties in very different lights. The Republicans are seen as pushing agenda through the use of Twitter, while the Democrats are seen as using the service “to portray honesty and openness regarding day-to-day operations.”

The study utilised hand-collected data from the 111th House of Representatives, otherwise known as Congress, and found that Democrats favoured additional support garnered through transparency, while Republicans favoured the number of bills that are sponsored garnered through driving home a political goal to Twitter followers.

However, the trends are not all-encompassing for a party. The study found that strong outreach mattered more and gave greater benefit to Republicans who belonged to committees with many Twitter users. This gave the politicans additional means by which to reach out to their peers and drum up support for policies.

On the other hand, transparency on Twitter among Democrats was found to be a focus among less experienced Congress members with less support than their fellows. These Democrats utilise transparency to generate more favour and build reputation.