As social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become ingrained in political and popular culture, a new Pew Research Center analysis of every tweet and Facebook post from members of Congress since 2015 finds that the congressional social media landscape has undergone vast changes in recent years.
These shifts have been especially pronounced on Twitter. Compared with a similar time period in 2016, the typical member of Congress now tweets nearly twice as often (81% more), has nearly three times as many followers and receives more than six times as many retweets on their average post. On Facebook, the typical member of Congress produces 48% more posts and has increased their total number of followers and average shares by half.1
Social media use by members of Congress – and the online audience’s response to those communications – fluctuates in real time and varies based on the issues and events of the day. But underlying this constant churn, there have been notable changes in how lawmakers of each party use social media and interact with the Twitter and Facebook audiences more broadly.
Today, Democratic members tend to post more often and have more followers on Twitter. Relative to the typical (median) Republican member of Congress, the typical Democratic member has over 17,000 more followers on Twitter and posts nearly twice as many tweets in a typical month (130 vs. 73), differences that have grown substantially in the last four years. On Facebook, the typical member of each party has a similar number of followers and much smaller differences in posting volume.
These differences may to some degree reflect differences in the demographic compositions of the two platforms. A 2019 survey by the Center found that 62% of U.S. adults who use Twitter identify as Democrats or political independents who lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with 50% of U.S. adults who use Facebook.
But although the median Democratic lawmaker is more active on both platforms, through the first five months of 2020 the typical Republican received greater levels of audience engagement (as measured by reactions, shares, favorites and retweets) on both Facebook and Twitter.