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Survey of (academic) research on Twitter in politics

There has been a lot of research done by academic and consulting institutions regarding Twitter adoption in politics. Between February 2010 to now, I think that there have been at least a dozen circulated studies on this topic. The fact that this topic is studied by consultants, economists, marketers, and political scientists suggests that the topic is important; or at the very least, a trend. A number of interesting results have emerged. Collectively, all of these studies give us a refined picture of a typical politician who Tweets.

Williams and Gulati (2010) find that those who adopt Twitter are politicians who have received a lot of contributions. Well funded politicians often have better access and information about “trendy” communication technologies. Alternatively, well funded politicians may have more connections and benefit more from technology that (presumably) maintains these connections.

Lassen and Brown (2010) find that politicians in less competitive districts are more likely to adopt Twitter. It is hard to say why this pattern emerges. However, our well publicized paper (Chi and Yang, 2010) may provide a hint.

Our study finds that the positive effect on adoption associated with the lack of competitiveness (i.e. electoral support) is largest for inexperienced politicians. This pattern seems to fit with the story which links the benefit associated with transparency and electoral support. Those with strong support have an incentive to maintain their constituents’ trust. This incentive is strongest for those who are new to the game and have yet to solidify their positive reputation.

Now, this leaves the plethora of studies that seem to be fixated on showing: Republicans are more likely to Tweet (or have higher “Digital IQ”). You can find some of these studies here, here and here.

There are probably more studies floating around. But these are the ones that I believe have gained the most traction in the public arena.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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