By this point, we’re probably all familiar with the idea that social media creates echo chambers. Even though we essentially have everyone in the world at our fingertips, we inevitably fall back into our in-groups. HuffPost can reveal that ― shock, horror ― the people we rely on to weigh evidence and make decisions on behalf of the American people are not immune to this.
Following last week’s dive into the followers of the potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, we decided to turn things around and look at the interests of the politicians themselves: We’ve compiled an enormous data set that shows who people in both chambers of Congress are following on Twitter. The results point to a significant partisan divide and give a glimpse into the wildly different places where Democrats and Republicans get their information.
The Nerdy Bit: Methodology
To put this together, we attempted to compile as complete a list of congressional Twitter accounts as possible ― which was harder than you might think, as there is no central list. When a member of Congress had multiple accounts ― for example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has @ewarren and @SenWarren for her campaign and her congressional office, respectively ― we lumped together the follows rather than try to arbitrate which was the “real” account. So, in this example, if @ewarren follows a given account but @SenWarren doesn’t, that still counts as a follow. For the purposes of keeping count, we’ve decided to count independent Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine) as Democrats because that’s who they caucus with.
These numbers are inevitably not going to be 100 percent accurate: There could be accounts we missed or other errors ― not to mention the simple fact that politicians follow and unfollow accounts all the time. But we believe our data is good enough to draw the following interesting conclusions, even given those caveats.
To keep things clear, we stuck to using data from the House only in the tables below ― but on the bar charts toward the end you’ll see we also collected Senate data. You can use the widget at the bottom to explore data from both chambers.
A Congress Divided
First up, let’s take a look at the Twitter accounts most likely to be followed by House Republicans. The most followed accounts are directly related to their work, with the GOP leadership and recently departed Speaker Paul Ryan at the top of the table. According to our data, not everyone in the House follows President Donald Trump.
Fox News is ranked pretty high, as are insider news outlets Politico and The Hill. Perhaps most revealing here is the appearance of The Heritage Foundation, an all-powerful right-wing think tank.
The blue team is similarly obedient to its leaders, with Democrats following their leadership and their most recent president. The appearance of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is interesting: He’s not in leadership, but he’s chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, where much of the Russia investigation action takes place.
The divide also extends to the media. Here are the media outlets House Republicans most follow:
Compare and contrast with the Democrats ― there’s some overlap, but congressional Democrats clearly prefer to hear from NPR over Fox News:
The divide also holds for individual journalists. The list of media figures followed by House Republicans looks a bit like the Fox News TV schedule, with the top account being the network’s congressional correspondent.
The Democrats, however, have also curated their follows along partisan lines, with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in the No. 1 spot. The Democratic top-10 list also features Chuck Todd of MSNBC, Jake Tapper of CNN and Mike Allen of Politico. What is really striking is the disparity in numbers for some other journalists, like Ezra Klein and Nate Silver, whom some detractors might characterize as “liberal.” For example, as you can see in the table below, 119 Democrats ― but only 37 (out of 199) Republicans ― follow Silver of FiveThirtyEight. It’s also interesting to note that despite Fox being… well, Fox, Chad Pergram is still clearly someone whom Democrats in the House are interested in hearing from.
This, however, is just scratching the surface.
Follow The Leader
We decided to see if the data could tell us anything about the 2020 Democratic primary. Perhaps Twitter follows by people in Congress could be a useful proxy for establishment support ― in which case, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is narrowly leading the pack of potential presidential candidates, closely followed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), former Vice President Joe Biden and Warren. (Note that some people are listed twice, as they have multiple Twitter accounts.)
It’s also fun to look at other individual accounts to see the breakdown of congressional followers. For example, here are the results for Katy Perry, who was one of Hillary Clinton’s most high-profile supporters in 2016 ― she’s followed by 22 House Democrats and one Republican:
Taylor Swift has more bipartisan appeal, and is followed by eight House Democrats and seven House Republicans:
The ghost of culture wars past are still reflected on Twitter. Here’s the follower breakdown for Chick-fil-A, which became a cause celebre for Republicans in 2012 after a top executive commented publicly on his opposition to same-sex marriage. (Sadly, no one in Congress appears to follow Gillette, so we couldn’t surmise anything about its ongoing “controversy.”)
And now the best part. As we did last week, we’ve built a widget so you can go through the data yourself. Enter the name of a Twitter account, and it’ll show you how many Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate follow that account. There are over 70,000 accounts, so get going ― and be sure to tweet us with the most interesting results you’ve found.
James O’Malley tweets as @Psythor.