Who influences lawmakers? It’s a question we've asked since the American political experiment kicked off some 240 years ago. And while it may often be difficult to connect the dots in real life, researchers have taken to Twitter to determine the most influential accounts at the heart of each state’s legislature.
What was found and published in a July 12 study from FiscalNote doesn’t necessarily clear up all the mystery behind who votes for what and why — but it does lend some interesting insights into the accounts they follow and take information from. To the surprise of FiscalNote’s senior researcher Daniel Argyle, his work shows that legislators are far more interested in local accounts rather than larger, national accounts.
“We were interested in seeing, external to legislators, who was actually important and influential,” he said. “We found that the types of people that were most important were pretty similar across states, sort of state political organizations, state media and in a few cases national people, but it was interesting how localized most everything was. I was expecting that people would follow party leaders and things like that nationally.”
Governors, public officials and other legislators were popular follows for many. Additionally, less traditional media — meaning smaller, more hyper-focused outlets — seemed to also be a beacon for those in the larger state legislative environment. In Georgia and Massachusetts, for example, political news sites and blogs garnered significant attention from lawmakers.
“One of the interesting things to me about the specific media accounts … it was interesting how many accounts were, I guess new media is not the right term, but they were sort of less traditional outlets,” Argyle told Government Technology.
Even with these insights into the Twittersphere of state politicians, the researcher said it is still not clear just how much influence their respective social networks have in daily political life. He did say, however, that the general power structure of state legislatures seemed to translate to the accounts of the members.
Argyle said while many members may not be very active on the social media platform, their choices of who to follow are a prime indicator of the external account holder's importance
“On some level, who you follow on Twitter is not a substantive thing, but the interesting thing is that it does seem to reflect the power structure of the legislature at the time," he said. "So if you look at Republican-dominated states, the party organizations that are most prominent are public and party organizations, which is not too surprising, but it does indicate that the Twitter patterns mimic the actual power patterns that are in the legislature at the time.”
Argyle went on to say this study represents only a small sample of the available data, but is somewhat representative of the larger state legislative environment.