Twitter use on the rise in #statecapitals

January 7, 2014

Twitter’s November initial public offering has been a success for the company’s founders and early investors. This reflects the market’s optimistic view of the company’s profit-making potential. For Twitter has transformed much of daily life — including how we get our news, communicate with others and participate in public discourse. (In fact, many media outlets now factor in what is trending on Twitter when covering news stories.)

Many politicians are now using Twitter to raise their profile. Most notable is the newest senator, Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Despite the fact that he was mayor of Newark, a city known for its high unemployment and high school dropout rates rather than good governance and policy innovation, Booker’s effective use of Twitter (1,446,106 followers) played a key role in making him a national political figure.

Twitter has significantly changed the way politicians get their message out and gauge public opinion. There are staffers at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee whose job it is to count tweets. (No, really.) In addition to national politics, however, Twitter has transformed the way business is done in state capitals across the country.

While most state lawmakers and government officials weren’t early adopters of Twitter, many have now embraced the technology. Not only has Twitter changed the way legislators interact with constituents, it has helped make the governing process more transparent and increased the responsiveness and accountability of government officials.

Van Taylor, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, looks to Twitter to get feedback and public input on a bill in real time, as the legislature is debating and preparing to vote.

“Everyone now has their iPads out on the House floor during session,” Taylor said, “and are paying attention to what is being said about pending legislation and bills that are scheduled to be voted on. New technology and social media have given citizens more access than ever before.”

Of the 7,383 state legislators in the United States, 35 percent, or 2,622, had a Twitter account at the start of 2014. Usage increases with every election cycle. There are four percent more state legislators on Twitter today than before the 2012 election.

More Republicans than Democrats use Twitter at the state level. Taking into account the 2013 elections in Virginia and New Jersey, 1,459 Republican state legislators nationwide are now on Twitter, compared to 1,163 Democrats. More than 38 percent of GOP state legislators are now tweeting, while less than 34 percent of Democratic state legislators have accounts.

California, home to Silicon Valley in the north and Hollywood in the south, has the greatest percentage of state legislators — more than 83 percent — on Twitter. Golden State lawmakers have the most populous districts in the nation — with state Senate districts the size of U.S. congressional districts. So California lawmakers and candidates use tools like Twitter to  reach a large population of constituents.

Other Western states are also well represented on Twitter. Arizona, Colorado and Texas follow California in having the greatest share of their legislature on Twitter. Ohio, the first state east of the Mississippi to appear on the list, rounds out the top five — with 62 percent of its legislature on Twitter. Five of the top 10 state legislatures with highest Twitter usage are completely controlled by Republicans. In contrast, California is the only state in the top 10 that is under total Democratic control.

North Carolina, home of the technology Research Triangle, has also seen strong Twitter use. State Representative David Lewis (R), who sponsored the major tax reform act that went into effect on January 1, used Twitter to promote the new bill that affects individuals, families and employers.

Lewis also uses Twitter for rapid response, quickly countering misinformation spread by political opponents, as well as to promote constituent events and media appearances.


More than 130,000 bills were introduced in state legislatures across the nation last year, and roughly 40,000 were eventually passed and enacted. Twitter has helped people working on state policy and government affairs keep up with the whirlwind of activity when legislatures are in session. Using Twitter, it can be far easier to keep track of the thousands of bills being considered. Many states have even developed a hashtag for all tweets related to legislative activity under their respective capitol domes.

Folks petitioning the North Carolina General Assembly, for example, can keep up with the latest by following #NCGA and #NCPOL. In Texas it’s #TXlege. And those following the action on Beacon Hill in Boston can follow #MaPoli, just to name a few.

Twitter’s ability to affect the legislative process was on full display in the summer of 2012, when the Washington City Council was considering legislation that would have prevented the popular app-based car service Uber from operating in the District. After a deluge of tweets from angry Washingtonians to their council members, D.C. lawmakers dropped the bill.

Some Luddite naysayers mock Twitter as just some way to let everyone know what you had for lunch. But its continuing affect on state legislatures has been remarkable.

Consider, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (58,351 followers) has used Twitter to spread the word about what he has accomplished in office. Walker frequently tweeted about how his reforms have put the state on sound financial footing and ushered in tax relief.

But it is not all political. During the recent Packers-Bears game, Walker also demonstrated Twitter’s value as a medium for the mass dissemination of high-quality football smack talk.


PHOTO (TOP): People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw, September 27, 2013.REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

PHOTO (INSERT): The exterior shot of the State Capitol is seen as California legislators work late into the night to pass a $40 billion budget in the building in Sacramento, California, February 17, 2009.  REUTERS/Max Whittaker

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Twitter amplifies the voices of one section of the population, with the side-effect of drowning out the voices of the rest. This has already lead many journalists and politicians to take whatever is currently gospel on Twitter to be representative of views across the country.

Engagement with the public is good, as long as it is as much of the public as possible – not just the bit that is easy to see.

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