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An analysis of tweeting habits found that women lawmakers tweet more often than their male counterparts. Experts have a few ideas as to why that is.
Women state legislators tweet more often than their male counterparts, use a more positive tone, and focus more on education and health care policy.
Those are among the findings from a recent study on the tweeting habits of state legislators over three years. Researchers compiled and analyzed more than 3 million tweets of lawmakers in every state to determine how men and women in legislative chambers differ in their social media habits. (The analysis depended on the help of several grad students and computer programs that classified tweets through machine learning.)
Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego and one of the paper’s authors, said the findings build on previous research that found that women are more successful than men in getting their legislation passed and earmarks secured.
“It’s not surprising that they’re also outperforming men when it comes to communication,” he said, adding that the finding is especially notable given the documented obstacles that women face in politics.
The study looked at lawmakers in the lower chamber of each state legislature from 2015 to 2018. During that time, 71% of female legislators had Twitter accounts compared to 60% of male legislators. The difference held up when considering party affiliation and usage rates of Twitter in different states.
Women also sent an average of 1,200 tweets in the study period, compared to 1,032 for men.
The paper, which was published in State Politics and Policy Quarterly, doesn’t explore the reasons for the different social media approaches among men and women. But political scientists have suggested that women in office might feel they have to work harder because they are under more scrutiny than their male counterparts, or that the comparatively fewer women who do run for office are more skilled than average male legislators.
In the paper, Kousser and his co-authors offered other potential explanations, including that women lawmakers might feel the need to tweet more because constituents demand more of women legislators than of men legislators. Or that women might have a harder time than men getting coverage from professional media outlets, so they need to communicate directly with their constituents.
The other two authors of the paper were Daniel Butler, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and Stan Oklobdzija, a professor at the University of California, Riverside.
The researchers found that lawmakers rarely tweeted about policy proposals, but when they did, men and women had different emphases. Men discussed education or health care in 3.5% of their posts, while women addressed them in 4.4% of their tweets.
Michele Swers, a Georgetown University professor who studies women in politics and who was not involved in Kousser’s research, said the results of the Twitter study also correspond to how women focus on their official duties.
Her research has found that women members of the U.S. House are more active than men on issues that are thought of as directly affecting women—such as child care, paid family leave or sexual harassment—only when their political party is in the majority. Swers said that’s because they have a better chance of passing their ideas when their party is in control.
“When you’re talking about tweeting, though, you’re expressing interest or advertising a policy that I care about, which is less costly in terms of time than developing policy proposals. So it doesn’t surprise me seeing women do this more,” Swers told Route Fifty.
The authors of the study said their findings demonstrated another advantage to the public of having more women in office. “One benefit of having more women in office is that voters learn about more issues,” they wrote. “Politicians’ communications are an important way for voters to learn about issues and to form evaluations.”
“If politicians never focus on issues like health care and education, then voters are likely to pay less attention to those issues,” they added. “If politicians descriptively represent the population, they are more likely to cover a wider range of issues that allows voters to learn about a wider range of issues.”
Daniel C. Vock is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.
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