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Twitter Reality: The Republicans Are Crushing the Democrats When it Comes to Tweeting

Democrats in Congress failed to learn the lesson of Obama's use of social media to win the presidency. Republicans, however, were paying attention.

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, the press dubbed him “ social networking king.” As the 2010 mid-term congressional elections approach, not one Democratic member of Congress comes close donning that crown – which, if present trends continue, may next be worn by a Republican.

In 2008, the Obama campaign built huge followings on social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, and accrued millions of views on YouTube. And that wasn’t all of it: Supporters flocked to the campaign’s own custom-built social network,, which allowed Obama enthusiasts to create profiles, access organizing tools, and connect with other Obama supporters and volunteers in their areas.

But nearly two years later, it has become apparent that Obama’s new media successes are not echoed by the Democratic Party in Congress. In the 111 th Congress, it’s the Republicans who have truly figured out how to succeed in social media – and unless Democrats amplify their new media efforts, it’s hard to see how they keep their House majority in 2011.

According to Democratic officials, 108 House Democrats (of a total of 255) have Twitter accounts Facebook pages exist for 178 House Democrats, and 204 House Democrats have YouTube channels. On the Republican side, officials confirm that there are 130 House Republicans (out of a total 178) on Twitter, 166 on Facebook, and 178 on YouTube.

The raw numbers are deceiving; social media activity by the two parties is not as evenly matched as it appears. Republicans are dominating in the categories that matter: they have more followers, they’re more active, and they are more in sync with each other. According to TweetCongress, a Web site that tracks congressional activity on Twitter, the most active Twitter account in Congress is the Senate Republicans' Twitter handle, Senate_GOPs, which puts out an average of 7.85 tweets per day. Of the most active Twitter handles for members of Congress, the top 10 are all Republicans. And of the Congressional Twitter handles with the most followers, nine of the top 10 are Republicans -- the only exception is Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

On YouTube, eight of the top 10 channels among members of Congress belong to GOP members -- and Republicans surpassed Democrats in total video views in 2009, according to industry analyst TubeMogul.

At the leadership level, the disparity is especially glaring: House GOP Leader John Boehner is regularly active on Facebook, two Twitter accounts (@JohnBoehner and @GOPLeader), and a YouTube channel. Since joining Twitter in 2007, Boehner has amassed well over 50,000 Twitter followers and posts several updates each day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by contrast, has just under 9,000 Twitter followers, and has posted only 53 tweets since joining Twitter only this spring. And on Facebook, the disparity is downright amazing: Pelosi has a mere 23,291 Facebook fans while Boehner currently has 115, 454.

In fact, the social-media scales have tipped so far in the GOP’s favor that Rep. Boehner issued a statement in January 2010 declaring: “ PWNED: House GOP Dominates Twitter, YouTube, Social Media in Congress.” The statement included research showing that more House Republicans user Twitter than Democrats, that Republicans’ YouTube videos regularly outperform those of the Democrats.

Boehner’s claim was then assessed by the nonpartisan site PolitiFact, which confirmed that Boehner’s statement was true: House Republicans truly are dominating in the social media space.

You’ve Got to Have “Friends”

It’s tempting to brush all of this off as having all the significance of a high-school popularity contest. Why does it matter who can count more digital “friends”? There are elections to be won and legislation to be passed: what purpose does it serve to engage in a competition of numbers, other than to puff up the egos of a few members of Congress? Does it add any real value?