A FASCINATING piece of research was published by Pew just over a week ago. For anyone interested in the way social media feeds the rest of the media and influences mainstream opinion it’s a must-read. It sets out the differences in how US Democrats and Republicans behave on Twitter.
Few TCW readers will be surprised by the main finding which is that it’s a small minority (10 per cent) of Twitter users that create the vast majority (92 per cent) of tweets. Nor will they be entirely surprised to learn how many of these highly prolific tweeters are Democrats – 69 per cent of them. What they may not have considered in the reinforcement effect that comes with it.
For the variation does not stop there. Such is the Democrats’ zeal on Twitter that, ‘In addition to being more prevalent on the site in general, the 10 per cent most active Democrats typically produce roughly twice as many tweets in a month (157) as the 10 per cent most active Republicans (79).’ Now you could say they have more time to waste or that Republicans focus on more serious less superficial communication, but that would be to miss the significance of this difference. Dismissing Twitter from a moral high ground position is to be blind to it influence.
Trump was right when, from the start, he pushed his profile on Twitter and played it at its own game – to the raised eyebrows of conservatives and the consternation of the left. Other Republicans would have sunk into oblivion and they would do well to smarten up their act now. It’s not the Right who are pushing America’s divided society any further to the right – far form it. It’s a politically unrepresentative but highly active Left that is pushing America ever leftwards, not least via its domination of the twittersphere and the twitter ‘narrative’.
Republicans on Twitter are not just fewer, they are less ideological too. Nearly identical proportions of Republican Twitter users (60 per cent) and non-users (62 per cent) describe themselves as very or somewhat conservative, more of the Democrats who use Twitter tend to be more ‘liberal’ than the Democrat non-users. Pew’s choice of the word ‘liberal’ in this context is slightly odd but I am bound to assume it refers to ‘left’ or ‘social’ liberals not to classical (economic freedom loving) liberals. Assuming this to be the case we should not be surprised by their presence on Twitter. It reflects an observation of the late Roger Scruton, that the left’s pursuit of change makes then more ‘active’ by definition with a definite sales message (of promises) that advantages them. The conservatives’ commitment to preserve and conserve is a much more difficult ‘sell’.
The Democrat leftist bias on Twitter is further intensified by the high number (60 per cent) of Democrat Twitter users who describe their political leanings as ‘very’ liberal, compared with non-Twitter-using Democrats (of whom only 12 per cent of whom say they are very liberal). It is easy to see how a lurch to the Left occurs and how more extreme opinion can come to appear more ‘normative’ or mainstream than it is, in this process of reinforcement.
Then there is an age skew which again reinforces the very liberal or more left concentration of opinion. Though tweeters on both sides tend to be younger than non-tweeters – the younger tweeting Democrats are, guess what, more ‘liberal’ than their non-tweeting elders. Young Republican tweeters however are no more ‘conservative’ than older non-tweeting ones.
The article goes on to analyse and compare the respective followings of former President Obama and President Trump. Here again the Twitter world creates its own distorted world view. While some 42 per cent of Democrats and Democratic leaners on Twitter follow Obama (30 percentage points higher than the 12 per cent of Republicans who do so), 35 per cent of Republicans – but just 13 per cent of Democrats – follow Trump’s personal account. Biden and Harris also have substantially larger share than Pence. The more active following behaviour once again advantages the Democrats and the left.
To add to that is the hashtag phenomenon, which the Democrat twittersphere also dominates, the most striking example of which has been the millions of repeats of the #blacklivesmatter hashtag, since adopted uncritically by the mainstream media.
If there is a lesson to be learnt from this research for Republicans or Conservatives it’s that they can’t afford to look down their noses Twitter. It is a political force field. Conservatives need to invade their pitch. Relinquish it to the Left and you concede to their hold over media.
You can read the full article here.