MPs with a slim majority are more likely to tweet: crunching numbers of tweeting elected representatives

Democratic Audit UK today posted a summary of results of research by James Donald who has been looking at the tweeting characteristics of Westminster MPs. It made me wonder about our local politicians. But first, the highlights from the UK-wide findings.

James Donald MPs use of Twitter by ageNearly 63% of MPs (408) had Twitter accounts in January 2013, while 37% were still abstaining. (Today, Tweetminster suggests the figure has risen marginally!)

The findings showed that the younger an MP is, the more likely she/he is to tweet.

Similarly “the intake of every parliament since 1983 proportionately has more MPs using Twitter than the last, the only exception being slightly more of the 1992 intake using Twitter than the 1997 intake (56% compared to 52%)”.

James Donald MPs Twitter use by size of majorityHowever, the most interesting potential insight into MPs’ habits came by looking at the size of each MP’s majority. The competitiveness of the race correlates with their likelihood to tweet.

Considering the size of MPs’ majorities, we can see whether MPs defending a small majority are more likely to tweet than those with a safe seat. This appears to be the case. MPs with a majority of under 5% are the most likely to tweet, with 81% of them doing so. Those with a majority between 5 and 10% are the group with the next highest proportion tweeting, on 73%. Those with majorities of over 30% are the least likely to tweet: fewer than 60% of MPs with such a majority tweet.

Twitter use of UK and NI MPs by ageThe age profile of tweeting MPs in Northern Ireland largely matches the UK profile. However, with only eighteen Northern Ireland MPs, the smaller sample size makes trends difficult to substantiate.

(Given the data baseline of January 2013, Martin McGuinness (1997 intake) is used rather than Francie Molloy. Both tweet. I’ve retained the red and blue chart colouring for consistency.)

Twitter use by NI MPs by partyThe DUP stand out as the party whose MPs are least likely to tweet. Two of their three youngest MPs tweet, the rest don’t.

(Jim Shannon hasn’t updated his @jim2win account since the General Election and isn’t counted amongst the tweeters.)

Perhaps it would be better to compare across legislatures?

Building on statistics from a handy Stratagem press release earlier this month shows that members of devolved institutions are using Twitter more than Westminster MPs, with over 91% of Welsh Assembly Members, 83% of Members of the Scottish Parliament and 71% of local MLAs tweeting, well above the Westminster MP levels. The most recent figures I can source for the Dáil show that nearly 84% of TDs tweet, just ahead of MSPs.

Twitter use by elected representatives across Westminister and devolved institutions and Dail

At election time any time the #tweetlikeanMLA hashtag can be seem joking about the phraseology and content of local politician’s tweets.

Comparing across MLAs in the local parties, the smaller parties and independents (with the exception of UKIP) are far ahead of the two largest parties.

Twitter use by MLAs grouped by party

The conclusion from these statistics and charts?

If you were starting to draw these charts from scratch I’d use red and green rather than red and blue!

Having a twitter account is relatively meaningless. It’s what you do with it that counts. The Sunday Independent recently published an article titled If an MP tweets and nobody hears.

The figures don’t look at the qualitative value or richness of the conversations and statements made over Twitter. (Though James Donald’s original research did categorise a small sample of MP’s tweets to see what they talked about.)

Most politicians I’ve talked to value Facebook as a tool to engage with constituents and pick up and resolve their local issues. Twitter gets quick headlines and allows rapid response to emerging stories, but it’s not a medium for doing a lot of business as an elected member.

Comparing legislatures across the UK, it’s no surprise to me that elected representatives at local institutions are more likely to be engaged with their constituents than those at Westminster. Though I don’t think this translates down to local council level.

DUP and Sinn Fein MLAs are the least twitterific. Maybe that’s a function of being the lead parties in the Executive, with many other more powerful ways to share their message? Maybe it’s about the ease of which many of their candidates achieve a quota at Assembly elections? (I’ll try and group the MLAs by the percentage of a quota they receive in first preference votes if I get hold of the figures and have a half hour to spend.)

Maybe there’s a little complacency in there too? The big parties can afford to run offices and surgeries, backed up with local councillors. Twitter’s not for them?

(Thanks to James Donald for sharing his figures for NI MPs.)

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.