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.)

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  • ayeYerMa

    A greater use of Twitter corresponds directly to a greater amount of twattery, and greater a,ounts of time spent dicking about with overpriced iDevices in pretending to be fashionable.

    This scientific observation is brought to you by the research institute for common sense which indicates that you are unlikely to be “engaging with your constituents” in any meaningful way in 140 characters. Twitter is loved, however, by media types for producing easy soundbites and sensationalism over substance, factual reporting and solid investigative journalism.

    Then again, this is Alan in Belfast who seems to value media spin and perception over reality.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “MPs with a slim majority are more likely to tweet”

    I can think of nothing worse than following Politicians on Twitter. Twitter is good at giving real time information that you need up to the minute information on. I can understand why someone would want up to date information on sport but not their local MP.

    “MPs with a slim majority are more likely to” do anything that may get them a vote at the next election. I wonder if you did a graph of how frequent an elected MP/TD goes to wake houses would you get the same graph? I know Pearse Doherty gets criticized for poor at wake house attending in Donegal.

  • runepig

    I’ll bite. While Twitter isn’t the be all and end all of political communication and engagement with constituents, it would seem daft not to use it as one of many tools, online or off. Given that younger people are more likely to use it and they are both the future of NI (most are increasingly secular) and part of the problem (some still being indoctrinated in sectarianism), is ignoring social media not counterproductive, if not negligent?

    As for the results in the article, I wonder if the DUP are having trouble sourcing computers with Ulster-Scots keyboards?

  • Nearly two-thirds of DUP MLAs use twitter so while they’re “behind” they’re not ignoring social media. At their 2011 party conference, they held a fringe meeting at lunchtime to look at it – and senior figures within their party talked about their experiences (good and bad).

    While a little more difficult to track, I’d predict that Facebook uptake is much greater, with very few MLAs not using it to receive casework (and banter/abuse) from their constituents.

  • Greenflag

    @ Aye yer ma ,

    ‘A greater use of Twitter corresponds directly to a greater amount of twattery,’

    True enough not that there’s any shortage of the latter without the twitter .

    @ mcslaggart

    ‘I can think of nothing worse than following Politicians on Twitter.’

    I can , Watching grass grow or watching televangelists with shiny white teeth preaching to gobshites and begging for more money i.e offerings for the Lord to keep the private jet in the air 🙁

  • I really wonder if Twitter is worth it.
    Or are MLAs just people like myself (23 followers, following 51) who are worried that we might “miss” something.
    Im not sure that they are really engaging with real voters or simply engaging with the MetroTextual community.
    Stormont (and being isolated on the Hill cant help) is much too cosy and politicians, staffers, journalists and lobbyists seem to spend far too much time in that coccoon….and just like the people who work together carry on that conversation via Twitter and Facebook.
    Good craic…but is it really Politics when a serious political programme like The View gives an award (Conall) for being the best Tweeter?

  • “MetroTextual”

    FJH – great word!