Social Media Responsiveness in Congress and Local Government

Social Media Responsiveness in Congress and Local Government

WHY: We know that social media is changing the way people communicate, but does that mean it can change how legislators act? We set out to find out if a citizen can use social media to more effectively communicate with an elected representative.


The Organizing Center, funded by the Phone2Action Civic Tech Fund, set out to find real answers. We launched a continuing effort to analyze the Facebook and Twitter behavior of every official Congressional account. This began during a busy recess full of in-district constituent events and policy battles. The data within reflects the first phase of scoring across the entire month of August, with the goal of creating the first-ever complete, quantitative index. We also reviewed city councils in Washington, DC, and San Francisco, CA to understand federal vs. local differences.


We created the SPRI (the Social Platform Responsiveness Index) by measuring: (1) Size of Facebook fan audience; (2) Openness of Facebook page to comments to the public; (3) Size of Twitter following; and (4) Presence of two-way conversations with citizens about legislative issues.


On a scale of 0 (lowest) to 2.0 (highest), the House of Representatives averaged 0.87, with Democrats scoring 0.93 on average, and Republicans scoring 0.83. 

In the Senate, the average score was 0.78, with Democrats averaging 0.84 and Republicans averaging 0.73. 

The averages for San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and Washington D.C.’s City Council were higher, with respective averages of 1.36 and 1.45. 

Age didn’t matter, nor did the urban/rural composition of the district. 

We also saw clear groupings with respect to each party when plotting the elected officials SPRI score against the liberal vs. conservative composition of the district. These trends provide a roadmap for engaging Congress.

SPRI Top-lines

It is impossible for any body of government to have a perfect 2.0 SPRI score because members are competing against each other for 50% of the points allotted. Still, it is worth understanding the performance of each of the four reviewed governing bodies.

Generally speaking, the closer to the citizens the elected official is, the higher the mean SPIRI score we see. The city officials average higher than the House, which in turn averages higher than the Senate. This is largely the result of much higher likelihood of Twitter responsiveness and Facebook page openness at the local level.

In the House and Senate, means are lower than averages because a handful of “social media superstars” score perfectly. By contrast, in the cities, the mean scores are higher than average. In city governments surveyed, just a couple of members in local government who score well below the average by bucking the local trends, and bring down the average considerably.

Within the House and Senate, Democrats slightly outperform Republicans, but neither party is very distant from the averages or mean.


SPRI (y-axis) by PVI (x-axis)

The Presidential Voting Index, popularized by the Cook Report, gives us a measure of the competitiveness of an elected official’s district. By plotting the SPRI score of a member with their district PVI, we can, for the first time, access a roadmap for communicating with members.

Here we see the most Democratic districts the furthest to the left, and the most Republican performing districts the furthest to the right. A PVI of zero means the district is perfectly split down the middle. The closer to zero a member’s district, the more likely it’ll be a “toss up” in elections. These members, therefore, have a particularly high incentive to build social media presence.

This informs the “roadmap” in the ensuing eight pages.