U.S. senators on Twitter : party polarization in 140 characters



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The tenor of the Senate no longer relies on traditions of apprenticeship and courtesy. The modern reality is a highly party-polarized institution, encouraging intraparty loyalty and interparty discord. Senators’ behavior on roll-call votes and amendments exhibit this hyper-partisan culture, but that culture extends beyond voting behavior. Members' media activities, including communications with constituents and each other, are equally appealing venues to express excessive partisanship. New media technologies, such as Twitter, are extending this partisan game and punching a ticket for every member of the Senate. Twitter offers a low-cost alternative for members to express malcontent with an opposing party while signaling intra-party party support. In this paper, I tease out the extent to which a member’s party and leadership status affect their likelihood to engage in the partisan discourse that now spans social media. I introduce a unique dataset from the 112th Congress that catalogues six months of senatorial Twitter activity and find that minority party members and party leaders are more likely to name-call and express party loyalty. Twitter may be an alternative agenda space for minority interests that seek to alter the status quo and a public relations platform for party leaders who are tasked with shaping the debate.