Different Chambers, Divergent Rhetoric: Institutional Differences and Policy Representation on Social Media

AuthorSarah A. Smith,Annelise Russell
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2022, Vol. 50(6) 792797
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221113017
Different Chambers, Divergent Rhetoric:
Institutional Differences and Policy
Representation on Social Media
Sarah A. Smith
and Annelise Russell
For the past decade, members of both the House and Senate have increasingly used Twitter to curate a political agenda, but
some are better equipped to drive digital policy conversationseven on a public platform with few constraints, low costs, and
outsized user discretion. This research note explores the variable digital representation between congressional chambers, using
tweets from the 115th Congress to illustrate asymmetric patterns in lawmakersrhetorical agendas on Twitter and the role of
policy for self-presentation. Senators tweet more frequently, more often about policy, and represent a more d iverse agenda on
the platform. In this note, we suggest senatorsadditional resources and incentives for policy expe rtise shape important
differences in digital engagement, illustrating the prevailing importance of institutional nuance for understanding how lawmakers
use Twitter to frame their political reputations.
congress, Senate, Twitter
Members of Congress use social media for reputation
building, and central to that self-presentation is their
legislative agenda. Increasingly, Congress shares policy
information in 280-character quips. Fennos (1978) ex-
pectation that lawmakers prioritize good public policy is
somewhat realized on congressional Twitter where policy
accounts for more than half of those tweets (Hemphill
et al., 2021;Russell, 2021). Lawmakers are spending
more time and attention publicizing their policy priorities
for a digital constituency, but how lawmakers present
themselves on Twitter is hardly universal, and the mes-
sage variability has implications for policy and repre-
sentation. Partisanship and elections explain a lot about
lawmakersself-presentation, but in an era of agenda-
setting on Twitter, we must also consider the institutional
dynamics that inf‌luence digital outreach. Prior research
suggests resource asymmetries and institutional resources
constrain lawmaker behavior (Curry, 2015;Russell, 2021;
Schiller, 1995). In this research note, we assess the re-
alities of those different incentives on lawmakerspolicy
statements on Twitter, exploring whether one specif‌ic
differencechamberaffects the tenor and frequency of
lawmakerspolicy agendas online.
The context of policy engagement in the House and Senate
is distinguishable such that we expect the policy rhetoric
shared by members of each chamber to be different. The
Senate and its individual members have long been viewed as
being more inf‌luential and entrepreneurial when it comes to
the policy process, and we assess whether those assumptions
extend to reputation-building on Twitter. Most research on
congressional messaging focuses on one chamber or makes
general assumptions across both, but we reveal chamber
nuance by comparing differences in lawmakersdigital
In our research note, we examine tweets by both House
and Senate off‌icial accounts during the 115th Congress to
explain differences in policy representation. We illustrate that
senators are more likely to amplify an active policy agenda,
using Twitter more often to articulate their policy priorities by
communicating a diverse portfolio of issue interests. The
implications of these chamber differences mean that how we
understand digital communication in Congress is funda-
mentally shaped by the specif‌ic chamber we sample from,
University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA
University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Annelise Russell, University of Texas at Austin, 158 W 21st ST STOP A1800
Batts Hall 2.116, Austin, TX 78712, USA.
Email: anneliserussell8892@gmail.com

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