Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web

The United States of Social Media Part II: This Time It’s Partisan

A few months ago, I researched how many state legislators had social media accounts and which social media platforms they were most likely to use.

That post focused on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and found that 46% of all state legislators have an account on at least one of these platforms, with Facebook being the most used of the three. As a follow-up, I decided to look at whether one of the two major parties was more likely to have social media accounts than the other.

My first assumption was that Democrats, being more popular with younger voters, would be more likely to have social media accounts. As I entered more social media data into the Cicero API database, I discovered that Republicans more than held their own on this front. After we entered more data into Cicero I started to believe that Republicans might actually have more social media accounts than Democrats. I readjusted my expectations, but this was all assumption. It made me curious enough, though, to further explore the data and see if either of my hunches might be correct.

As it turns out, the data indicate that in both the upper and lower chambers of state legislatures, Republicans and Democrats hold almost identical patterns in their social media account membership.

Overall, nearly half of all Republicans and Democrats (48% and 47% respectively) have an account with one of the three major social media players that I was studying.

All Social Media Upper Chambers

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In the upper chambers, 51% of Republicans and 52% of Democrats have at least one account. Nearly 3 in 10 in each party (27% of Republicans and 28% of Democrats) use only one platform. That drops to 2 in 10 (21% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats) when it comes to using two platforms. Only a small number of legislators use all three platforms: 3% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats.

All Social Media Lower Chambers

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In the lower chambers, the similarities continue. Forty-seven percent of Republicans and 45% of Democrats have at least one social media account. Again, nearly 3 in 10 in both parties (28% of Republicans and 30% of Democrats) have an account with only one platform. That drops to 16% of Republicans and 13% of Democrats using two platforms. Again, only a small number of legislators use all three platforms: 3% of Republicans and 2% of Democrats.

Upper Chambers with Facebook

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The parties show similar account ownership when it comes to each platform as well. In the upper chambers, 44% of Republicans and 45% of Democrats have Facebook accounts.

Upper Chambers with Facebook

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While in the lower chambers, 41% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats have Facebook accounts.

Upper Chambers with Twitter

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The Twitter data tells a similar story: 30% of Republicans and 29% of Democrats in the upper chambers have Twitter accounts.

Lower Chambers with Twitter

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While in the lower chambers, 20% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats have Twitter accounts.

Upper Chambers with YouTube

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Only 5% percent of Republicans and Democrats in their states’ upper chambers have YouTube accounts.

Lower Chambers with YouTube

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In the lower chambers, 7% of Republicans and 3% of of Democrats have YouTube accounts.

The data hammer the same point home: both parties are using social media in almost the exact same fashion. It doesn’t matter if I look at the upper or the lower chambers, or if I tease the data out to specific social media platforms. In just about every circumstance, the results are mind numbingly similar.

We are continuing to add more social media data into the Cicero API Database, and will start tracking sites like Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. My gut tells me that LinkedIn will take over YouTube as the third most used social media account in our data, but then again, I’ve been wrong before.

Azavea Shares Data for Google Maps Gallery

Making data about our elected officials and their districts more accessible has been a prominent part the mission of our Cicero API product. We believe it’s important this data is available to the masses. That’s why we’re excited to be part of the launch of the new Google Maps Gallery, an easy way to view some of the most interesting and data rich maps on the internet. The Google Maps Gallery already has hundreds of maps from many different data providers, such as the United States Geological Survey, the World Bank Group, NASA and even our hometown favorite PolicyMap. Eventually, these maps will appear in Google search results which will make it even easier to discover this important content. Right now, they can easily be embedded on a website or visualized in Google Earth.

As part of Google Maps’ Public Data Program for the launch of the Map Gallery, Azavea was invited to share some of the data we’ve collected and generated for our Cicero API database. To take a look at all the maps Azavea has produced for the Google Maps Gallery, check out our publisher page.

In the past couple years, we’ve made an aggressive effort to collect as much social media information about elected officials as possible. So one of the datasets you can view today on the Google Maps Gallery is a map of all current U.S. House members and their twitter account.

In addition, we’ve collected political data for other countries. Check out our recently added congressional districts for Mexico.

Ultimately, the Google Maps Gallery is just one place for Azavea to share data and research with the community at large. You can also find it on our GitHub, through CartoDB and ArcGIS Online. For a full list, head over to the Azavea Commons.

 

The United States of Social Media

All Upper and Lower Chambers

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Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube continue to become more and more integrated into the fabric of American culture. For many, they present a more convenient option for communication with friends, family, corporations, and political figures. It’s not unheard of for a tweet to a retail company to be more effective in a customer service interaction than calling customer service or emailing the company directly. In the realm of politics there has been a growing trend to use social media sites to communicate directly with elected officials, or to organize political action. Despite this, American political officials on the state level in particular seem to be lagging behind the overall population in their use of social media as a means to communicate.

We have spent the last year collecting the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Flickr, and Picasa social media accounts of  elected officials and have been incorporating them into the Cicero API. While for some time Cicero has contained social media information, this latest effort has been an attempt to be even more encompassing in regards to this kind of data.

This is by no means an exhaustive collection of social media data. In this effort we have collected accounts that are easily accessible. For example, social media that could be found via the official’s legislative webpage, their own personal webpage or campaign page, or through a quick web search. In most cases, we focused on adding accounts that are in active use, meaning if an account has remained idle for months or years at a time it has not been entered into the database. The one exception to this is with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Due to our own biases from being a Pennsylvania based company, we have searched a little harder for the social media accounts in our region.

Here are a few general observations based on the data we have collected. On the federal level, maintaining an active social media presence is just about a given, but on the state level there are far fewer elected officials using social media. Only 46% of the state legislators in the Cicero API database have at least one social media account on the three major platforms; Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The above map (Image 1) shows which districts have a state legislator with at least one social media account versus the districts where there is no easily found social media presence.

State Legislators Social Media Accounts: Upper Chambers

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While collecting the social media data, it felt as if those officials in the upper chambers used social media more than their lower chamber counterparts. Upon review of this hypotheses, there was only a 1% difference in favor of those in the upper chambers. Hardly enough of a difference to be very meaningful, but where there were some real differences between the chambers in how many social media accounts were being utilized. Forty-seven percent of all upper chamber representatives have at least one social media account. Looking a little deeper we found that 25% had only one account, 19% had two accounts, and 3% had accounts on all three social media platforms. When looking at the maps (Image 2, Image 3), it appears that the West Texas  region is disproportionality large. This is due to the large areas a district can encompass in the state, and it helps to illustrate that district size is a factor in the visualization of this data.

State Legislators Social Media Accounts: Lower Chambers

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With the lower chambers, 46% have at least one social media account. What we found is that legislators in lower chambers were more likely to have just one account, compared to legislators in upper chambers who were likely to have two accounts. In the lower chambers, 29%  have one account, while 14% have two accounts, and 2%  have all three.

State Legislators with Facebook

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Looking at each individual social media platform, Facebook is clearly the most widely used by state legislators. Forty-one percent of all state legislators have a Facebook account, and this map (Image 4) shows the most complete coverage of any single social media platform. When we layer the other social media platforms onto the map there are very few districts where there is no Facebook, but other platforms show through. While the overall popularity of Facebook is most likely the key factor into why the platform is the most used by politicians, another factor is the various ways a legislator can utilize Facebook. While most officials have created a Page for themselves for their supporters to “like”, a decent amount use their personal Facebook page for communication with their constituents. There is also a fair amount of those that have multiple Facebook pages. Some set up a page as they run for office and then create a new page once they are elected, which hardly seems like the most efficient means of using the platform, but I digress.  On this map (Image 4) we also have the clearest view of the social media deserts that form in New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, Louisiana, Indiana and the Dakotas. Elsewhere, the chances of finding at least one of your state representatives on Facebook are pretty good.

State Legislators with Twitter

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While Twitter could possibly be the easiest way to directly communicate with an elected official, there is a drastic drop in usage when compared to Facebook. Only 22% of state legislators have a twitter account, making Twitter’s usage about half of Facebook’s usage.

State Legislators with YouTube

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YouTube is clearly the least popular of the social media platforms we are exploring here. Only 5% of all state legislators have their own YouTube account. There are a variety of reasons for this beyond the overall popularity of the platform itself. For one, YouTube has the least amount of social interaction, and it is possible that the platform has little utility for officials closer to the local levels of government. Also, many state legislators will have a link to a YouTube account on their page that is actually a caucus’ YouTube account. While others hyperlink to pre-filled out YouTube searches giving the user many of the videos featuring the official without the official actually having their own account.

Overall, there appears to be a growing trend towards elected officials using social media to connect with voters and their constituents. There is also a greater acceptance among the legislative bodies to include social media accounts on a legislator’s official webpage making it more of a part of the cultural norm. As the Cicero Team is entering newly elected officials we are finding that most make use of at least one of these platforms, and many of them are utilizing multiple platforms as part of their campaign strategy. These accounts then carry over to their career as a representative. We are looking forward to tracking the growth of the use of social media over the coming election cycles.

 

 

New Federal Open Data Policy Conference in DC

This is a slightly modified cross-post from the Data Transparency Coalition’s blog.

Data Transparency conference banner

Azavea has been a huge supporter of the open data community for years now, and Sarah Cordivano and I are excited to announce we will be exhibiting at the first ever Data Transparency 2013 conference on Sept. 10th in Washington, DC. Quality data is at the forefront of almost every geospatial analysis project and software product we release, and open data makes our work that much easier and more powerful. As the federal government transforms information currently locked in static documents into open data – standardized, structured, and freely available – we are be able to use that data to create new platforms that deliver geography-based insights for citizens, business, and policymakers. As a B Corporation, open data is also important to our company’s civic mission because we believe it contributes to better government and a more engaged citizenry.

We frequently participate in and sponsor open data and civic hacking events like NASA’s Space Apps, the Sunlight Foundation’s TransparencyCamp, and Random Hacks of Kindness. Years ago, we took it upon ourselves to build OpenDataPhilly.org, which is still used by our hometown City of Philadelphia as its official open data catalog, and was part of an “Open Data Race” effort to get more organizations advocating for open data. The underlying OpenDataCatalog open source project has been adopted in cities like San Diego and others.

Key products of ours that we will be showcasing at the Data Transparency conference both use and create open data. OpenTreeMap is our open source crowdsourced tree inventory and public engagement platform for urban forestry, which lets ordinary citizens with smartphones map trees in their city, creating open data that can be analyzed for environmental benefits and help us visualize and understand the importance and value of trees and green infrastructure.

Our Cicero API allows advocacy groups and other organizations to easily match the addresses of their constituents with the districts of elected officials and contact information essential to our democracy. And DistrictBuilder also aims to make the process of political redistricting more open and collaborative. The more levels of government that open key political data and information in machine readable formats, the easier it is for us to improve our Cicero and DistrictBuilder tools for use by advocacy groups and citizens themselves.

We look forward to joining other members of the growing federal open data community at the conference in two weeks. See you there!

Recorded Webinar: How to Conquer Post-Election Data Chaos with the Cicero API

On Friday, December 14, we hosted “How to Conquer your Post-Election Data Chaos with Cicero,”  a webinar that examined five “data chaos factors” that nonprofits and political advocacy groups are facing in these intermediate few weeks both after the 2012 elections in the US and before the newly-elected officials and new legislative sessions start in January of next year. With Azavea’s political background, and as we were updating the database behind Cicero with the more than 8,000 official records that changed on November 6th, we noticed accelerating trends and saw common pain points many nonprofits are facing just after an election in a redistricting year like 2012. The Cicero API and other techniques and technologies we know like spatial analysis, event registration, and social media can be powerful when applied to nonprofit advocacy work during this chaotic time.

A recording of the webinar is available below. I’ve also posted the recording on YouTube and made the slides available via SlideShare. If you have any questions about the webinar or Cicero, please feel free to email me at athompson@azavea.com.

We’re hoping to hold more webinars and screencasts on Cicero and our other political advocacy services like spatial analysis in 2013! Let me know if you have an advocacy technology issue you think would make a good webinar, or if you’ve tried to use Cicero in the past and would like some screencasts or other tutorials about how to do things with the API. As Azavea’s Community Evangelist, I try hard to be a helpful resource and advocate for any users of the API and always love to hear about websites or apps you’ve built with Cicero or ideas you have. Please, shoot me an email or send me a tweet at @andrewbt!