European Political Science

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 223–239 | Cite as

the great leveler? comparing citizen–politician Twitter engagement across three Western democracies

  • rebekah trombleEmail author


Social media are the great social leveler – or so some commentators would have us believe. Social media put the power of communication directly into the average person’s hands. They also present opportunities for politicians to improve their contacts with the common person – to directly share their messages with and better understand the concerns of constituents. This study explores whether and to what extent the potential for such citizen–politician engagement is fulfilled. Deploying an original dataset of tweets from politicians in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, this exploratory study examines the interlocutors with whom politicians engage reciprocally via Twitter. The results show that a large share of politicians’ genuinely reciprocal exchanges includes average citizens. Although there is much room for improvement, this study suggests that Twitter is indeed opening spaces for citizens and policymakers to engage one another on matters of political import.


Twitter political engagement social media political communication 


  1. Anstead, N. and Chadwick, A. (2008) ‘Parties, election campaigning, and the internet: toward a comparative institutional approach’, in A. Chadwick and P.N. Howard (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics. London: Routledge, pp. 56–71.Google Scholar
  2. Baxter, G. and Marcella, R. (2012) ‘Does Scotland “like” this? Social media use by political parties and candidates in Scotland during the 2010 UK General Election campaign’, Libri 62(2): 109–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Becker, T. and Slaton, C.D. (2000) The Future of Teledemocracy. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  4. Bennett, W.L. and Segerberg, A. (2013) The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burgess, J. and Bruns, A. (2012) ‘(Not) the Twitter election: the dynamics of the #ausvotes conversation in relation to the Australian media ecology’, Journalism Practice 6(3): 384–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burson-Marsteller, (2014) Twiplomacy: Heads of State and Government and Foreign Ministers on Twitter, New York: Burson-Marsteller.Google Scholar
  7. Coleman, S. (2005) ‘The lonely citizen: indirect representation in an age of networks’, Political Communication 22(2): 197–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coleman, S. and Blumler, J.G. (2009) The Internet and Democratic Citizenship: Theory, Practice and Policy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coleman, S. and Spiller, J. (2003) ‘Exploring new media effects on representative democracy’, The Journal of Legislative Studies 9(3): 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Corrado, A. and C.M. Firestone (eds.) (1997) Elections in Cyberspace: Toward a New Era in American Politics, Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.Google Scholar
  11. Dahlgren, P. (2005) ‘The internet, public spheres, and political communication: dispersion and deliberation’, Political Communication 22(2): 147–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davis, A. (2010) ‘New media and fat democracy: the paradox of online participation’, New Media & Society 11(8): 1–20.Google Scholar
  13. D’heer, E. and Verdegem, P. (2014) ‘Conversations about elections on Twitter’, European Journal of Communication 29(6): 720–34.Google Scholar
  14. Enli, G.S. and Skogerbø, E. (2013) ‘Personalized campaigns in party-centred politics’, Information, Communication & Society 16(5): 757–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Evans, H., Cordova, V. and Sipole, S. (2014) ‘Twitter style: an analysis of how house candidates used Twitter in their 2012 campaigns’, PS: Political Science & Politics 47(2): 454–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gibson, R. and McAllister, I. (2015) ‘Normalising or equalising party competition? Assessing the impact of the web on election campaigning’, Political Studies 63(3): 529–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gibson, R., Newell, J.L. and Ward, S.J. (2000) ‘New parties, new media: Italian party politics and the internet’, South European Society and Politics 5(1): 123–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Glassman, M.E., Straus, J.R. and Shogan, C.J. (2010) ‘Social networking and constituent communications: member use of Twitter during a two-month period in the 111th Congress’, Journal of Communication Research 2(2–3): 219–33.Google Scholar
  19. Golbeck, J., Grimes, J.M. and Rogers, A. (2010) ‘Twitter use by the U.S. Congress’, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61(8): 1612–21.Google Scholar
  20. Graham, T, Broersma, M., Hazelhoff, K. and van’t Haar, G. (2013) ‘Between broadcasting political messages and interacting with voters’, Information, Communication & Society 16(5): 692–716.Google Scholar
  21. Graham, T., Jackson, D. and Broersma, M. (2016) ‘New platform, old habits? Candidates’ use of Twitter during the 2010 British and Dutch General Election campaigns’, New Media & Society 18(5): 765–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grant, W.J., Moon, B. and Grant, J.B. (2010) ‘Digital dialogue? Australian politicians’ use of the social network tool Twitter’, Australian Journal of Political Science 45(4): 579–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Habermas, J. (1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  24. Hauben, M. and Hauben, R. (1998) Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and Internet, Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Science Press.Google Scholar
  25. Huang, F.L. (2016) ‘Alternatives to multilevel modeling for the analysis of clustered data’, Journal of Experimental Education 84(1): 175–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jackson, N. and Lilleker, D. (2011) ‘Microblogging, constituency service and impression management: UK MPs and the use of Twitter’, The Journal of Legislative Studies 17(1): 86–105. doi: 10.1080/13572334.2011.545181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jungherr, A. (2016) ‘Twitter use in election campaigns: a systematic literature review’, Journal of Information Technology & Politics 13(1): 72–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Larsson, A.O. and Ihlen, Ø. (2015). ‘Birds of a feather flock together? Party leaders on Twitter during the 2013 Norwegian elections’, European Journal of Communication 30(6): 666–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lee, E.J. and Shin, S.Y. (2014) ‘When the medium is the message: how transportability moderates the effects of politicians’ Twitter communication’, Communication Research 41(8): 1088-110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Maireder, A. and Ausserhofer, J. (2013) ‘Political Discourses on Twitter: Networking Topics, Objects, and People. Twitter and Society’, New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  31. Manifesto Project (MRG/CMP/MARPOR). Version. (2014b) The Manifesto Data Collection, Berlin: Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB).Google Scholar
  32. Margolis, M. and Resnick, D. (2000) Politics as Usual: the Cyberspace Revolution, London: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Margolis, M., Resnick, D. and Levy, J. (2003) ‘Major parties dominate, minor parties struggle: US elections and the internet’, in R. Gibson, P. Nixon and S. Ward (eds.) Political Parties and the Internet: Net Gain? London: Routledge, pp. 51–69.Google Scholar
  34. Margolis, M., Resnick, D. and Wolfe, J. (1999) ‘Party competition on the internet: minor versus major parties in the UK and USA’, Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 4(4): 24–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mocanu, D., Baronchelli, A., Perra, N., Goncalves, B., Zhang, Q. and Vespignani, A. (2013) ‘The Twitter of Babel: mapping world languages through microblog platforms’, PLoS Scholar
  36. Moe, H. and Larsson, A.O. (2013) ‘Untangling a complex media system: a comparative study of Twitter-linking practices during three Scandinavian election campaigns’, Information, Communication & Society 16(5): 775–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Morris, D. (1999) How Big Money Lobbyists and the Media are Losing their Influence and the Internet is Giving Power to the People, Los Angeles: Renaissance Books.Google Scholar
  38. Newman, N. (2010) #UKelection2010, Mainstream Media and the Role of the Internet: How Social and Digital Media Affected the Business of Politics and Journalism, Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.Google Scholar
  39. Nye, J.S., Zelikow, P.D. and King, D.C. (eds.) (1997) Why People Don’t Trust Government, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Parmelee, J.H. and Bichard, S.L. (2011) Politics and the Twitter Revolution: How Tweets Influence the Relationship between Political Leaders and the Public, New York: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  41. Pharr, S.J. and Putnam, R.D. (eds.) (2000) Disaffected Democracies: What’s Troubling the Trilateral Countries? Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Rash, W. (1997) Politics on the Net: Wiring the Political Process, New York: W. Freeman.Google Scholar
  43. Rheingold, H. (1995) The Virtual Community: Finding Connection in a Computerised World, London: Minerva.Google Scholar
  44. Sæbø, Ø. (2011) ‘Understanding Twitter use among parliament representatives: a genre analysis’, in E. Tambouris, A. Macintosh and H. de Bruijn (eds.) Electronic Participation, Berlin: Springer, pp. 1–12.Google Scholar
  45. Shapiro, A. (1999) The Control Revolution: How the Internet is Putting Individuals in Charge and Changing the World We Know, New York: Affairs.Google Scholar
  46. Small, T. (2010) ‘Canadian politics in 140 characters: party politics in the Twitterverse’, Canadian Parliamentary Review 33(3): 39–45.Google Scholar
  47. Stegmueller, D. (2013) ‘How many countries for multilevel modeling? A comparison of frequentist and Bayesian approaches’, American Journal of Political Science 57(3): 748–61.  CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vergeer, M. (2015) ‘Twitter and political campaigning’, Sociology Compass 9(9): 745–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Vergeer, M. and Hermans, L. (2013) ‘Campaigning on Twitter: microblogging and online social networking as campaign tools in the 2010 General Elections in the Netherlands’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 18(4): 399–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Zittel, T. (2003) ‘Political representation in the networked society: Americanisation of European systems of responsible party government?’, Journal of Legislative Studies 9(3): 32–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© European Consortium for Political Research 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Political ScienceLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations