Policy-Related Communications and Agenda Setting: Twitter, New York Times, and the Widening Soapbox

29 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2015

See all articles by Matthew A. Shapiro

Matthew A. Shapiro

Illinois Institute of Technology; American Political Science Association (APSA)

Libby Hemphill

University of Michigan

Date Written: April 3, 2014


Agenda setting efforts by our elected officials have been studied thus far under the assumptions that symbols and the like propagate an understanding of the problem, and that this happens through the traditional media (e.g., newspapers, television news). The rise of social media, and Twitter in particular, enhances opportunities for agenda setters to share information with others. Indeed, the volume of communications from our elected officials in Congress is enormous – hundreds of thousands of Twitter postings each year – and there has been scant research on what all this social media activity means for the policy making process. We examine Twitter data for all of 2013, focusing on areas relating to the environment, health care, the economy, among others. We match up these communications to those presented in the traditional media in order to gauge how these Congress-based Twitter posts and New York Times articles co-occur. There is overlap, and it is striking. The patterns for discussions about the budget and the Affordable Care Act are nearly identical for both information sources, but patterns are less correlated for issues relating to immigration, the environment, and energy. While eschewing causal claims, we do believe that this is mounting evidence that members of Congress are attempting to use social media to impact the public agenda. Competing with media outlets, politicians seek first mover status in identifying a problem.

Keywords: twitter, New York Times, congress, agenda setting

Suggested Citation

Shapiro, Matthew A. and Hemphill, Libby, Policy-Related Communications and Agenda Setting: Twitter, New York Times, and the Widening Soapbox (April 3, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2585126 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2585126

Matthew A. Shapiro

Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

Department of Social Sciences
3301 S Dearborn St, SH 116
Chicago, IL 60616
United States

American Political Science Association (APSA) ( email )

1527 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Libby Hemphill (Contact Author)

University of Michigan ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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