Using Social Media Data to Reveal Patterns of Policy Engagement in State Legislatures
38 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2020 Last revised: 24 Feb 2021
Date Written: September 24, 2020
State governments are the focus of important policy decisions in the United States. How do state legislators use their public communications ---particularly social media---to engage with policy debates? Due to previous data limitations, we lack systematic information about whether and how state legislators publicly discuss policy and how this behavior varies across contexts. Using Twitter data and state of the art topic modeling techniques, we introduce a method to study state legislator policy priorities and apply the method to fifteen U.S. states in 2018. We show that we are able to capture the policy issues discussed by state legislators with substantially more accuracy than existing methods. We then present initial findings that validate the method and speak to debates in the literature. For example, state legislators in competitive districts are more likely to discuss policy than those in less competitive districts, and legislators from more professional legislatures discuss policy at similar rates to those in less professional legislatures. We conclude by discussing promising avenues for future state politics research using this new approach.
Keywords: state politics, state legislators, social media, text as data
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation