Gender less predictive than party affiliation for politician Twitter habits, study finds

TUCSON, Ariz. — A politician’s gender has no bearing on what they’ll discuss on a social media platform, particularly Twitter, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Arizona examined 3,894 tweets posted by members of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015, hoping to see whether the content of messages posted by House members aligned with common gender stereotypes.

Twitter in Scrabble tiles
A politician’s gender has no bearing on what they’ll discuss on a social media platform, particularly Twitter, a new study finds.

Lead researcher Morgan Johnstonbaugh explained how female politicians are often perceived by the public to be more invested in social issues (e.g., health, education, and children-related areas), while male politicians are thought to show interest in issues associated with power and assertiveness, such as finance and national security.

Ultimately, Johnstonbaugh found that a politician’s talking points on social media were more predicated on their political affiliation than gender.

“It’s a positive thing that we don’t see people aligning to these exact expectations. Women and men are engaging all of these topics — they’re not being limited by gender stereotypes,” she says in a university news release.

Two polarizing issues at the time of the tweets examined were the defunding of Planned Parenthood (thought to be a stereotypically “female” issue), and the implementation of the Iran deal (thought to be a stereotypically “male” issue).

Surprisingly, male members of the House didn’t tweet significantly more than their female peers about the Iran deal, while Congresswomen didn’t tweet significantly more about Planned Parenthood.

Instead, tweeting habits fell along party lines.

Namely, Republicans of both genders were significantly more likely than Democrats to tweet about either topic, likely because they were issues on which the party was actively campaigning.

It’s also possible that Republicans simply are much more open to broadcasting their message on Twitter, Johnstonbaugh notes.

“In other analyses, I have seen Republicans utilizing Twitter a lot more and mentioning each other and building these really dense networks, whereas Democrats don’t seem to do that as much,” she explains. “It’s something that warrants further exploration, especially now, since our president likes to use Twitter so much.”

Meanwhile, there are four times as many men as women in the House, which could skew the figures a bit.

Women in Congress, Johnstonbaugh argues, could actually use Twitter as a tool to increase dialogue about issues important to them, particularly since “research shows that women politicians get less media coverage, and they also receive different coverage.”

The study’s findings were presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Montreal.