Senators’ Digital IQ Ranking

A recently released study by suggests that Senate Republicans have a higher Digital IQ than Senate Democrats. However, after taking a closer look at the data, it appears that there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to using the Internet to reach voters.

Breaking down the index… does it truly capture Digital IQ?

The Digital IQ Index measures the presence of Senators on the Internet. Here are the components:

25% Facebook (Presence, Number of Likes, Like Growth)

25% Twitter (Presence, Followers, Velocity of Tweets, Follower Growth)

25% YouTube (Presence, Number of Uploads, Number of Channel/Upload Views)

12.5% Online Buzz: Blogs (Velocity of Mentions on Blogs and Other 2.0 Sites, Sentiment)

12.5% Site Traffic (Annual and Monthly Unique Visitors, Number of Visits, Traffic Growth)

Does this measure really capture digital IQ? I think some of the components do. The components than measures a Senator’s own activity online (such as blog posts or tweets) are good indicators of how active the Senator is online. However, components that measure other people’s activity online (such as number of followers and follower growth) are poor indicators of IQ. Here is why:

1. As long as you are popular, it takes little effort to open a Facebook page and get followers.

2. Senators from more populous states are going to have more followers. You cannot expect Senators from Wyoming and Vermont to have the same number of followers as Senators from California and New York.

3. Senators who are in the national spotlight are going to have more followers than Senators who are not known outside their state. John McCain, the person with the most number of Facebook fans, was a Presidential candidate in 2008. Al Franken, who has the 3rd largest number of fans, was a former celebrity. It is hard for other Senators to compete with these nationally known figures.

4. Senators who are running for re-election this year probably have more growth in followers and likes. They have higher exposure outside the Internet than Senators that are not running. They are probably more involved in advertising on tv/billboards/signs, holding rallies, and contacting their constituents. Given this exposure, more people are probably going to add them this year than Senators who are not re-running for office.

Controlling for population, national popularity, and running for office

I ran an OLS analysis to see if political party had an impact on Digital IQ ranking after controlling for population, national popularity, and running for office. The results suggests that political party has no statistically significant impact on Digital IQ Ranking. See Table 1 below.

I also ran the analysis with DW-Nominate scores instead of party to see if ideology had an impact on the ranking. L2ThinkTank’s analysis suggests that the most conservative Republicans had the highest rankings. The only downside to this analysis is that I did not have Scott Brown’s nominate score. It appears that ideology also has no impact on ranking. See Table 1 below.

Barack Obama’s use of the Internet in his 2008 presidential campaign demonstrated the need for candidates to have a bigger presence online. Hence, it is useful to assess how successful a candidate is using the Internet to reach voters. However, measuring this success may be difficult, as the number of fans a candidate has on a website can simply be a measure of how well a candidate is advertising “offline”, as in advertising on TV and on billboards.

One way to accurately measure the impact of Internet activity is to simply measure the number of new fans on a website or number of website hits in the 24 hours after a new blog or video is posted. As long as very few factors change within those 24 hours (such as there are no new commercials or ads), and as long as you control for other factors such as state population, this method would produce a good measure of how well the candidate is using the Internet to reach voters. First, it takes effort to get people to notice that a new blog or video is posted. Second, it takes effort to get people to want to take the time to read the new blog or watch the video. If a candidate can continously keep readers reading their blogs and watching their videos, then they are using the Internet successfully in reaching voters.

About Julie VanDusky-Allen

Julie VanDusky-Allen is at Boise State University and received her PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2011. Her research focuses on institutional choice and development, political parties, the legislative process, and Latin American politics.

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