The Fourth Branch

Eyes on the White House and GoT

Not surprisingly, Trump and White House were among the most-used language by Washington, D.C., journalists and pundits last week. But their top hashtag may come as a surprise.

Washington, D.C. journalists and pundits were once again focused on President Trump last week. Their top word pairing was “White House” with 209 mentions, and the group had 1,044 mentions of “Trump”.

But their social media activity went beyond Washington, D.C., last week. Journalists’ top hashtag was #GameOfThrones (used 14 times), likely driven by Sunday night’s series finale of Game of Thrones.

Since the fight for the Iron Throne is over, we’ll be watching to see whether reporters’ social media attention is redistributed to Trump, Congress or the 2020 presidential candidates.


Who Raised the Barr?

All eyes were on U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s Senate hearing last week, but President Trump’s 2020 challengers’ focus on Barr varied widely on Twitter. Sen. Kamala Harris mentioned him 16 times on Twitter, while others like former Vice President Joe Biden did not mention Barr at all.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has been at the center of the Mueller report aftermath due to controversy over the way he has handled its release.

Some of the 2020 presidential candidates’ Twitter feeds were focused on Barr and the Mueller investigation, perhaps highlighting a campaign strategy going forward. But other candidates were tight-lipped on the topic.

Two Democratic candidates from California—Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Eric Swalwell—tweeted the most about Barr, with 16 and 15 mentions, respectively. But five of the 22 confirmed candidates—including former technology executive Andrew Yang and former Vice President Joe Biden—did not mention Barr at all.

The Spin Factor

Top Tweet Topics = Top of Docket?

A look at the social media attention lawmakers are giving to key issues could provide insight into what may get done this congressional session. Spoiler alert: Health care tops the list.

Congress – like much of Washington—has been very focused over the last couple of months on President Trump, the Mueller Report and, most recently, U.S. Attorney General William Barr. However, taking a step back to look at the social media attention lawmakers are giving to key policy issues, rather than politics, could foreshadow upcoming legislative priorities.

Health care received far and away the most issue attention from Congress, with 936 mentions on Twitter over the last week. Meanwhile, jobs and the economy (761 mentions) and climate (642 mentions) came in second and third respectively.

Members of Congress had only 110 Twitter mentions related to immigration over the last week, perhaps indicating a downgrade in priority.

Tweeter in Chief

When It Tweets, It Pours

On May 1 alone, Trump tweeted nearly as much as he typically does in a week, mostly in response to a firefighters’ union endorsing Biden.

On May 1, President Trump went on a Twitter spree in reaction to the largest firefighters’ union in the U.S., The International Association of Fire Fighters, endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden for president.

Trump’s reaction? Tweeting and retweeting about all of the firefighters that support him, asserting that only the union’s leaders support Biden, not the union’s members.

That day, he tweeted 76 times, a noticeably high volume considering his weekly average of 87 tweets in 2019. Trump’s 173 total tweets last week represent a 99% increase from his 2019 weekly average.

Tweeter in Chief

The Night Is Dark and Full of Tweets

President Trump’s Twitter feed last week was all about the Mueller report, with “no collusion” being his most-used consecutive word pairing. Meanwhile, a Game of Thrones-themed tweet from the president had 116,465 retweets, his 13th most of all time.

A look at President Trump’s most-common consecutive word pairings – or bigrams – on Twitter last week shows he was focused on the public release of the Mueller report. His top bigram – used 12 times — was “no collusion.” That was followed closely by “no obstruction” and “Mueller report,” each used eight times by the Tweeter in Chief.

The president’s three most-retweeted tweets last week were all related to the Mueller report. His most popular tweet featured a Game of Thrones-themed image, with the text, “No collusion. No obstruction. For the Haters and the Radical Left Democrats – Game Over.”

That tweet alone nabbed 116,465 retweets. To put that in perspective, the president’s next most popular tweet last week had 41,015 retweets. In fact, the Game of Thrones-Mueller tweet was the president’s 13th most retweeted tweet of all time.

The Fourth Branch

It’s Mueller Time

With Thursday’s public release of the Mueller Report, Washington, D.C., journalists’ tweet volume spiked … and so did their followers’ engagement.

Washington, D.C., journalists and pundits’ Twitter activity spiked with Thursday’s public release of the Mueller Report. More than 10% of the Fourth Branch’s 7,637 tweets last week mentioned Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his report. Their most-used words were “Mueller” (969) and “report” (961), while the group’s most popular hashtag was #muellerreport (32 tweets).

Public appetite for Mueller news on Twitter was also high. Both journalists’ tweet volume and average retweets peaked on Thursday. Typically, we see average retweets decline as overall tweet volume increases, but the Mueller news appeared to provide an interesting outlier for the Fourth Branch.

The Spin Factor

It’s Tough To Quit When You’re Ahead

Even after denouncing social media as a “public health risk” and starting to tweet less, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez still dominates when it comes to congressional Twitter engagement.

On April 14, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announced that she was discontinuing use of her Facebook account and scaling back on all social media channels, describing social media as a “public health risk” that can lead to “increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, [and] escapism.”

This begs the question: Has Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter popularity declined along with her tweet volume? The Congresswoman tweeted 47 times last week, a little more than half her average volume of 84 tweets per week in 2019. But her tweets still snagged first, second and fourth place among Congress’ most-retweeted tweets last week, with 31,734, 30,859 and 27,820 retweets respectively. Her tweets also saw the highest average engagement per tweet, with an average 55,900 combined retweets and likes per tweet.

So when it comes to social media engagement, it seems that so far, less is more—or at least, just as much—for Ocasio-Cortez.


They Don’t Always Tweet about Trump, But When They Do…

The confirmed 2020 presidential candidates receive more engagement on Twitter when they go after President Trump. The group’s tweets mentioning “Trump” received, on average, more than 10 times as many retweets as their posts without a Trump hook.

Last week, tweets from the confirmed 2020 presidential candidates that mentioned President Trump received significantly more engagement than those that did not.

Overall, the 18 confirmed 2020 challengers had 130 tweets that mentioned Trump and 1,182 tweets that did not mention the president.  When looking at Twitter engagement, a clear trend emerged: the candidates perform better when they go after Trump.

The group’s tweets mentioning Trump received an average of 7,324 retweets per tweet, while tweets without a Trump hook only received 638 retweets on average. Nearly all of their Trump-related tweets criticized the president and his policies including health care, immigration, foreign affairs and climate change.

It appears Democrats are more motivated by opposition to Trump than the candidates’ specific platforms – at least on Twitter.

The Spin Factor

Unequal Tweeting on Equal Pay Day

Last week included two big political moments for women: Equal Pay Day and the House's reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. But there was little party parity on Twitter about the topics.

There were two major moments related to gender and politics last week. Tuesday, April 2, was Equal Pay Day, a day designed to bring attention to the gender pay gap. Meanwhile, the House on Thursday, April 4, voted 263-158 to pass an extension of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

But only one side of the aisle appeared to recognize these moments on Twitter. Democrats used “VAWA” 10 times as much as Republican: 333 tweets by Dems, compared with 36 by the GOP. Meanwhile, Democrats had 474 tweets mentioning the term “Equal” (discussing Equal Pay Day), while Republicans had a mere 13.

It’s worth noting that Democrats tweeted nearly twice as often as Republicans last week: 6,668 tweets to 3,641. But even taking overall tweet volume into account, Republicans were still significantly quieter on these issues.

The Fourth Branch

All in the Family

The bulk of journalists’ replies on Twitter last week were to other journalists’ accounts. Burgess Everett (@burgessev) of Politico nabbed the most replies this week among the Fourth Branch.

D.C. journalists and pundits may be tasked with covering Congress and the White House, but when it comes to replies on Twitter, they’re focused on each other.

The top 10 accounts that the Fourth Branch replied to over the last week were all other journalists. Burgess Everett (@burgessev) of Politico received the most replies over the last week, followed by Alexi McCammond (@alexi) of Axios and Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) of the Washington Post.