Do incumbents always have the social media advantage?

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By Becky Hogan

There are few things more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the US House winning reelection.  Even with public approval ratings at all-time lows, nine in 10 incumbent Representatives won reelection in 2012.

Between name recognition and ample campaign funds, House incumbents usually don’t have too much trouble holding onto their seats. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the rate of reelection for incumbents has been well over 90 percent in recent years.


So with politicians increasingly using social media platforms to reach constituents, do incumbents always have the advantage when it comes to online presence too?

We looked at all incumbent races for the US House in 2012, comparing incumbents and their challengers for Twitter Followers and Facebook Likes.

According to our data, 88% of incumbents had more Twitter Followers than their challengers. And 81% of incumbents outpaced their challengers for Facebook Page Likes.

Here’s a breakdown of the average number of Twitter Followers and Facebook Likes for incumbents and challengers.


Not too surprisingly, incumbents have a clear advantage when it comes to developing their social media presence. Still, some challengers were able to buck the trend.

Here’s a quick rundown of a few challengers that upstaged their incumbent opponents on social media:

  • Democratic challenger Jose Hernandez had the most impressive Twitter Following of any challenger with 247,097 more followers than his incumbent rival Rep. Jeff Denham.  Hernandez also upstaged Denham for Facebook Likes, but it wasn’t enough to win the election—Denham held onto his seat in California’s 10th district despite his smaller presence on social media.
  • GOP candidate Mia Love won big in social media but not in votes against Democrat incumbent Jim Matheson: she racked up 36,020 more Facebook Likes and 30,769 more Twitter Followers than her opponent.  Love announced last month that she plans to take on Matheson for Utah’s 4th district in the next election cycle. Perhaps her social media base will help her mobilize support the second time around!
  • Illinois had some tough House races in 2012 largely due to redistricting. Republican incumbent Bob Dold lost narrowly to his Democratic challenger Brad Schneider.  Schneider had 15,189 more Facebook Likes than Dold–perhaps his Facebook presence gave him an edge with voters.  Dold announced last month that he plans to run against Schneider again in 2014.

Check back here to see how other incumbents fare on social media in upcoming races.

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