UCLA Big Data and Politics Seminar Series

Legislative Communication and Power:

Measuring Leadership in the U.S. House

of Representatives from Social Media

Daniel Ebanks

ABD, California Institue of Technology

R. Michael Alvarez

Professor, California Institute of Technology

with

Hao Yan (Facebook)

Sanmay Das (GMU)

Betsy Sinclair (WUSTL)

Friday, April 30, 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM PT

Zoom Link: https://ucla.zoom.us/j/95015937122

Abstract:  Who leads and who follows in Congress? By leveraging the Twitter accounts of members of the U.S. House of Representatives, this paper develops a new understanding of House leadership power using innovative natural language processing methods. Formal theoretic work on congressional leadership suggests a tension in legislative party members’ policy stances as they balance between a coordination problem and an information problem. When their coordination problem is more pressing, the model predicts that legislative members will follow their party leaders’ policy positions. But when the information problem is more acute, party members coordinate and effectively give their leaders direction for the party’s agenda. We test these hypotheses with novel and dynamic policy influence measurements. Specifically, we exploit the network structure of retweets to derive measures of House leadership centrality within each party. We then employ Joint Sentiment Topic modeling to quantify the discussion space for House members on Twitter. Our results partially support the theoretical insights. For policies where there is an information problem, House leaders do not generally initiate policy discussion on Twitter, although they do so more often than rankandfile members. Moreover, increases in House leaders’ propensity to discuss a sentimenttopic results in meaningful increases in rankandfile members’ propensities to discuss those same sentimenttopics. In line with the theoretical prediction, we also find that as the barriers to coordination in policy stances within a party increases, House party leaders hold more central and arguably more powerful roles within their party. Nonetheless, in contrast both to the theoretical predictions as well as to the existing scholarship on House congressional leadership, we find that rankandfile members exert influence over House party leaders, and moreover that rankandfile influence is larger in magnitude than that of House party leadership.

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