Inside the Political Twittersphere

October 2009

Ever wondered how politicians use Twitter? Who are the most active politicians on Twitter? Who do they follow, and who follows them? Who are the political strategists and media personalities that politicians follow? And within the political Twittersphere, who follows the most people, and who follows them?

Sysomos decided to explore these questions to get a handle on how Twitter is emerging as a new and powerful political tool.

The focus on Twitter and its use within the political landscape received a huge jump-start during the last U.S. presidential campaign when Barack Obama's enthusiastic and effective embrace of social media made a significant impact on how many politicians are now using social media.

In particular, Twitter has emerged as an increasingly popular tool because it gives politicians a user-friendly platform to talk about new developments and issues, while connecting with their constituents. In addition to President Obama, high-profile politicians on Twitter include Hilary Clinton, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Sysomos launched a study to see how politicians and other individuals (such as political analysts, media personalities, bloggers, etc.) and political news organizations use Twitter. With a specific methodology (see below) we identified 168 "politically focused" accounts from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. on Twitter that comprises the political Twittersphere. We then arranged them into three groups:

  • Group 1 - Politicians
  • Group 2 - Political strategists, bloggers and media personalities
  • Group 3 - News organizations that cover politics

We wanted to discover the answers to questions such as who are the most followed politicians on Twitter, and how those within the political Twittersphere behave in terms of their follower/followed patterns. In examining the 168 people within the political Twittersphere, we wanted to explore the relationships between the users within these three groups to see how they interact with each other (e.g. who follows who), and how they interact with the general Twitter population.

  • Overall, U.S. President Barack Obama is the most popular politician overall with 2.24 million followers. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most popular within the 168 identified members of the political Twittersphere with 68 followers, while President Obama is followed by 56 out of the 168.
  • ABC News' Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos is the most followed media personality (Group 2). Nansen Malin, a blogger who's on the Republican Party's Executive Board in Washington State, from Group 2 has the most followers within the political Twittersphere.
  • CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) is the most followed news source (Group 3) overall, while the LA Times' Top of the Ticket (@latimestot) is the most followed news source among the political Twittersphere.
  • Within the political Twittersphere, George Stephanopoulos is followed by the most politicians; Virginia senator Mark Warner is followed by the most media personalities; and MSNBC cartoonist Darly Cagle (@dcagle) is followed by the most news organizations.

Twitter Users of Note

The graphic above shows 10 most followed users among the 168 members of the political Twittersphere. Blue, green and yellow dots next to each user represents followers within the 168 member community, with total displayed on the right. The gray coloured bar represents the overall number of followers.

The table below lists users from the political Twittersphere. The total numbers of followers as well as the number of followers from within the political Twittersphere is listed next to each user.



Political Personalities on Twitter

U.S. President Barack Obama vs. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

To start, we decided to focus on two high-profile politicians: President Obama, a Democrat, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. We were interested in highlighting who they follow and who follows them within the political Twittersphere.

Barack Obama follows 52 of the 168 people within the group, while he is followed by 56. Obama only follows nine politicians, including Governor Schwarzenegger, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, and Jack Layton, leader of Canada's New Democratic Party. Obama follows 29 political strategists, bloggers and personalities, and 14 news organizations.

Obama is followed by 56 people within the group, including Al Gore, London Mayor Boris Johnson, Portland Mayor Sam Adams, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (@downingstreet), and Governor Schwarzenegger.

Among political strategists, bloggers and individuals, Obama's followers include Fox News analyst and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) and blogger Marc Parent (@mparent77772).

Governor Schwarzenegger follows 92 of the 168 people within the group, including U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (@orrinhatch), U.S. Senator John McCain (@senjohnmacain), former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (@mikebloomberg) and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives (@nancypelosi).

Schwarzenegger follows 19 news organizations. This group includes The Huffington Post (@huffingtonpost), Right Wing New (@rightwingnews), Politico (@politico) and NPR Politics (@nprpolitics).

Schwarzenegger is followed by 67 people, including President Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Senator Jim DeMint, political strategist Karl Rove (@karlrove), The Huffington Post and the U.S. Army (@usarmy)


Among the politicians within our identified group, President Obama is following the most people overall (756,559), while @downingstreet (the official Twitter account for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown) is following 491,365 and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (@schwarzenegger) is following 93,744 people.

Of the politicians within the identified group, the person following the most people (98) is John Boehner (@gopleader), the Republican Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. Boehner is followed by California Congressman Darrell Issa (@darrellissa), the lead Republican for Oversight and Government Reform, who follows 95 people while Governor Schwarzenegger follows 92 people.

In terms of overall followers, President Obama has the most with 2.24 million, while former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore has 1.69 million followers, and U.S. Senator John McCain (@senjohnmccain) has 1.42 million.

Of the 168 people within the identified group, Governor Schwarzenegger has the most followers (68), followed by U.S. Senator (Virginia) Mark Warner with 62, and U.S. Senator Jim DeMint with 60.

Political Strategists, Bloggers and Personalities

We also looked at political bloggers, strategists and individuals (including media personalities) that talk about politics on Twitter. Within the entire Twitter population, the person with the most friends (138,781) is Nansen Malin (@nansen), a blogger who's on the Republican Party's Executive Board in Washington State. Daryl Cagle (@dcagle), who does political cartoons for, has the second-most friends with 54,675, while blogger Marc Parent (@mparent77772) has 42,804.

Within the 168-person political Twittersphere, ABC News correspondent George Stephanopoulos has the most friends with 105, while blogger Patrick Ruffini (@patrickruffini) has 91, and Steve Brusk, senior national editor with CNN's Political Desk (@stevebruskcnn), has 89.

When it comes to followers, the most popular person within the group is George Stephanopoulos, who has 1.34 million followers overall. MSNBC's Rachael Maddow (@maddow) has 1.28 million followers, while David Gregory (@davidgregory), the host of NBC's Meet the Press, has 1.24 million.

Among the political Twittersphere, Nansen Malin (@nansen) has the most followers (68), followed by George Stephanopoulos with 63 and Patrick Ruffini with 56.

News Organizations

The third group we explored were news organizations that use Twitter to provide political coverage.

Within this group, NPR News' political coverage (@nprpolitics) has the most friends with 117,049. Newsweek (@newsweek) is second with 97,814, while RightWingNews (@rightwingnews) has 53,486.

Within the political Twittersphere, PBS's NewsHour has the most friends (104), followed by The Huffington Post (@huffingtonpost) with 98, and the LA Times' Top of the Ticket with 61.

In terms of overall Twitter followers, CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) has the most with 2.75 million. NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) is second with 1.51 million, while Good Morning America (@gma) is third with 1.37-million. (Note: CNN purchased @cnnbrk in April from James Cox, who ran the account for nearly two years and, in the process, attracted more than one million followers)

Within the political Twittersphere, the L.A. Times' Top of the Times has the most followers (57), followed by RightWingNews (54) and NPR Politics (51).

Members with the Most Friends/Followers

The two charts below show who among the political Twittersphere has the most friends and followers among the 168 members.

The two charts below show who among the 168 members of the political Twittersphere has the most friends and followers among the entire Twitter population.

Group 1 (Politicians) with Most Followers

The two charts below show who among the politicians (Group 1) has the most followers, both within the entire Twitter population and the 168 members of the political Twittersphere.

Group 2 (Media Personalities, Political Analysts, Strategists and Bloggers) with Most Followers

The two charts below show who among the Group 2 has the most followers, both within the entire Twitter population and the 168 members of the political Twittersphere.

Group 3 (News Organizations) with Most Followers

The two charts below show who among the Group 3 has the most followers, both within the entire Twitter population and the 168 members of the political Twittersphere.

Connections Within the Political Twittersphere

The four graphs below show who follows whom in this 168-member group.

  • Blue (Group 1) - Politicians
  • Green (Group 2) - Political strategists, bloggers and media personalities
  • Yellow (Group 3) - News organizations that cover politics

Every edge in this graph denotes a friend-follower connection, with the arrow pointing towards the user being followed. The edge shares the same as color the follower's group color.

The first image shows all connections. The second, third and the fourth images show the connections to and from group 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Click on the image to see the full size version.

Complete Political Twittersphere

Group 1 Political Twittersphere

Group 2 Politics Twittersphere

Group 3 Political Twittersphere


Sysomos identified all Twitter profiles based on our crawl of over 15 million active accounts that have at least 5,000 followers and disclose political-related keywords (such as politics, Senate, Congress, mayor, etc.) in their bios. We did a manual inspection of these accounts to look at their Twitter stream, as well as the information within their profiles to make sure their main focus was politics. We also looked at the members of the U.S. Congress, as well as political analysts from all the major U.S. news organizations to identify their accounts.

We made our best efforts to make sure the group comprising the political Twittersphere identified in this study includes most of the leading political voices. We had to make editorial choices (e.g. Twitter accounts that had political commentary but it didn't appear that the main emphasis was politics, the spouses of major politicians on Twitter, etc.), keeping in mind we wanted to maintain a manageable number of accounts within the political Twittersphere. There are more accounts that could have been included but we decided to limit the list of people to those whose main activity is focused on politics.

We arranged these accounts into three groups. The first consists of politicians, which includes accounts belonging to individuals currently active within politics in the U.S., Canada or U.K. (group 1). The second group consists of political analysts or strategists, media personalities, and bloggers who focus on politics. The third group consists of news sources that mostly cover politics. We wanted to identify how these groups interact on Twitter (e.g. who follows who) and how these interactions compare with that of the overall Twitter population with respect to the engagement (follower/friendship) with these accounts.

About Sysomos

Sysomos is the social intelligence company backed by data science that gives businesses immediate context to the hundreds of millions of conversations happening online every day. The Sysomos social intelligence platform continuously decodes these conversations and news stories to give marketers real-time answers about what their customers think and feel. More than 1,400 global brands and agencies including United Health Group, 3M, Boeing, Edelman, Genetech, Marriott and Ogilvy trust Sysomos for their social intelligence. Sysomos has offices in seven cities worldwide, including London, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. 

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