Politician-Citizen Interactions and Dynamic Representation: Evidence from Twitter

Open Access       

Authors: Nikolas Schöll, Aina Gallego and Gaël Le Mens

American Journal of Political Science, March, 2023

This article studies how politicians react to feedback from citizens on social media. We use a reinforcement-learning framework to model how politicians respond to citizens’ positive feedback by increasing attention to better received issues and allow feedback to vary depending on politicians’ gender. To test the model, we collect 1.5 million tweets published by Spanish MPs over 3 years, identify gender-issue tweets using a deep-learning algorithm (BERT) and measure feedback using retweets and likes. We find that citizens provide more positive feedback to female politicians for writing about gender, and that this contributes to their specialization in gender issues. The analysis of mechanisms suggests that female politicians receive more positive feedback because they are treated differently by citizens. To conclude, we discuss implications for representation, misperceptions, and polarization.

This paper originally appeared as Barcelona School of Economics Working Paper 1238