However I’ve just finished updating the figures based on the September 2013 election and have found a large jump – just over 90% of federal politicians now use social media to engage with Australians.
I’ll give a breakdown below, however I thought it worth comparing Australia to the US government. Twitter recently blogged that 100% of their Senate and 97% of their House of Representatives used Twitter.
That compares to 71.62% of Australia’s Senate and 72.67% of our House of Representatives – still some way to go to catch up.
In fact our politicians appear to favour Facebook, with 72.97% of Senators and 90.67% of MPs using the service.
From my analysis there’s three key features that distinguish Australian federal politicians that use social media from those that do not – age, gender and House.
Firstly age – older politicians are far less likely to use social media than their younger colleagues.
The average age of this parliament is several years less (at about 50 years) than the previous parliament (at about 52 years), with a number of older politicians having retired or lost their seats.
The largest increase was in politicians born since 1980, who increased from two to seven in the latest parliament. Those born in the 1970s also saw a significant increase from 36 to 50, while those born in the 1960s increased slightly from 76 to 82 parliamentarians. In contrast, politicians born in the 1950s or earlier declined from a total of 112 to only 85 parliamentarians – with no-one born before 1940 remaining, down from one in the last parliament.
(Note there’s fewer politicians (224) counted in the latest parliament because there’s a Senate vacancy to be filled and an extra was counted in the previous parliament (226) due to a member resigning and being replaced. This does not statistically alter my findings.)
The large number of younger politicians significantly impacted the level of social media use. While politicians born in the 1980s or 1990s all used social media (100%), and those in the 70s were almost as prolific at 98%, this declined to 93.9% of politicians born in the 1960s, 83.56% of those born in the 1950s and only 66.67% of those born in the 1940s.
This reflects the adoption we see in the wider population and there’s been a similar experience in other countries – people aged 50 and over are far less likely to engage via social media. This takes generational change to alter (within organisations as well as within politics).
I haven’t looked into the average age of residents in electorates with older representatives, however I would be surprised to find a difference to other electorates – my conclusion is that older politicians are less likely to use social channels due to their own media preferences, not due to the preferences of the people they represent – leaving them increasingly vulnerable to younger and more social media savvy would-be politicians.
The second major factor impacting on social media use by politicians is their gender. Women are generally more likely to use social media channels than men and this shows through in our politicians as it does in the broader community.
While women represent 30.8% of our elected representatives, they represent 32.7% of politicians using social media – with 91.3% of female politicians using Facebook and 76.8% using Twitter, compared to only 81.9% of male politicians using Facebook and 70.3% using Twitter.
Overall 95.6% of our elected female politicians use social media, compared to only 87.7% of male politicians.
The uses the genders put social media to also varies significantly, with female politicians far more likely to interact actively with their constituents than males, who spend more time broadcasting political messages, engaging in political slanging matches or interacting with a small circle of journalists – more on this another time.
The final significant factor was which House of parliament that politicians had been elected to. While one might think that Senators, who represent an entire state or territory, might find greater utility in social media to reach the larger number of, and more spread out, constituents they represent than members of the House of Representatives, whose electorates are usually much smaller than our states, the situation is exactly the reverse.
While 92.7% of the Members of the House of Representatives use social media, 90.7% on Facebook and 72.7% on Twitter, only 85.1% of Senators do, 73% on Facebook and 71.6% on Twitter.
The particular discrepancy is in Facebook use – which suggests to me that politicians see Facebook more for connecting with their constituents (which Senators tend to find less important) while they see Twitter more for connecting with journalists and scoring political points (which is as important for Senators as for Reps).
Factors that didn’t impact significantly on whether a politician used social media were their party and the remoteness of their electorate. While regional areas of Australia tend to have lower internet and social media penetration than the cities, the representatives of these electorates actually could find more value in social media as it helps transcend large distances between settlements – there was no significant difference between social media use by metro and regional representatives except in respect the age of the politician.
All of Australia’s parties (and independents) are relatively consistent in their level of social media use by politicians – with the Greens and Independents (including KAP & PUP) the most likely to use social channels (100% of politicians), as social media can help them overcome any limitations on their ability to attract traditional media attention – helping to level the playing field for communication and fund raising.
The two major parties (Labor and Liberal) were neck and neck in their use, each with about 90% of their elected politicians using social media. At the tail were the Nationals, where only 84% of their politicians use social media – though this isn’t really that low as it only meant 3 of their 19 parliamentarians aren’t using social channels, and these are three of their oldest politicians, aged 70, 63 and 54.
Below is an infographic that explores the data a little further, and you can view the spreadsheet of my data and analysis using the link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ap1exl80wB8OdHk2ZFQyX1hkclNhX19WOUtkdjZzb2c&usp=sharing
I also have Twitter lists following all Australian federal politicians – divided into house and party affiliation, which can be accessed from https://twitter.com/eGovAUPollies.
I have also created daily newspaper-like digests of these lists, which can be found at: http://egovau.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/read-all-about-it-get-your-daily-dose.html (updated to reflect the current parliament).