GW study rates U.S. Senators’ ‘Digital IQ’

In a world of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Republican Senators have an edge over their Democratic counterparts, a joint study by researchers at GW and New York University found.

GW School of Business Dean Doug Guthrie and Professor Scott Galloway of NYU’s Stern School of Business rated all of the members of the United States Senate on their Digital IQ, and found that on average, Republicans rated 5.5 points higher than Democrats on measures including Facebook “likes,” Twitter followers, number of tweets and YouTube channel views.

“This is rhetorically territory that [President Barack] Obama had claimed,” Guthrie said. “Obama did that very well. [but] once the election was over none of it was capitalized on.”

Former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had the top Digital IQ score, earning a “genius” classification. The other six senators considered geniuses were Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Scott Brown, R-Mass., Al Franken, D-Minn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. GW alumnus Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., came in at the No. 16 spot, while and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, earned the No. 97 spot, out of 99 Senators ranked, with a “feeble” Digital IQ.

Guthrie said he was somewhat surprised by McCain’s score, given the senator’s infamous “I don’t e-mail” comment during his 2008 presidential campaign. By contrast, McCain made Internet waves in June when he tweeted at one of the stars of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” regarding the tanning tax provision in the new health care law.

“U r right, I would never tax your tanning bed!,” McCain tweeted to Nicole Polizzi, also known as Snooki. Snooki had earlier spoken out against the newly passed health care regulations that levy a tax on tanning beds.

“I don’t know if politicians want to be engaging with the entertainment world,” Guthrie said before adding that McCain had certainly made the episode work for him.

Guthrie added that he was most interested in Brown and DeMint’s scores.

Brown won the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat in a major upset for the Democrats and has more than 24,000 followers on Twitter. According to the study, Brown had more than 10 times the number of Facebook friends and YouTube views than Martha Coakley, his Democratic opponent.

DeMint, a major Tea Party figure, has close to 48,000 followers, in part because he follows over 30,000 other users, capitalizing on what Guthrie called an average “20 to 30 percent follower return.”

Guthrie said the results of the study could have potential implications for the November midterm elections.

“I’m hesitant to say prediction, but if the lessons of Obama and Brown are any guide it means the Democrats might be in trouble in November,” Guthrie said.

The ultimate takeaway for politicians and their campaign managers is that social media has created a new age, Guthrie said.

“This is a new era,” Guthrie said. “We can’t do politics the same way we used to. If you just rely on e-mail lists and listservs, you may lose your seat.”

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