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The dynamics of congressional popularity on Instagram

David O'Connell (Department of Political Science, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 1 July 2020

Issue publication date: 20 August 2020




The purpose of this paper to understand why some members of Congress have more Instagram followers, and why some Congressional Instagram posts receive more likes and comments.


This study is based on a content analysis of every Instagram post shared by all members of Congress who were seated for the first six months of the 115th Congress (17,811 posts in all). Information was collected at both the account level, as well as at the level of the individual post. Variables were then created to predict a member's followers and a post's likes and comments using a series of regression models.


This paper finds that factors capturing real world influence best explain why some members have more followers on Instagram. Senators, members who have served longer in office, past or future presidential candidates, Congressional leaders and ideological extremists all had significantly more followers. This paper also shows that personal content such as family photos, personal photos, selfies and pet photos produces significantly more user responses, while impersonal content like text based posts produces fewer.

Practical implications

This paper offers a general understanding of how anyone might maximize their user engagement on Instagram.


Little published research has studied how politicians use Instagram. This paper expands previous work examining influence on Twitter and Facebook. Further, these findings shed light on broader issues, including how social media reinforces existing power biases, and on the increasing trend towards personalization in American politics.



The author gratefully thanks Kailey Zengo, Molly LaBelle, Sally Matlock, and Ben Fleming for the assistance they provided collecting data for this study.


O'Connell, D. (2020), "The dynamics of congressional popularity on Instagram", Online Information Review, Vol. 44 No. 5, pp. 995-1011.



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