Sarah Palin’s Twitter Account

Ezra Klein argues that Sarah Palin's Twitter account isn't very popular. But that misses the point.

Ezra Klein argues that, while Sarah Palin claims to be using Twitter to get around what she dubs the “lamestream media,” the truth of the matter is that “Palin’s Twitter account isn’t very popular.”

With 286,000 people subscribed to her Twitter feed, Palin has a lot more followers than, say, me (though you can help change that!). But she only has a fifth of the followers that Ana Marie Cox has. And as you can see in the graph above, it’s not just Cox’s freakishly popular Twitter account: Palin trails “Parks and Recreation” star Aziz Ansari, Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu, neurotic comedian Ben Stiller, heiress Ivanka Trump, mustachioed-advice giver Dr. Phil, Haitian-president-in-waiting Wyclef Jean, and a wide range of others.

Now, notwithstanding my repeated statement that Palin is more pop culture celebrity than politician, these comparisons are rather silly.   The motivations for following Palin are simply different than those for following other kinds of celebrities.

Barack Obama has 5.77 million Twitter followers.  But he is, after all, the Tweeter-in-Chief. And his stream is pretty content free.    Palin’s erstwhile running mate, John McCain, has 1.72 million followers.

Nancy Pelosi, though, has only 19,363 — a teeny fraction of Palin’s.   Harry Reid has even fewer, 12,707.  A sign of things to come, perhaps, John Boehner tops them both combined, easily, with 67,698.

In terms of 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls, Mitt Romney has 19,918; Mike Huckabee 104,477;  Bobby Jindal 49,576;  and Tim Pawlenty 20,436.  The only one that’s beating Palin is Newt Gingrich, with a whopping 1.3 million.  But he’s been a national figure since 1994; nobody outside Alaska had heard of Palin until two years ago.

So, she’s doing okay.

Regardless, Ezra argues, “the reason Palin’s Twitter account matters is that the media loves Sarah Palin and reports on everything she says, does, or tweets. There’s corruption there, to be sure, but it’s of the sensationalistic sort, and Palin’s making a career — not to mention fat speaking and book fees — off of it.”

I’m not sure what “corruption” is evident here.  Palin’s a figure who,  for a variety of reasons, generates intense interest. And she’s cannily used her Twitter account to make outrageous, inflammatory, and otherwise newsworthy statements. It’s like sending out press releases, except they get right to the point — in 160 characters or less! — and go out only to those who want them.

Of course the press are going to then write stories about this:  It’s the kind of thing that draws eyeballs and sells advertising space.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JKB says:

    It’s all very simple. When Sarah Palin tweets people listen. Even those who use bloggers to filter for quality. For example, Ezra Klein wrote a post about Sarah Palin’s twitter account and it got picked up, not her content, just about how many twits she has following her. Okay, bad example if we’re going to filter for quality.

  2. Michael says:

    Palin’s erstwhile running mate, John McCain, has 1.72 followers.

    How did he get 72/100 ths of a person to follow him? We’re not counting certain people as fractions again are we?

  3. Vast Variety says:

    I wonder how many of her followers are people that actually like her vs people that just watch her to see how crazy she can get.