There is no worse fate that can befall a Tweeter than the dreaded ratio—when a tweet receives more responses than likes. Though elite pundits scoff at the wisdom of the crowd, the ratio is accepted by Twitter pros as an indicator of a tweet’s quality. If the number of people who felt the need to weigh in on your tweet is higher than the number of people who quietly approved of it, chances are that tweet was bad.
To explore the fabled ratio, our think tank, Data for Progress, has collected every tweet between January 1, 2017 and April 18, 2018 from each U.S. Senator to see how often they get ratio’d, which tweets of theirs generated the highest ratios, and how their ratios change over time. We found that Republicans are far more likely to be ratio’d than Democrats, and a handful of centrist Democrats are more likely to be ratio’d than their more liberal peers. Oh, and Mitch McConnell gets ratio’d on literally every other tweet he sends.
We find that for truly epic ratios, readers should accept no substitute: Republicans deliver consistently. Their ratio batting average is .318, meaning that one out of every three tweets sent by Republicans is brutally rejected by the general public. Democrats are ratio’d on just over 5 percent of their tweets. Further research will be required to determine if this extreme disparity is purely attributable to the Trump era—many of the most devastating ratios were earned by Republicans arguing in favor of their efforts to repeal Obamacare and cut rich people’s taxes—or if Republicans are simply penalized for existing in the younger, more liberal space that Twitter represents.
The Ichiro Suzuki of bad tweets is Senator Toomey, R-Penn., who was ratio’d on 76 percent of the 671 tweets of his in our dataset. Toomey is followed closely by Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who was ratio’d 70 percent of the time (623 tweets). But if we look to senators who have sent a larger number of tweets, no one has delivered more bad tweets more consistently than Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who has been ratio’d on 64 percent of his 4,263 tweets.
Democrats, meanwhile, lead the league in avoiding ratios, and no one is more impressive than Brian Schatz, who has an average ratio of only 2.6 responses per every 100 likes on 2,339 tweets. (Toomey, for comparison, receives 173 comments for every 100 likes.) The only Senators to have fully escaped the wrath of the ratio are Amy Klobuchar, Doug Jones, Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, Maria Cantwell, Bob Casey, Tammy Duckworth, Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Tim Kaine.
The most ratio’d tweet from any Democrat is this one, from Kamala Harris:
On average, the Democrat with the least favorable ratio is Joe Manchin, who received 31 comments for every 100 likes over the observed date range.
Democrats tend to be more aggressively ratio’d when they talk about racial justice and immigration, while Republicans are more aggressively ratio’d when they talk about taxes, healthcare and Trump appointees. For example, Cory Gardner found out the hard way that praising Betsy Devos is a good way to have a bad time online when his January 10th tweet in support of her nomination garnered only 19 favorites, compared to 383 replies (at time of publication—ratios are always subject to change). Glutton for punishment that he is, Gardner followed it up with this, on February 7th:
ACA repeal energized the liberal base, driving some devastating ratios. For instance, Senator Bill Cassidy’s most punishing ratio, clocking at a whopping 2588%, is a quote tweet of Lindsey Graham that reads “Doing nothing is not an option. #GrahamCassidy -Heller-Johnson.” Graham’s tweet was also ratio’ed (157 likes, 966 comments) making this a human centipede of disastrous takes. The tax bill also generated some impressive ratios.
In December, Senator Susan Collins dropped the MOAR (Mother of All Ratios) with this tweet:
And Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowksi’s tweet in favor the tax bill garnered 4,808 comments and 286 favorites: “Tonight I cast my in [sic] favor the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”
The ratio tracker isn’t just fun and games; it can give us important insights into American politics. In a new research note, Data for Progress co-founder Jon Green digs into these numbers. He created a model that predicts the logged average ratio of each senator (logging a variable helps give us more reliable estimates of association) using their caucus and DW-NOMINATE score, a measure of ideology common to political science. Consistent with earlier work done by Pew, which reported that more ideological senators have larger followings on Facebook, we find that more ideological senators have lower average ratios—largely due to their ability to generate more positive engagement on their tweets.
This relationship is driven by a handful of very ideological and high-engagement accounts in both parties, such as Elizabeth Warren and Mike Lee. However, we also find that party carries a much stronger relationship with average ratios than ideology. Republicans across the DW-NOMINATE scale are predicted to have average ratios that are orders of magnitude higher than their Democratic counterparts.
Studying ratios may seem like a silly exercise, but it produced important, sometimes depressing findings. We can confirm that healthcare and taxes are the motivating factors for the liberal base, as judged by the ratios of Republican Senators. And we find that immigration and guns are motivating concern for Republicans. The only tweet from Senator Chris Van Hollen to be ratio’d is this one:
The hundreds of replies to the tweet are not encouragement, but mainly sentiments along the lines of, “If you got time to be an Orthopedic Surgeon, you got time to get legal!!”
The only time Senator Gillibrand has been ratio’d, it was for two tweets about silencers.
For some Democrats, the risk of the ratio comes from the left. Senator Cory Booker’s only ratios came from his opposition to foreign drug importation, and Senator Joe Manchin took criticism for his promise to not campaign against a sitting colleague. Senator Chris Coons took a brutal ratio for his tweet declaring his intention to ensure that Trump Supreme Court nominee Neil “Gorsuch is given the fair & thorough hearing that Merrick Garland never got. #SCOTUS.” Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado was ratio’d when he tweeted that he agreed “with many of the concerns voiced about Judge Gorsuch” but said Democrats “should avoid the nuclear option.” These ratios indicate that progressive Twitter is willing to punish deviation on the Court.
As Twitter becomes a more central place for partisan politics, the ratio can become a tool to analyze and understand political trends. You can explore some of our data below (scroll to the bottom right to expand it to full size):
Sean McElwee is a co-founder of Data for Progress. He tweets at @SeanMcElwee. Avery Wendell is a data scientist based in San Francisco and senior adviser to Data for Progress. He tweets at @awendell98. Jon Green is a PhD student at Ohio State University and a co-founder of Data for Progress. He tweets at @_Jon_Green. Jason Ganz is a data analyst based in Denver and senior adviser to Data for Progress. He tweets at @jasnonaz