We pay a whole lot of attention to political campaigns at the national level. It’s hardly possible to escape coverage of this year’s presidential race, and election bids for the U.S. Senate have inspired many thousands of newspaper articles.

Yet despite all this attention, our national politicians are not actually creating much change. With President Barack Obama and the Republican houses of Congress in openly declared battle, each has stymied the other and prevented any significant legislation from moving forward.

With the federal government in gridlock, state governments are the unheralded drivers of change in policy. While the U.S. Congress stands still, a number of changes regarding abortion rights, voting rights, drug decriminalization, the minimum wage, religion in school, gun regulation and welfare policy have been made by state legislatures.

For that reason, state legislative elections matter.

But they’re also peculiar. Because Maine has a small population but many seats in its state Legislature, the number of Mainers in each legislative district is small. The small scale of Maine politics has its perks — candidates for the Maine legislature tend to be glad to speak to just about any member of their district.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find information about the candidates in your district, particularly if you live in a rural area without its own newspaper. Our state government maintains lists of legislative candidates and their campaign finance activities, but those lists are kept separate and don’t contain easily accessible contact information.


To help remedy that, I’ve taken this disparate elections and campaign finance data, added in information about the social media accounts of the 70 candidates seeking 35 seats in the Maine Senate, and compiled it into a spreadsheet you can read in Microsoft Excel; feel free to download and make use of it personally to read up on your candidates, ask them questions and find out more.

When we put this information together, some patterns about the Maine Senate race emerge:


Competition in the general election, but not in the primaries

In the Maine Senate race, you’ll probably have a choice on Election Day. Only two candidates — Kim Rosen, R-Bucksport, and Nate Libby, D-Lewiston — are running without opposition. But did you have a choice about who’s appearing on your ballot for Senate? Unless you’re a local party activist, probably not. In fact, 86 percent of Maine Senate candidates had no opposition in the primaries.

Online, it’s Facebook first

For years now, every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives has had both a website and a Facebook page, and almost every member has posted to the headline platform Twitter.


The same cannot be said among candidates for Maine Senate. While 94 percent of Senate candidates have a Facebook page, only 50 percent have a campaign webpage, and only 43 percent have a Twitter account. And 6 percent of candidates have no visible presence in any of these online spaces.

Use of social media by Senate candidates is regional, with candidates for districts in northern Maine least active and candidates for districts in southern Maine most active. There is no difference in candidate social media according to the level of income in a Senate district (see American Factfinder for details), but district education levels do matter. In districts in which 85 percent or more of residents have a high school diploma, Senate candidates are present on more than two social media platforms on average. For districts in which fewer than 85 percent of residents have a high school diploma, the average Senate candidate is present on less than one social media platform.

Candidate community is indirect

Nearly as important as what a candidate says is who they talk to.

We know all too well that presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can’t keep from referring to one another on Twitter. But are Maine Senate candidates talking to one another online?

Looking at Twitter, the following network displays a line where there’s been at least one mention, reply or retweet of one candidate’s account by another over the summer. Each candidate’s Twitter account is given a larger size in this network if they’ve used Twitter more, a smaller size if they’ve used Twitter less.


Democrats are blue, Republicans are red, Greens are green, and independents are black:


As you can see, this network is mostly empty. Some candidates are talking on Twitter, but they’re usually not talking to one another. The picture changes when we draw new network lines, to include mentions of non-candidate accounts:


Some Senate candidates with Twitter accounts still aren’t talking to anybody. Most of the Senate candidates who are active on Twitter have their own communities with whom they exclusively communicate.

But a surprising amount of communication, both within and between political parties, occurs through intermediaries. Many Maine Senate candidates are talking to and about some other users. These intervening ties connect participants in the Maine Senate race into a community, albeit an indirect one.

If you make use of the candidates’ social media contact information, you’ll join that network, connecting candidates ever tightly to one another — and to you as well.

James Cook has been a professor of social science at the University of Maine at Augusta since 2011. Dr. Cook’s primary areas of interest in research and teaching are political organizations, social networks, and social media, specifically applying social network theory to social media in the Maine State Legislature.

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