Candidate Networks, Citizen Clusters, and Political Expression: Strategic Hashtag Use in the 2010 Midterms

Leticia Bode, Alexander Hanna, Junghwan Yang, Dhavan V. Shah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Twitter provides a direct method for political actors to connect with citizens, and for those citizens to organize into online clusters through their use of hashtags (i.e., a word or phrase marked with # to identify an idea or topic and facilitate a search for it). We examine the political alignments and networking of Twitter users, analyzing 9 million tweets produced by more than 23,000 randomly selected followers of candidates for the U.S. House and Senate and governorships in 2010. We find that Twitter users in that election cycle did not align in a simple Right-Left division; rather, five unique clusters emerged within Twitter networks, three of them representing different conservative groupings. Going beyond discourses of fragmentation and polarization, certain clusters engaged in strategic expression such as “retweeting” (i.e., sharing someone else’s tweet with one’s followers) and “hashjacking” (i.e., co-opting the hashtags preferred by political adversaries). We find the Twitter alignments in the political Right were more nuanced than those on the political Left and discuss implications of this behavior in relation to the rise of the Tea Party during the 2010 elections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-165
Number of pages17
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 15 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Tea Party
  • Twitter
  • U.S. elections
  • campaign communication
  • hashjacking
  • online communities
  • social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


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