Nevertheless, She’s Rising

First-Term Senator Kamala Harris Finds Her Voice in Washington and a Growing Following on Twitter

Kamala Harris Moves Up | Getty Images

Since January, students in both my undergraduate and graduate classes have been universal in their belief that Sen. Kamala Harris of California is the future of the Democratic party. They point to her career in public service as a district attorney before her election to be the state’s attorney general in 2010, as well as her relative youth (she’s 52), and diverse background (she’s biracial). Tugging on my political science heart strings, they remind me that California has 55 Electoral College votes.

Admittedly, I’ve been more circumspect. Taken at face value, Sen. Harris’s political rise is thoroughly conventional. She grew up the daughter of two parents who brought her to civil rights protests. After graduating high school she was voted freshman class representative to Howard University’s liberal arts college, participated on the debate team, and joined a sorority. She went back to California for law school, earned her J.D., and began her career as a district attorney rising to attorney general of California, a statewide office, which fueled her next step to the U.S. Senate. Harris didn’t even beat a Republican — she defeated a fellow Democrat for the seat.

So, for me, Harris was not an instant sensation. But the Twitter analytics I’ve been reviewing from our partners at Crimson Hexagon have me rethinking who’s really teaching what to whom in my classrooms. As it turns out, the national launch of Kamala Harris is well underway. My students saw it well before I bought in, which turns out to be this morning. While I didn’t see it coming, nevertheless, the Senator from California is rising.

On November 8 last year, the @KamalaHarris twitter feed had 63,792 followers. As of yesterday, it’s grown to 533,647, more than a seven-fold increase (+752%). As you can see below, much of the growth has been steady and relatively consistent with two major jumps I’ll outline below.

@KamalaHarris Twitter followers | Graph from Crimson Hexagon

Elections and Aftermath

Kamala Harris was not a household name nationwide going into her election to the U.S. Senate. While this has not happened yet, she may be on her way to becoming one. Her election and how she handled the aftermath has helped to fuel her rise in Democratic circles and on Twitter and put her in a position to leverage that momentum with her background and experience when opportunity came along in late spring.

Election Day (+12,075 followers). Winning begets winning, so when Harris prevailed on November 8, Twitter users began to take notice but only for a relatively short period of time. On November 10, she added 12,075 followers and two days later, another 12,935. One week after the election, she crossed over to the 100k mark. Most of the growth over the next few weeks appears to be organic and somewhat expected. Harris appeared in interviews and other media including “The Axe Files” with David Axelrod, where the host spends an entire hour with his guest and you get a good sense of her background.

Women’s March (+10,609 followers). If the election and swearing in of Donald Trump was a divisive event, the marches in the nation’s capitol and elsewhere demonstrated how far the nation still needed to go before it healed. Anti-Trump posters were everywhere and it was clear no honeymoon would be afforded the new president. California’s new senator implored the crowd to remember that despite the loss, they had the power (skip to 3:18).

Twitter reponded. On January 22, she gained 10,609 followers and on the 23rd, she gained 18,623, which put her over 200k followers for the first time. This started a 12-day period where Harris gained close to 5,800 followers per day before settling into a pattern of several hundred per day.

The Russia Hearings

From a rally podium to something better resembling her professional experience, Harris’s participation on the Senate Intelligence Committee has become another inflection point for her rise. Harris was afforded the opportunity to question some of the major figures in the ongoing investigation into the Trump administration’s connection to Russia and if that country influenced the 2016 elections. There were three hearings, the first two back-to-back, so it is difficult to discern which had the greater impact on Twitter. What is clear is that people took notice.

Intelligence Hearing (+5,981 followers). On June 7, she questioned Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about whether he would keep the Russia investigation independent from Trump’s influence. The exchange below resulted in the largest follower gain since her speech at the Women’s March in part because of how Chairman Richard Burr interrupted to attempt to shut down Harris’s line of questioning so the witness could answer.

Comey Hearing (+11,343 followers). The main event followed one day later: #ComeyDay. Former FBI Director James Comey was fired by President Trump and this was his opportunity to weigh in on the Russia investigation as well as give his personal account of what he saw. Again from the dais, Harris was methodical in trying to get answers but Comey spent most of the time not giving straight answers or, citing security concerns, saying that he could answer them behind closed doors.

Sessions Hearing (+32,703). Harris was much more aggressive with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, resulting in a gain of 67,457 followers. This clip shows a piece of the interaction with Sessions who was trying to explain his answers while Harris was trying to move on to other questions. Again, Chairman Burr stepped in to remind Harris and the rest of the members of the committee to allow witnesses to answer their questions. The second interruption prompted this CNN story about how Harris was not backing down and reflecting the “Neverthless, she persisted” meme.

Comparisons to Other Senators

Given the same time period, has Harris’s Twitter account grown at a faster, slower, or about the same rate as her colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee? As shown below, Harris’s account has grown over 7.5 times since Election Day, which is more than double what Sen. Martin Heinrich’s account grew and over 420k more followers.

Viewed another way, while Sen. Marco Rubio’s Twitter account has grown about 61%, today he has one million more followers than he had on Election Day.

Either way, what Harris has done in a little over seven months is worth our attention. In the short time since her election, Sen. Kamala Harris has found ways to be heard and followed signficantly more than her experienced colleagues and despite attempts to silence her on the intelligence committee. The problem they now have is that a lot more people want to listen. As the investigation continues over the next several months it is likely there will be quite a few more. Then, who knows where her voice might lead her?


If you enjoyed this article, click the💚 below so other people will see this here on Medium. Follow me on Twitter @michaelcohen. You can follow our research on this website or on Twitter @PEORIAProject, which is funded by a generous grant from Mark R. Shenkman. To learn more about the Graduate School of Political Management visit our website or follow us on Twitter @GSPMgwu.

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