A Think Tank’s Effective Use of Twitter for the Presidential Debates

Last Tuesday as I was sharing my thoughts on Twitter during the second presidential debate, I noticed frequent updates from the Cato Institute. Like Heritage, Cato reguarly tweets about its policy work. But what made Cato’s debate coverage special was the instant reaction from its analysts.

Rather than wait until after the debate to comment on the candidates’ policy proposals, Cato’s manager of new media, Christopher Moody, put the libertarian think tank’s policy experts to work right away. The result was instantaneous and informative analysis. The experiment was such a success that Cato plans to replicate it tonight.

By my count, Cato provided 44 updates on Twitter during the 90-minute debate. Its Twitter team included Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow for energy policy and environmental protection; Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies; and Jagadeesh Gokhale, senior fellow for economics and expert on entitlement reform.

Here’s a sampling of what they wrote:

Did Sen. McCain answer the question about Social Security? I’d say no. –Jagadeesh Gokhale 09:44 PM
McCain calls for Medicare commission. Finally, something worthwhile. -Michael Cannon 09:43 PM
If Reagan fixed Social Security, why are we still having the conversation? -Michael Cannon 09:42 PM
Obama’s health plan would outlaw the most affordable 50 percent of health insurance plans currently on the market. -Michael Cannon 09:42 PM
Need to understand the rest of the tax code to fix Social Security? Dissemblobama at its best! –Jagadeesh Gokhale 09:41 PM
The $700 billion financial-sector bailout is less than one percent of the amount required to bail out Medicare. -Michael Cannon 09:39 PM
A question about unfunded federal liabilities! Who would have thought? -Jerry Taylor 09:39 PM

Is this groundbreaking policy research? No, but it’s not meant to be. Cato is instead investing in real time reaction to the candidates’ answers. This certainly raises the level of discourse on Twitter and introduces Cato’s ideas to an audience that might otherwise not pay any attention.

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