While social media might generally be seen as a younger person’s game, with Congressional newcomers using Instagram to shed a new light on the daily lives of lawmakers, the most prolific Instagram user in the US Senate is Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, who runs his own account, according to his staff.
Grassley, 85, has served in the Senate for nearly four decades, making him the second-oldest Senator behind Dianne Feinstein. He likes to post photos of himself with his constituents and political friends, almost always posing in the same way, often with the classic arm-around-the-sholder. The feed might be repetitive and quotidian, but Grassley is taking advantage of a political tool that is becoming more powerful than ever.
Grassley led the senatorial pack for a second year in a row, posting 585 times in 2018 thus far, according to a new report from public affairs software company Quorum. That’s more than any of his Senate colleagues, even though his account is far from the post popular, with only about 18,000 followers compared to Bernie Sanders’ 2.8 million.
“From meeting with Iowans visiting Washington to weighing in on the important issues of the day to sharing a bit of history from the Capitol and to chronicling how corn grows, Sen. Grassley uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to be as transparent, accessible and informative as possible,” Michael Zona, Grassley’s communications director, told Quartz over email.
Grassley’s Facebook page is run by his staffers, where they share items more related to the news, while Instagram and Twitter updates come from the senator himself, Zona said. He’ll often post his Instagram photos on Twitter.
Many Senate Instagram accounts appear to be carefully curated by staffers, including polished, professional shots and photos with text overlays of issues the politicians care about. From time to time, some senators will include photos from when they are at home, cooking and spending time with family, or behind-the-scenes shapshots. Grassley’s account, on the other hand, is frequently sprinkled with badly-lit photos of office plants, ancient vacuum cleaners, grandatherly pictures of himself by a pile of chopped up wood at home. His feed may be dull, but these moments show the senator in a more genuine, uncontrived way. That’s where Instagram is at its best: More than on any other social platform, it’s where politicians can reach younger constituents, who use Instagram more than other networks, and de-mystify the life of a politician.
The new guard in Congress is very well aware of this, particularly those that grew up as digital natives. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, congresswoman-elect from New York, is especially adept at making her Instagram a glimpse into the life of a Washington, through the eyes of a newcomer. Her account could be a signal of what’s to come from US politicians: a radically transparent Instagram as a megaphone used to speak directly to constituents in ways that previously just weren’t possible.
The unsuccessful Senate candidate from Texas Beto O’Rourke’s feed is also filled with posed photos, but he’s taken to Stories to document his daily life. His account was the most prolific on the House side, which is unsurprising, considering his Senate campaign’s strong presence on social media overall. Overall, 70% of senators posted on Instagram, and only 50% of House members did. (Twitter is the most-updated platform for both sides of the aisle and both houses of Congress, with Senate octogenarians like Grassley and Feinstein as frequent posters.)
This could be because Senate offices have more staff and resources to dedicate toward a digital communications than their House counterparts, Kevin King, head of communications at Quorum, told Quartz.