The Most Influential Think Tanks In The United States: A New Social Media Ranking

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado el 16/12/15 en:, an online resource for campus and online education, has just released a ranking of the 50 most influential think tanks in the United States. I have written that the think tank and university worlds are beginning to overlap. Some universities are creating internal think tanks, some think tanks are offering university-type programs, and there is an increased number of efforts where think tanks and universities collaborate in educational products and services. It does not come as a surprise, at least for me, that this “school web portal” decided to devote some time to focus on U.S. think tanks.

Like other rankings, this new effort treats “think tanks as principally in the business of selling their ideas.” But it focuses on social media more than any other previous ranking. The authors reason that “in this age of the Internet, in which every think tank has a website,” we “can regard think tanks as in the business of search engine marketing, i.e., as attempting to market their ideas over the Internet and especially through their website.”

Early each year I compile statistics and write about the impact of conservative and libertarian think tanks in social media. Fourteen such groups appear in this list. Although my analysis of social media impact uses more measurements than, some of the results are similar, especially the top four free market groups: Heritage Foundation, Cato, Mises Institute and American Enterprise Institute. Mises Institute is the one with the smaller budget ($4 to 5 million), and they can rightly claim that, at least in social media measurements, they provide more “bang for the buck.” In addition to the superb collection of scholarly books and studies in the Austrian tradition, especially by Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and their disciples, Mises Institute sometimes releases provocative articles, defying politically correctness and attracting wide readership. This increases its social media impact, but who is to say that think tanks were only created to influence the academic and policy elites?

Leading Conservatives Libertarian TT in TBS Ranking

Despite the claim in the title of the ranking that these are the 50 most influential US think tanks, the organization recognizes that they do not measure the “intrinsic merit of a think tank and its intellectual program” but its “cash value” measured by the popularity of a think tank’s official website, ranked against all other websites, as determined by the average number of monthly visitors (specifically, organic search traffic), number of keywords/phrases for which the site ranks, and the monetary value of the traffic as gauged by those keywords.” This is the key measurement, uses that web tool to determine how well their portal was doing “in attracting and holding visitor traffic” so they decided to measure think tanks.

Although they state that in preparing the ranking they considered the average yearly revenue; the average number of printed media references per year by outside organizations; and the number of categories in which a think tank was ranked by the2014 Global GoTo Think-Tank Index, a simple analysis of their ranking shows that those elements were not weighed. They just relied on one SEMrush measurement. The top two groups in the list, the Belfer Center at Harvard, and the Earth Institute at Columbia, do not merit their ranking. Those who prepared the data took the entire traffic of Harvard and Columbia as the traffic for these centers. The Heritage Foundation, ranked third, should be really ranked first. In addition, the information for some of the think tanks is incomplete or wrong. Acton Institute, for example, appears on several categories in the 2014 GoTo Think Tank Index, but the analysis mentions none. Another issue of the rankings is that it does not provide information on when the data was compiled and does not include many think tanks, like Hudson Institute, which beats several on the list. will be correcting its analysis.

Michael Rae, of Canadian based Lexicom, an expert on free-market social media efforts, has been using for six months. The more that think tanks use paid advertising to promote their social media posting, the more useful the tool will become. Regarding the ranking, Rae says that the “disparity between the top and bottom of the rankings in terms of web traffic, seems to indicate that it really is a ‘winner takes all’ world online, at least for web pages.” Many on this new list are indeed some of the most influential US think tanks, but a more accurate ranking of the best ones is yet to be produced.

Adriana Peralta collaborated on this article.


Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.