Getting Personal? The Impact of Social Media on Preferential Voting
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Ever since the successful presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008, attention has been drawn to the political impact of social media. However, it remains to be seen whether the successful Obama campaign is the exception or the rule. Our research focuses specifically on the impact of social media on preference voting. First it seeks to establish whether candidates make use of social media during election campaigns and whether voters in turn follow politicians. Afterwards it examines to what extent social media make a difference and yield a preference vote bonus. Theoretically, two types of effects are outlined, namely a direct effect of the number of followers a candidate has and a statistical interaction effect whereby a higher number of followers only yields more votes when the candidate actively uses the social media. To carry out our analysis, we make use of a unique dataset that combines data on social media usage and data on the candidates themselves (such as position on the list, being wellknown, exposure to the old media, gender, ethnicity and incumbency). The dataset includes information on all 493 candidates of the 10 parties that received at least one seat in the Dutch 2010 election. It turns out that candidates are eager to use social media, but that relatively few people follow candidates. There is a significant interaction effect of social media usage and the number of followers, but that effect appears to be relatively small.
KeywordsSocial media Preference voting Voting behavior Political parties Political Communication Twitter
We explicitly want to thank Reinout de Vries and Jonneke Stans from EMMA Communicatie for their generous help and for providing us with data on Twitter usage. We also want to thank the participants of the 2012 ECPR Joint Session workshop ‘Parties and Campaigning in the Digital Era’, and Laura Sudulich, Rachel Gibson and Andrea Römmele in particular for their useful comments.
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