Conflict as a Barrier to Online Political Participation?: A Look at Political Participation in an Era of Web and Mobile Connectivity

Conflict as a Barrier to Online Political Participation?: A Look at Political Participation in an Era of Web and Mobile Connectivity

Francis Dalisay (University of Guam, Mangilao, GU, USA), Matthew J. Kushin (Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV, USA) and Masahiro Yamamoto (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, WI, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/IJEP.2016010103
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Abstract

This study extends understanding of conflict avoidance's (CA) potential of inhibiting online political participation. Specifically, the authors examine whether CA has a direct negative relationship with traditional online political participation and online political expression, and an indirect negative relationship with these two forms of participation as mediated by political interest and internal political efficacy. A survey of young adult college students living in a U.S. Midwestern battleground state was conducted weeks prior to the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Results showed that CA has a direct negative relationship with both traditional online political participation and online political expression. Also, CA is negatively associated with political interest and internal political efficacy, which in turn, are positively associated with traditional online political participation and online political expression. Implications are discussed.
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Introduction

Conflict is an inherent fixture of the American political process (Jamieson, 1992). American media, for instance, tend to cover politics as a conflict between political actors or groups (Cappella & Jamieson, 1997; Herbst, 2010). American television viewers are also constantly exposed to conflict-laden news coverage on 24-hour news cycle cable channels such as CNN, Fox, and MSNBC that often portray heated exchanges between political commentators (Forgette & Morris, 2006; Jamieson & Cappella, 2009; Mutz, 2015; Sobieraj & Berry, 2011). In addition, political arguments have been common in U.S. online forums and social network sites (Coe, Kenski, & Rains, 2014; Hmielowski, Hutchens, & Cicchirillo, 2014; Papacharissi, 2004; Sobieraj & Berry, 2011).

The ubiquitous nature of conflict in contemporary American politics and public affairs media coincides with a scholarly interest in the potential that such conflicts might be alienating citizens from the political process (e.g., McClurg, 2006). Research particularly suggests that conflict avoidance (CA) could be inhibiting offline political participation, political interest, and internal political efficacy (Ulbig & Funk, 1999). However, in light of today’s world of Web and mobile connectivity, this line of research remains narrow in two important ways. First, there is limited understanding about the potential that CA might also decrease online political participation. With a few exceptions (Vraga, Thorson, Kligler-Vilencik, & Gee, 2015), not much research has examined whether CA is inversely related with online forms of political participation more common in today’s Internet landscape, including online forms of politically expressive acts performed via social media and mobile devices (Pew Research Center, 2014; Smith, 2009, 2011; Yamamoto, Kushin, & Dalisay, 2015). Second, while research shows political interest and internal political efficacy are two key psychological antecedents of offline political participation (e.g., McLeod, Scheufele, & Moy, 1999; Moeller, de Vreese, Esser, & Kunz, 2014; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995), a question not satisfactorily investigated by empirical studies is whether CA may also undermine online political participation by first inhibiting efficacy and political interest. That is, CA may be linked to lower online political participation because it may dampen one’s interest in, and perceived competence to be part of, the political process.

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