Social Media and Voter Participation

Social Media and Voter Participation

Mariah Kraner (Portland State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1740-7.ch079
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This chapter looks at the political trends associated with using social media sources as a way to enhance participation in national elections. It is hypothesized that participation has declined across groups and through time, regardless of the new uses of social media in political campaigning. The historical significance of voter participation is examined using Alexis De Tocqueville’s and Robert Putnam’s frameworks. The path is paved to examine both the importance of new media in the election process and its drawbacks. A national empirical test is presented that examines the correlation between race categories, genders, and age ranges, with the percentage of voter turnout in each presidential election year from 1964 to 2008. Regression analysis is also conducted to examine the predictive nature of increased time on national voter participation. The correlation and regression results are presented, indicating that, in general, participation has continued to decline among most groups, regardless of the perceived access and connection provided by social media outlets. However, a slight change after 1996 may indicate an effect from social media presence. The data presents a starting point for future evaluation of e-government effects on national voter participation in the election process, providing a benchmark for later empirical tests.
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Background And Concept Clarification

Prior to the presentation of this analysis, there are many concepts utilized in this chapter that deserve and require grounding: the use of the term “Web2.0,” voter participation, social capital and social media. A brief description of the concepts referred to in this chapter are offered and defined, as to avoid confusion with the use of words that are often misunderstood, misused and thought to have a variety of socially accepted meanings. First, Web2.0 has been widely used to describe virtual interactions. For the purposes of this chapter, the definition is limited to the ability to have interactive information sharing within the social media framework. O’Reilly, who coined the term suggests that Web 2.0:

is about data. It’s about our data – both the data we contribute explicitly and the data that are implicit…Likewise, social media aren’t just about the contributions that people make deliberately or explicitly, such as when you upload a video to YouTube, update your status on Facebook, write a new blog post or contribute to a discussion on an online newspaper. Social media are just as much about our implicit contributions (Rettberg, 2009).

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