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How Representative are the Online Political Forums? Analysis of the Referendum Campaign on National Voting Rights for Foreigners

Cyber Politics
Media
Political Methodology
Political Participation
Referendums and Initiatives
Campaign
Internet
Social Media
Raphael Kies
University of Luxembourg
Raphael Kies
University of Luxembourg
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Abstract

A common assertion is that online forums are not representative of the general public opinion but would reflect the behaviour and opinions of frustrated and extremist citizens. The objective of this paper is to empirically test this assertion by looking at the online debates about the referendum on the question of whether resident foreigners should under certain conditions (that will be specified) be allowed to vote for the national elections in Luxembourg. In order to measure the opinions emerging from the online forums, the author has gathered the content of the most read and active campaign forums and has coded each active individual according to his/her opinion. The representativeness of the online forms is evaluated by comparing these results with, on the one hand, the referendum outcome and, on the other hand, the data of a representative post-referendum survey that compares the opinions of people who were active in the online forum with the ones of passive users (reader but no posting) and non-users. The research topic is relevant for the three main reasons: First, online forums have an increasing influence on the political campaign dynamic and on opinion formation (i.e. in Luxembourg almost half of the population has declared to have read them during the referendum campaign). Second there is no empirical analysis that has systematically attempted to measure how representative the opinions of online forum are. Third, in reference to the deliberative systemic approach and democratisation theories, it contributes to identify which role the online forums play in the decision- and opinion- making process.