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Let’s all get Emotional! Personalization of Political Campaigning on Social Media in Comparative Perspective

Elections
Media
Political Leadership
Campaign
Candidate
Social Media
Communication
Comparative Perspective
Diego Ceccobelli
Scuola Normale Superiore
Diego Ceccobelli
Scuola Normale Superiore
Mario Quaranta
Università degli Studi di Trento
Augusto Valeriani
Università di Bologna

Abstract

Emotions have always played a pivotal role in politics, while appealing to voters’ feelings has been part of election campaign practices for long time. Political actors can achieve this goal by adopting different strategies. Among them, we can enlist those related to the phenomenon that literature comprises under the label of “personalization of politics”, which can be considered as a crucial emotional component of contemporary political leaderships. However, especially in the study of political communication on social media, a general notion of personalization – as a political communication focused mainly around the leader – has begun to appear inadequate to fully understand the relationship between political actors and citizens. Indeed, on these platforms, most of citizens’ (and media) attention is focused on personal pages of leaders. Consequently, personalization tout court tends to become a quasi-constant rather than a variable and, thus, it is at risk to become empirically irrelevant. To the contrary, the specific use of leaders’ persona to move feelings and to build an emotional connection with citizens and voters appears as highly resonating with the specific features of social media as communicative and relational milieu, while at the same time being practiced with different intensity by politicians in their personal digital effort. This paper is aimed at investigating “emotionalization” of politics on social media by considering three different specific phenomena that, according to literature, can be referred to personalization: celebrity politics, intimate politics, and lifestyle politics. When political actors communicate by using their social media profiles, they can strategically decide to merge their communication with their private life (privatization of politics), with sport, TV or movie celebrities (celebrity politics) or with the daily lives of ordinary citizens (lifestyle politics). All of these practices can described as intended at moving citizens’ emotions and generating sympathetic feelings in order to gain consensus. The purpose of this paper is threefold: first, to determine how common emotionalization is in the political communication of contemporary political leaders on social media across different democratic political systems; secondly, to assess whether this strategy pays in terms of citizens’ engagement with social media activity of leaders; finally –by adopting a comparative perspective— to understand whether systemic variables have an impact on both of these patterns. In order to accomplish these three research goals, a content analysis of the Facebook pages of the main political leaders of 27 countries has been performed. Our study is based on data related to the Facebook activities of 73 lead candidates during 29 election campaigns between November 2012 and November 2016. Our dataset includes 29 candidates from 11 presidential systems (Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, the United States of America, Uruguay and Venezuela) and 44 candidates from 16 parliamentary systems (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom).