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Towards a New Form of 'Electioneering'? Social Media Users' Preferences and Parties' Issue Agendas during the 2017 German Election Campaign

Cyber Politics
 
Elections
 
Party Manifestos
 
Political Competition
 
Campaign
 
Social Media
 
Big Data
 
Presenter
Wiebke Drews
European University Institute
Authors
Wiebke Drews
European University Institute

Abstract
Social networking sites (SNS) facilitate campaigners’ efforts to shape and adjust their messages toward the needs of their respective audiences. Parties, candidates and their teams are not dependent on the mass media anymore to understand which issues are especially salient among the public but can themselves collect the information from SNS. They can receive real-time feedback on how their messages are perceived by voters. This so-called now-casting of election results using social media allows them to immediately adjust their strategies to please their voters. Based on this, we would expect that parties’ messages published on SNS are tailored to each user community and their preferences.
Focusing on the German federal election campaign of 2017, this paper investigates (1) if there is a difference in relative salience each of the biggest German parties give to policy issues on Twitter and Facebook when compared to their 2017 party manifestos and (2) to what extent issue attention is driven by the affordances of the SNS and the replies and comments of other users. To that end, I collected and scraped all of the Tweets, Retweets and Facebook posts published on the official party accounts over a period of 55 days preceding election day. I exploit qualitative content analysis and quantitative text analysis to trace and compare the evolution of issue saliencies and show that parties tend to prioritize different topics online then in their manifestos. A supervised sentiment analysis and cross-sectional time series regression reveal, however, that this is only partly due to users’ sentiments. While parties discuss traditional economic issues fiercely over the entire course of the campaign independent of users’ sentiments, niche issue attention towards for example immigration is very much dependent on the latter. This reveals that the full potential of electioneering has not been realized in Germany yet.
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