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New Relations Between Voters and Representatives in the Age of Social Media

English title New Relations Between Voters and Representatives in the Age of Social Media
Applicant Bailer Stefanie
Number 183248
Funding scheme Digital Lives
Research institution Departement Gesellschaftswissenschaften Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.11.2018 - 31.12.2020
Approved amount 198'655.00
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Keywords (5)

representatives; online media; representation; voter; personalisation

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Neue Beziehungen zwischen Wählern und Parlamentariern im Zeitalter sozialer Medien
Lay summary
Dieses Projekt untersucht das Verhältnis zwischen WählerInnen und PolitikerInnen im Zeitalter von Social Media. Traditionelle Medien lassen nur eine indirekte Interaktion zwischen WählerInnen und PolitikerInnen zu. Social Media Plattformen wie Twitter hingegen ermöglichen einen direkten Austausch. Dies birgt grosses Transformationspotential für Demokratien.

Frühere Forschung zu diesem Thema konzentrierte sich auf PolitikerInnen. Ihr ging es darum, in welchem Ausmass sie Social Media nutzen. Das Hauptziel unseres Projekts ist es, das Blickfeld zu erweitern.

Zentral ist uns deshalb nicht nur das Ausmass der Nutzung, sondern auch der Inhalt. Im Artikel «What Do Politicians Tweet When?» nehmen wir uns dieses Themas an. Wir untersuchen, wie stark sich PolitikerInnen in persönlichen Tweets auf sich selbst und auf ihre Politik beziehen. Dies hat bedeutende demokratietheoretische Implikationen: Erfahren die WählerInnen nur etwas über die Persönlichkeit von PolitikerInnen oder dienen Social Media als auch Sprachrohr für Politik? Zur Beantwortung dieser Frage ziehen wir statistische Analysemethoden heran. Grundlage dafür ist die Erhebung neue Twitter-Daten.

Auf Seiten der WählerInnen untersuchen wir, wie Social Media-Botschaften die Wahrnehmung der WählerInnen und in der Folge das Wahlverhalten beeinflusst. Der Artikel «What do voters want: Policy or Person?» nutzt dazu ein Umfrageexperiment. In diesem zeigen wir WählerInnen PolitikerInnen, die entweder einen personalisierten oder einen politikorientierten Kommunikationsstil pflegen. Die so gewonnen Daten dienen uns dann zur Klärung der Frage, wie Wahrnehmungen von Repräsentation auf Social Media und Wahlverhalten zusammenhängen.

Das durch dieses Projekt generierte Wissen beleuchtet das demokratische Potential von Social Media.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 11.10.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Project partner

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
University of Basel (Prof Heiko Schuldt, Professor of Computer Science) Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
University of Zurich (Prof Fabrizio Gilardi) Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
University of Essex Government Speaker Series Individual talk Policy or Person - Representation in the Digital Age 09.02.2021 Virtual, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Bailer Stefanie;
Staff Colloquium University of Geneva Individual talk How MPs Strategically Use Twitter to Signal Localness When it Matters for their Career 30.11.2020 Geneva, Switzerland Giger Nathalie;
Digital Democracy Lab & Digital Society Initiative Conference Talk given at a conference How MPs Strategically Use Twitter to Signal Localness When it Matters for their Career 05.11.2020 Zurich (online) , Switzerland Bailer Stefanie;
General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research Talk given at a conference How MPs Strategically Use Twitter to Signal Localness When it Matters for their Career 24.08.2020 Virtual, United States of America Giger Nathalie; Bailer Stefanie;
General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research Talk given at a conference Profiting from Covid-19 ? Analyzing support for male and female members of the executive 24.08.2020 online, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Bailer Stefanie;
Brown Bag Colloquium Talk given at a conference Policy or Person? Representation in the Digital Age 16.10.2019 Basel, Switzerland Bailer Stefanie; Turner-Zwinkels Tomas;
- Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association, Washington, 29 August - 1 September 2019 Talk given at a conference Policy or Person - Representation in the Digital Age 29.08.2019 Washington, United States of America Bailer Stefanie; Giger Nathalie;
Annual Meeting of the European Political Science Association Talk given at a conference Policy or Person - Representation in the Digital Age 19.06.2019 Belfast, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Giger Nathalie; Bailer Stefanie;
- Workshop Personalization, personality and representation in the study of politics and political communication Talk given at a conference Policy or Person - Representation in the Digital Age 17.06.2019 Amsterdam, Netherlands Bailer Stefanie;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Kick-off Workshop at the University of Basel with two external experts 15.01.2019 Basel, Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Ringvorlesung "Herausforderung Digitalisierung: Perspektiven von Universität und Gesellschaft Talk 26.10.2020 Basel, Switzerland Bailer Stefanie;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Seminar The new relations between voters and representatives in the digital age 03.11.2018 University of Basel, Switzerland

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Bürgernähe auf Twitter zahlt sich aus. Politiker aus Deutschland und der Schweiz schöpfen die Möglic NZZ German-speaking Switzerland 2019

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
162427 Parliamentary Careers in Comparison 01.09.2016 Project funding

Abstract

This project aims to lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the relation between voters and elected representatives in the age of social media. Social media platforms like Twitter carry the potential to transform democracies as they allow for direct contact between politicians and voters and thus for more personalized contact between representatives and represented. Academic work on this topic, however, has so far remained highly descriptive and has focussed on the frequency or volume of social media usage by politicians and not so much on the content of their messages. As a result, we lack knowledge about the information politicians portray in social media activity, as well as what the effect of this communication is, e.g. how voters perceive it. The two studies presented in this proposal intend to target this important research gap and to analyse the micro-processes of the content of online communication and how voters perceive it. Study 1 (‘What Do Politicians Tweet When? New Quantitative Insight Into the Strategic Use of Personality Traits and Policy Positions’) is an observational study that investigates the tweets of a sample of Swiss and German politicians with the help of machine-learning to find out more about the motivations of politicians to tweet. We focus on Twitter as direct and individualized behaviour is best captured with this platform. Following key ideas in the representation and personalisation literature, we focus specifically on the distinction between personal or policy focussed content and investigate whether the content of the tweets depends on variables such as the incentive to cultivate a personal vote, professionalization of parties and parliament, or career stage in comparative perspective - information that is already available from the SNF project on “Parliamentary careers in comparison” . Study 2 (‘What do voters want: Policy or Person’) is a two country survey including an experiment that investigates how voters use social media for political purposes and which information they seek in these platforms. A short survey experiment focuses on how feelings of representation and voting intentions of voters are affected by the content of the twitter message that politicians share via social media and whether voters rather appreciate personal appeals about the politicians or information about policy positions and activities communicated via Twitter. Using an innovative survey design, we first extract the demographic personal profile and policy preferences of the participants. We then use this information to present subjects with candidate profiles and Tweets from politicians that are (dis)similar to them on these key dimensions. As such we contribute to the question whether voters appreciate politicians similar or dissimilar to their own personal profile (desire for descriptive representation) and feel better represented by politicians who are like them or who act on their behalf (desire for substantive representation). The conduct of these studies in Switzerland and Germany allows for a first insight on variation on relevant influencing variables such as the election system, the importance of parties and the professionalization of the parliamentary system. Importantly, this project forms the base for a larger research agenda that we aim to develop in the next years and where we want to further explore the potential of social media in fostering closer linkages between voters and politicians.
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