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Social Media Use in US Political Campaigning

We start the second session this morning at AoIR 2016 with a paper by Jennifer Stromer-Galley and Patricia Rossini, whose interest is in the social media posts of presidential candidates in the U.S. election campaign in 2016. On their live tracker they are capturing the social media activities of both Clinton and Trump, and these have also been coded by content.

One important aspect of this work is also to connect social media activities and public opinion polling. This provides additional context for online campaigns, and shows the interrelations between social media campaigning activities and current polling performance. In a hybrid media environment, there's a clear understanding that campaigning activities are connected with polling results, but the evidence for this remains scant so far; it also remains unclear how the different social media platforms are being used in campaigning.

The project has been tracking the social media activities of all contenders since their primary campaigns were launched in early 2015, and has been using national public opinion polling data from ABC and Washington Post. Social media messages have been categorised as attack, advocacy, call to action, image-building, and issue posts, which are identified using machine learning approaches; the incidence of these message types is then analysed using regression analysis that controls for party, platform, total number of messages, and other factors.

There are few differences across parties in this analysis, except for image posts; higher standing in the polls generates more attack, advocacy, and image messages; Twitter is more likely to be used for attack and issue posts; and calls to action have increased as we get closer to election day.

What emerges from this is that polls affect the use of certain message types on social media – good standing in the polls drives strategic messaging tactics in social media. Twitter and Facebook are used in different ways, and it is therefore important to examine both platforms in order to get the full picture of campaigning strategies.