In this panel we combine longitudinal and cross-national studies of social media in election campaigns, expanding the time span as well as number of countries compared to former studies. The four papers present longitudinal studies, covering multiple election cycles from four different countries: Australia, the United States of America, Denmark and Sweden.
By including these cases we focus on countries considered to be “first movers” when it comes to the digitization and internetization of the political life. As such, they are “most similar cases”. However, they also have different political systems: the US and Australia are characterized by a Westminster system dominated by a few large parties and a tradition of strong confrontation between government and opposition, whereas Denmark and Sweden are multi-party systems with a tradition of collaboration and coalition governments. Further, the countries’ media systems, as defined by Hallin & Mancini (2004), differ significantly; the US is characterized by a commercialized American media system with little role for public service broadcasters, Denmark and Sweden have very strong public service media, and Australia has elements of both these systems. Technologically, the four countries might be similar, but politically and in terms of media systems, they differ. Thus, studies of the four countries form a diverse yet solid set of cases for exploring the growing (and changing) role of social media in national elections.
The papers address such issues by various methods and perspectives, from large-scale big data analyses of tweets to content analyses of Facebook pages and surveys among citizens. From different angles, the four papers circle around the same topics: do social media contribute to narrowing or widening the often-discussed gap between citizens and politicians? Does the increasing use (and changing character) of social media in election campaigns facilitate increased trust or rather a radicalized and more negative discourse? And do citizens feel more empowered and enlightened in a democratic sense?
The Australian case study is based on a comprehensive analysis of interactions around candidates’ Twitter accounts, drawing on state-of-the-art methods. It stretches across three election cycles. It presents new evidence both on the use of Twitter in political campaigning in Australia, and on the public response to this use, not at least in the light of the overall context of a decline in trust towards the political system, in Australia and elsewhere.
The US case study examines negativity, incivility, and intolerance expressed by candidates running for governor in 2014 as compared with 2018. In between those two election cycles, the United States had the remarkable presidential campaign of 2016, with an unprecedented volume and style of negative campaigning unseen in modern campaigning. This study thus asks whether the 2018 candidates were more negative and uncivil than their counterparts who ran in 2014. Results will illuminate the nature of political incivility and whether there is a coarseness of political discourse in the United States.
The Danish case study is based on surveys of citizens’ Internet use / social media use across four elections, covering a time span of 12 years. It adds to an understanding of the growing use of social media but more importantly it investigates how citizens experienced effects of social media as tools for agenda-setting and efficacy, the latter understood as increased reflection and enlightenment.
The Swedish case study covers three Swedish national elections, in 2010, 2014 and 2018. The research question is: how are viral posts from political parties on Facebook changing over time? By answering that question, the author can track the consequences of increased platformization of politics as well as an increased targeting towards the needs and wants of the audience, through what some will call populism.
The studies all cover more or less the last decade. This represents a time span during which social media have matured and have come to play an increasing role in citizens’ daily lives. The contributions are interesting country-based case studies in themselves, but through this panel we seek to engage the audience in a discussion of the developments expected for the coming years.