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Authors: Fanelli, Matthew
Advisors: Prior, Markus
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2013
Abstract: This thesis affords an opportunity to study the early adoption, activity, and influence of a developing technology by analyzing Twitter behavior within a key component of the American political process – the U.S. Congress. While the emergence of Twitter and other social media tools into the American political discourse has enticed many Members of Congress to adopt Twitter, very little research exists on what causes some Members to embrace Twitter while others not. A multivariate analysis reveals that causal factors behind Twitter adoption are difficult to predict, however, tenure and district education play a strong role. Contrary to expectations, I find that electoral risk has little or no effect on Congressional Twitter behavior. Within the electoral context, I provide a novel framework for the analysis of incumbent–challenger Twitter behavior during Congressional election campaigns. Establishing my own metrics for candidate–voter interactivity on Twitter, I examined all tweets posted by incumbent and challenging candidates in 28 Congressional races over the one–year period leading up to Election Day 2012. Surprisingly, incumbents and challengers exhibited similar patterns of Twitter activity in the first three quarters of the campaign; however, in the campaign’s final quarter, while challenging candidates collectively displayed a significant spike in Twitter activity, incumbents, alternatively, exhibited marked declines in their Twitter use, particularly as the election approached. Furthermore, within the 28 Congressional races I coded a comprehensive sample of candidate Twitter posts throughout the 2012 campaign to obtain an in–depth picture of the type and intent of the messages. This content analysis provides insights into how candidates strategically frame communication during the campaign to both establish an online presence and to meet their electoral needs. Though the results indicate candidate communications are largely self–promotional as candidates continue to use Twitter as a broadcast medium, they nonetheless establish that Twitter is facilitating extensive direct communication between candidates and voters, though the nature and depth of these relationships requires further inquiry. Finally, as social media take on a larger role in both Congress and the electoral process, key concerns for U.S. policy policy arise. As the existing legal framework was written and implemented prior to the existence of social media technology, policymakers must address new difficulties posed by online political communication such as targeted digital advertising, manipulated user search results, and additional pressures placed on Member–Constituent communications. While policy options range from the creation of a best practices guide to the drafting of specific regulation, maintaining existing information policy may prove most favorable until further information of social media’s role in the electoral process becomes available.
Extent: 126 pages
Access Restrictions: Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2016

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