Proposal for the 2016 Pilot Study: Social Media Questions

Social networking sites are undeniably popular. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are
among the top ten most popular sites globally (Alexa, 2015). Facebook celebrated its tenth
birthday with over one billion active users worldwide (Sedghi, 2014). In the United States, 72%
of Internet users are on Facebook (Duggan, 2015).

The impact of social media on political campaigns has been the focus of several recent
books (Gainous & Wagner, 2014; Stromer-Galley, 2014) and articles (e.g., Hargittai & Shaw,
2013; Towner, 2013). The publications are critical for illuminating campaign’s use of social
media in the United States. The books employ personal interviews, content analysis, and survey
data to examine the role of social media in election campaigns. At the 2015 APSA meeting, six
presentations illustrated the use of social media in election campaigns in the United States and
globally (see presentations by Sarah Pickard, Rosalyn Southern, Michael J. Jensen, Shannon
McGregor, Rachel Gibson, Cristian Vaccari). None of these studies mention the American
National Election Study as a source of information about social media use during election
campaigns. I would like to propose questions for inclusion in the 2016 Pilot Study. These
questions would establish the prevalence of social media use for creating connections between
citizens and the variety of political actors in election campaigns.

Read the full proposal

3 thoughts on “
Proposal for the 2016 Pilot Study: Social Media Questions

  1. Yannis Theocharis

    I read this proposal with much interest and I think there are good reasons for including questions dealing with how people form social connections with political figures or organisations via social media. A few thoughts:

    The argument that social media’s true distinctiveness lies in the formation of social connections and that, following this thinking, measuring befriending and following public figures or organisations on social media is important, is sound. I also see the specific list of political figures/organisations mentioned here as very useful. I am wondering whether the possible addition of something along the lines of leisure groups would also be valuable. It is within such groups that by-product/accidental political learning that often may lead to participation occurs.

    I am not sure I agree with modifying the question that distinguishes between different social media platforms. I find that the role of platforms’ different affordances is important and that distinguishing between platforms which can make some (political) activities easier — but others no so much — helps in the more refined understanding on the different roles they may be playing in the new media information ecology.

  2. Jason Gainous

    I am excited about this proposal and strongly encourage that ANES move forward with this proposal. In the past these pilot studies have resulted in the eventual inclusion in the ANES time series. I believe it is critical that ANES add more questions about social media use and this pilot proposal could help identify which questions are most important to add. Currently (as of the 2012 time series) there is a real dearth of indicators, one social media question (During the past 4 years, have you ever sent a message on Facebook or Twitter about a political issue, or have you not done this in the past 4 years?), and series of general political Internet use questions (6 questions I think). Overall, I think the general political use questions are sufficient for a large omnibus survey that has many goals and many necessary ongoing trend questions that must be included. This makes space limited. That said, to have one question about social media use which is arguably one of the biggest developments in political communications and communications generally in recent history is a shortcoming that I think needs addressing.
    The Pew data have tons of useful questions about social media use but very few questions about political behavior and attitudes. This is where the ANES is particularly strong, as the flagship instrument of such, globally. The potential for theoretical development and empirical measurement of the relationship between social media use and various behavioral phenomena is quite open, and the ANES can provide this opportunity. I think this proposal is a great start and will provide useful insight into what ANES could include in the future time series.
    I do have a couple suggestions that I think would strengthen the proposal. The problem with my suggestions is that one of them involves an additional question, which may exceed the space that the pilot is willing to allot. The current questions are set up to measure general social media use and whether respondents friend, follow, or like various political people/entities. I’m wondering if the former would not be more useful (at least if considered for inclusion in times series in the future) if it focused on political use (i.e. Thinking about the social networking sites you use, about how often do you visit or use social networking sites to gather political information?).
    As for the latter, I like the idea and think the theoretical justification and empirical backing in Boulianne’s meta-analysis provides sufficient evidence that this is worth inclusion. Her work identifies the fact that those studies in the extant literature that test for the effects of social media use on political participation that predict the largest effects include an indicator of friending or following a public figure. I think it is critical that this be included but given that the theoretical justification in the proposal is centered on social media’s efficacy at forging social connections, I wonder if it would be worthwhile to also ask about the degree to which people are exposed to political information via their more intimate social networks (their friends as opposed to public figures/entities). That said, I get that the focus on the public figures/entities is theoretically and empirically motivated, and perhaps, my thinking about this additional question is driven more by my long term vision for the time series.
    Again, I think this is a strong proposal and that ANES should move forward with it. I think it is worthwhile with or without my suggested revisions.

  3. Jason Gainous

    I am excited about this proposal and strongly encourage that ANES move forward with this proposal. In the past these pilot studies have resulted in the eventual inclusion in the ANES time series. I believe it is critical that ANES add more questions about social media use and this pilot proposal could help identify which questions are most important to add. Currently (as of the 2012 time series) there is a real dearth of indicators, one social media question (During the past 4 years, have you ever sent a message on Facebook or Twitter about a political issue, or have you not done this in the past 4 years?), and series of general political Internet use questions (6 questions I think). Overall, I think the general political use questions are sufficient for a large omnibus survey that has many goals and many necessary ongoing trend questions that must be included. This makes space limited. That said, to have one question about social media use which is arguably one of the biggest developments in political communications and communications generally in recent history is a shortcoming that I think needs addressing.

    The Pew data have tons of useful questions about social media use but very few questions about political behavior and attitudes. This is where the ANES is particularly strong, as the flagship instrument of such, globally. The potential for theoretical development and empirical measurement of the relationship between social media use and various behavioral phenomena is quite open, and the ANES can provide this opportunity. I think this proposal is a great start and will provide useful insight into what ANES could include in the future time series.

    I do have a couple suggestions that I think would strengthen the proposal. The problem with my suggestions is that one of them involves an additional question, which may exceed the space that the pilot is willing to allot. The current questions are set up to measure general social media use and whether respondents friend, follow, or like various political people/entities. I’m wondering if the former would not be more useful (at least if considered for inclusion in times series in the future) if it focused on political use (i.e. Thinking about the social networking sites you use, about how often do you visit or use social networking sites to gather political information?).

    As for the latter, I like the idea and think the theoretical justification and empirical backing in Boulianne’s meta-analysis provides sufficient evidence that this is worth inclusion. Her work identifies the fact that those studies in the extant literature that test for the effects of social media use on political participation that predict the largest effects include an indicator of friending or following a public figure. I think it is critical that this be included but given that the theoretical justification in the proposal is centered on social media’s efficacy at forging social connections, I wonder if it would be worthwhile to also ask about the degree to which people are exposed to political information via their more intimate social networks (their friends as opposed to public figures/entities). That said, I get that the focus on the public figures/entities is theoretically and empirically motivated, and perhaps, my thinking about this additional question is driven more by my long term vision for the time series.

    Again, I think this is a strong proposal and that ANES should move forward with it. I think it is worthwhile with or without my suggested revisions.

Comments are closed.