The Facebook Primary
FiveThirtyEight recently put together a map (pictured below) showing which Presidential candidates have the most Facebook likes per county. As we can see, Trump (orange), Cruz (red), and Sanders (purple) are dominating in this measure of online presence and popularity. Trump has gained wide support in the mostly rural, middle of the country, Cruz in Texas, and Bernie among the young, liberal populous of major cities along the West/East coasts as well as Colorado and Illinois. It is important to note however, that predictive conclusions drawn from this data about the 2016 election are not the same as actual predictions for November’s election. If we were to look at Facebook like alone, Bernie Sanders would beat Hillary Clinton by a nearly 3-to-1 margin and Trump would have more support than both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined, according to FiveThirtyEight.
As described above, the notion that activism, especially on the internet, does not equate to political success is understood through the idea of “slacktivism”. Slacktivism, or “actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement” is a growing style in the technological age of politics. As websites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram have captured the world’s attention, many politicians believe that the idea of slacktivism would translate into political participation, and in turn, more votes. (See charts believe for sudden spike in study of the concept)
However, the more political scientist study slacktivism, the more we see it as reflection of modern complacency and not a revolution of activism. Also described as “armchair activism”, slacktivism allows for people to feel connected to an issue or candidate without the time or monetary investment. Under this impression, campaigns view the increased awareness of slacktivist (whether that be by liking a Facebook post or a retweet) translates into greater general awareness, interest, and participation. Furthermore, slacktivism touches the very cornerstone our democratic nature. Simply, more likes and engagement tells representatives what their constituents are thinking, and allows them to make more accurate decisions. But, according to new research by University of British Columbia Graduate student Kirk Kristofferson, this notion does not exist. That said, Kristofferson found that slacktivism could be representative and create further engagement if a person has shown initial interest in an issue before demonstrating public interest. This “initial private” idea, says Kristofferson, is the difference between a real support, and lackluster participation.
With slacktivist alive and well during the 2016 election, political pundits should take note if those who have “participated” publically so far, will actually affect the election come November. If not, we need to ask ourselves, if those who are interested privately first are the people actually participating, then how has social media misconstrued our view of political engagement? Only time will tell.
Social Media and Election Outcomes
Social media is a prominent feature of political campaigns as it promotes party interests and serves as a tool for political advertising. There is a general consensus within campaign literature that political communication shifted from newspaper and television-centered to an environment dominated by the Internet and other mobile technologies. The Pew Internet and American Life Project (2012) found that in the United States the average number of friends is 229, enabling one to amplify political viewpoints on Facebook. The Pew Research Center also found that thirty-five percent of social media users encourage other people to vote.
Although social media plays an important role in political campaigns, likes or user interaction on Facebook and other websites are inaccurate predictors for election outcomes. At least fifty-eight percent of American adults use Facebook, but this percentage is non-representative of the entire country. Facebook users are typically young, low-income, and female. Social media interactions are pursued by younger users compared to those who are ages fifty or older. Younger users are more likely to share political arguments others have posted, belong to a political network or page on a site, and follow or like candidates’ pages on social media.