Social Media, Money, and Politics: Campaign Finance in the 2016 US Congressional Cycle

11/28/2017 ∙ by Lily McElwee, et al. ∙ 0

With social media penetration deepening among both citizens and political figures, there is a pressing need to understand whether and how political use of major platforms is electorally influential. Particularly, the literature focused on campaign usage is thin and often describe the engagement strategies of politicians or attempt to quantify the impact of social media engagement on political learning, participation, or voting. Few have considered implications for campaign fundraising despite its recognized importance in American politics. This paper is the first to quantify a financial payoff for social media campaigning. Drawing on candidate-level data from Facebook and Twitter, Google Trends, Wikipedia page views, and Federal Election Commission (FEC) donation records, we analyze the relationship between the topic and volume of social media content and campaign funds received by all 108 candidates in the 2016 US Senate general elections. By applying an unsupervised learning approach to identify themes in candidate content across the platforms, we find that more frequent posting overall and of issue-related content are associated with higher donation income when controlling for incumbency, state population, and information-seeking about a candidate, though campaigning-related content has a stronger effect than the latter when the number rather than value of donations is considered.

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