Social Media in the 2010 Congressional Elections

Jeff Gulati

Bentley University

Christine B. Williams

Bentley College

April 19, 2011

This study investigates which candidates were more likely to adopt Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in the 2010 U.S. midterm elections and the reasons why. Large majorities of the major party candidates for the House of Representatives had a Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel. Candidates who raised the most money and those who had familiarity with earlier generations of online media were the most likely early adopters. Constituency demographics did not influence the likelihood of adopting Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, however. We found some differences in adoption across social media. Republicans were significantly more likely than Democrats to have adopted YouTube, but there were no party differences for Facebook and Twitter. YouTube also differed in that while competitiveness of the race increased adoption, peer adoption had no effect. In contrast, higher rates of peer adoption increased a candidate’s likelihood of adopting Facebook and Twitter, while competitiveness had no effect. Finally, incumbents were significantly more likely to have adopted Facebook and YouTube, but for the newest social media application, Twitter, incumbents were the least likely to be early adopters.

The study makes three contributions. First, it compares and analyzes three different social media whose technology attributes differ in ways that prove relevant to adoption decisions and, we project, to the extent and nature of their usage. Second, we use diffusion of innovation theory to derive testable hypotheses predicting adoption and explaining our results. We thereby identify two new independent variables that prove important to social media adoption in campaigns: geographic proximity contagion and propensity to adopt campaign innovation technologies. Candidate’s age is important to YouTube adoption. Finally, we rely on nearly 100 interviews with candidates and campaign staff members to refine our hypotheses and provide a richer explanation for the motivating factors. The interviews reveal that candidates are both content providers and adoption decision-makers who are concerned about image and credibility, but only about the strategic competitiveness of their race in the case of YouTube adoption. They also provide documentation for the logical speculation that lack of money and limited paid staff lead to no or late social media adoption.

Keywords: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Congress, Technology Diffusion, Campaign Strategy

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Date posted: April 23, 2011 ; Last revised: September 17, 2012

Suggested Citation

Gulati, Jeff and Williams, Christine B., Social Media in the 2010 Congressional Elections (April 19, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1817053

Contact Information

Girish Gulati (Contact Author)
Bentley University ( email )
175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02145
United States
Christine B. Williams
Bentley College ( email )
175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02452
United States
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