Social Networks in Political Campaigns: Facebook and Congressional Elections 2006, 2008

27 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 29 Aug 2012

Date Written: 2009


This paper affords an opportunity to study the early adoption and dissemination of emerging technology tools in campaigns by analyzing which candidates were the most likely to use Facebook in the 2006 and 2008 congressional elections, and how. The research hypotheses draw from the diffusion of innovation literature and the early studies of online campaigns, which these data are found to support. Our analysis of 822 House candidates in 2006 and 816 candidates in 2008 indicate that Facebook adoption diffused rapidly between 2006 and 2008, and at a steeper trajectory than did campaign web site adoption. Four multivariate analyses reveal that the motivators of adoption, party (Democrats), competition and money, are also drivers leading to extensive implementation and usage. College education was the only constituency variable to have a positive and significant effect on both Facebook presence and activity. Higher adoption rates by peers or competitors in the candidate’s own state, and a propensity to adopt other campaign technology innovations are strong positive motivators for early adoption, but irrelevant to extent of usage. Challengers and candidates for open seats were more likely to be early adopters, but incumbents implemented and used Facebook more extensively. These findings suggest that the medium has not changed the underlying campaign dynamic behind which candidates become early adopters and extensive users of new technologies. More consequentially, they show that previous research has overlooked some variables important to the former and also has much to discover about which ones explain the latter. The diffusion of innovation literature suggests some new directions for researchers to pursue on both points.

Keywords: social networks, online campaigns, Congressional elections, diffusion of technology innovation

Suggested Citation

Williams, Christine B. and Gulati, Girish, Social Networks in Political Campaigns: Facebook and Congressional Elections 2006, 2008 (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Christine B. Williams (Contact Author)

Bentley University ( email )

175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02452
United States

Girish Gulati

Bentley University ( email )

175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02145
United States

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