When David and Goliath campaign online: the effects of digital media use during electoral campaigns on vote for small parties

What is the story?

A growing literature examines the effects of digital media on the fortunes of challenger parties. Challengers might have an advantage online given that digital technologies are making small contenders more visible compared to big ones. Moreover, the plurality of new media will cater to niche audiences, undermining the appeal of mainstream parties.  Most of this literature, however, focuses on party strategies (and is mostly American) and not on vote choice.

In this paper, we ask whether digital media contribute to electoral fragmentation by moving citizens’ vote from mainstream to third parties. We address the causal mechanisms connecting digital media and vote for challenger parties, namely the perceived electoral chances of small parties and, voters’ indecision caused by exposure to online political information. Also, we test the fragmentation potential of the Internet on vote choice using a cross-country study (Making Electoral Democracy Work, 21 elections held in 4 countries). Finally, we measure fragmentation at the individual level, comparing vote intention in pre-electoral surveys with vote reported in post-electoral surveys.

Figure 1: Causal schema. Direct and direct effects of digital media use during electoral campaigns on voting for “big” and “small” parties

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Figure 2. Distribution of the dependent variable, by country

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Results and Conclusions

Only 5% of voters change their initial vote intention from a large party to a small one. While traditional media use during the campaign has a concentration effect, benefitting large parties; online media has a positive effect on both the likelihood of sticking with small parties and, especially, the likelihood of switching to small parties.

We also contend that indecision about one’s vote choice and the perceived chances of small parties will increase with digital media use. This, in turn, positively affects the chances of voting for a small party. We tested a multiple mediation model by means of structural equations. We found that, the more an individual uses the Internet during an electoral campaign, the more uncertain they become about their vote choice, which, ultimately, increases their likelihood of voting for a small party. Nevertheless, the mediating role of the perceived chances of extra parliamentary parties is only marginal, and it works better for the chances to switch in favor of a large party.

Carol Galais and Ana Sofía Cardenal, A. S. (2017). When David and Goliath campaign online: the effects of digital media use during electoral campaigns on vote for small partiesJournal of Information Technology & Politics

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