How social media is shaping political campaigns

Social media has changed how newcomers run for office, allowing incumbents and newcomers alike to speak directly to constituents on everything from policy to what they had for dinner. Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate to use the medium, which was still nascent during his 2008 bid, and Donald Trump takes to Twitter almost daily to express himself without the filter of traditional media.

Hand stuffing a paper in a ballot box with the blue Twitter logo visible on the paper.

“If you look at the way that politicians communicate today, it’s very different than the way that they used to communicate five, 10 years ago,” Wharton marketing professor Pinar Yildirim says. “They would speak through the official speakers or they would be on TV. They would be in print or official online newspapers. Today, they are communicating through places like Twitter. And I think that begs a question, why are they doing that? Is there any benefit to communicating on channels like Twitter?”

A new study co-authored by Yildirim offers some answers. “Social Media and Political Contributions: The Impact of New Technology on Political Competition,” written with Maria Petrova and Ananya Sen, finds that political newcomers can get a substantial boost in support by using social media channels, which cost next to nothing and are easily tapped by anyone with an internet connection. The finding is important because it indicates how social media can help level the playing field in politics, where money and access to formal communication channels pose huge barriers to new entrants.

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.