Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sid Salter: Tweets, Posts, & Video: How Much Does Social Media Impact Elections?

In the old days, a long drive on a state highway through stretches of rural Mississippi were a reasonably reliable barometer of the voter support or at the very least the fiscal health of a statewide campaign. All one had to do was count the billboards and yard signs.

Billboards covering a wide, strategic area of small- to medium-sized towns coupled with a strong presence of yard signs actually in people’s private yards were certainly not a guarantee that a candidate would win – but it signaled strength, organization and a modicum of voter intensity for the candidates who could make that kind of splash.
Yeah, went the old saying, “but yard signs don’t vote!” No, but the people displaying the signs in their yards usually did vote. But that little slice was election lore was back in the days when posts held up fences and tweets were only for the birds.

Today, social media dominates the American (and global) political landscape. According to market research and consumer data source, between 2014 and 2018, Facebook featured 295.41 million political ads sponsored by non-profit advocacy organizations, 151.67 million ads from politicians, 128.57 million ads from candidates, 127.93 ads from political organizations or parties, and 101.43 million political ads from individuals.
Over four years, that’s 805 million political ads on Facebook alone. But that’s really only the tip of the social media iceberg. Some 73 percent of U.S. adults told the Pew Center that they interact on the video-driven social media site YouTube while 68 percent of those same adults told Pew they were on Facebook.

But that same Pew Center study found that 78 percent of young Americans aged 18-to-24 used Snapchat and 71 percent of the same demographic use Instagram multiple times daily. Twitter is popular with 45 percent of young U.S. adults, but only about 24 percent of all U.S. adults are on Twitter.

Despite the proliferation of social media usage in all age groups, partisan influences how social media audiences react to information gleaned on social media. The same data from August shows that in assessing the credibility of President Donald Trump’s Tweets, Democrats believe as follows: Believe all, 3 percent; Believe most, 4 percent; Believe half, 6 percent; Believe some 12 percent; Believe none, 68 percent; Not sure, 6 percent.

But in assessing the same Trump Tweets, Republicans believe as follows: Believe all, 14 percent; Believe most, 39 percent; Believe half, 11 percent; Believe some 15 percent; Believe none, 7 percent; Not sure, 14 percent.

So how much does social media actually move the needle in Mississippi elections? It is undeniable that social media plays a significant role in how campaign strategies are deployed and in both how candidates market themselves and how candidates in turn attack their political opponents. Likewise, online news sources are commanding an increasing share of eyeballs in the dissemination of campaign news and issue-oriented information that impacts elections.

The answer? First, Mississippi remains the second least-connected state behind Alaska with about 37 percent having no access to broadband. Up until the last three years, Mississippi was the least-wired state.

Second, the 2018 Pew Center study indicated a key fact – that while 20 percent of those online really like “seeing lots of political posts and discussions” there’s almost twice as many online (37 percent) who say they are “worn out by how many political posts and discussions they see” and a full 59 percent report that the experience of getting political information online is “stressful and frustrating.”

Then there’s this: The frustration expressed about online politics is bipartisan, according to Pew. Some 38 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of Republicans “feel that conversations they see on social media are angrier and less civil than in other venues where conversations occur.”

Like the yard signs and billboards of my youth, a long drive on the Internet can be illuminating and suggest certain strengths and outcomes. But we truly are at a point in the digital divide in Mississippi in which Facebook posts – no matter how angry or belligerent and no matter whose ox is getting gored – really doesn’t reliably translate into votes.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at


Anonymous said...

So Democrat Dorsey Carson is supporting Republican Matt Allen? Hmmmmmm.

Anonymous said...

First, Mississippi remains the second least-connected state behind Alaska with about 37 percent having no access to broadband. Up until the last three years, Mississippi was the least-wired state.

Availability of wired broadband is less of an issue everyday and not remotely the cudgel certain Mississippi politicos believe career advantageous to wield. (Think Brandon Presley and Cecil Brown). Once 5g arrives, and it is coming FAST, wired broadband availability will be close to a non-issue.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but a poll that says 68% of Democrats believe NONE of Trump's tweets is not an accurate sample and says more about Democrats than it does about Trump. I have my issues with Trump, especially his over-the-top tweets, and I know some people who genuinely despise him, but only the most deranged would say that every single post is false.

For example, today Trump posted a link to a CNBC story that shows Consumer Comfidence rose to 138.4. That is quantifiable through alternate means.

That anyone would put stock in such an absurd statistic is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Availability of wired broadband is less of an issue everyday

Agree completely. There are few places in the state where people cannot access the internet though some means. So you can't get fiber at your deer camp? Boohoo.

Anonymous said...

The thing is when it's been documented that he has lied over 5000 times, it's kind of like chicken little.

Anonymous said...

To 8:31 and 10:22...I live in Carroll County. AT&T did not offer DSL at my address until four years ago. Before that, it was dial-up. However, the only DSL available to me is the slowest AT&T offers...downloads speeds of less than 1 meg and upload speeds less than half of that. The cable company (Suddenlink) that provides service to Carrollton and North Carrollton doesn't offer it where I live (six miles outside of town). I refuse to pay outlandish prices for satellite television or satellite ISP. So I have my 1 meg DSL and an over-the-air antenna. Also, there is no cell service at my home. I've tried AT&T, Verizon and service. So 5G means nothing to me. And there are tens of thousands of other Mississippians in the same situation as me.

Anonymous said...

So what you are saying 12:17 is you have a solution available but don't want to pay for it. Who do you think should pay the bill for you?

Anonymous said...

@12:17 - that's what happens when you live in the boons. You want the conveniences of the city, move to the city. otherwise, cry in your beer.

Anonymous said...

12:17 Smoke signals

Louis LeFleur said...

12:17, ever try C Spire?

Anonymous said...

get two soup cans, some string, and the help of a Russian particle physicist and see what happens

Anonymous said...

We've used C-Spire for cable for several years, and just switched to their cable service last month. We're very happy with it so far (cable TV) and their Internet service seems great as well.

Anonymous said...

I would be more interested in how much paid political writers / pundits, such as Mr Salter or Mr Crawford, affect the leanings of the general public. Does anyone totally change how they feel about an issue because of a blog post, facebook post, twitter post, etc?

Anonymous said...

Now we know why they don't let him do press conferences.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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Note: Security provided by INS