Social Media and Political/Social Issues
POS 3703: Research Methods in Political Science
Research questions the effectiveness of social media when it comes to social and political issues. This research study observes whether age or democratic values play a key role when it comes to using social media as an effective tool to spread or gain knowledge on political/social issues. Three hypotheses were proposed to distinguish if younger generations and people who have more liberal views thought of social media as effective when it comes to politics. Once the data was observed, the null hypothesis was rejected. Social media has been an effective tool for networking and catching up with old friends, however, people also use social media as a way to learn about politics.
Section 1: The purpose of this research is to investigate the relationship between the respondents’ Democratic values, age, and the effectiveness of social media to bring awareness to political issues.
Section 2: Lit review
The differences between Republicans and Democrats is extremely apparent on Twitter. Pew Research Center (2020) conducted a study stating 69% of the top 10% of tweeters are Democrats. Only 26% of the top 10% are Republican. This statistic alone shows a bias on Twitter, allowing for the majority of information on Twitter to be Democratic led. Most of the users on Twitter are younger and tend to be more liberal and conservative on their respective sides. This research (2020) also describes how the most common hashtags are #covid19, #blacklivesmatter and #coronavirus. Regarding the #blacklivesmatter hashtag, 4% of Democrats on Twitter used it while only 1% of Republicans did (Smith 2020). This also shows how trending topics are controlled by the majority user on Twitter, contributing Democrats to running Twitter with these topics.
As Generation Z gets older and begin to be more involved in politics, we are noticing different social and political trends as described by Parker, Graf and Igielnik (Parker et al. 2019). Only 30% of Gen Z approves of Trump’s job performance, 70% believe the government should do more to solve problems and 62% believe increasing racial and ethnic diversity is good for society. We are even seeing Gen Z Republicans agreeing on topics like blacks are not treated fairly in todays climate. It is only a slight change with 43% of Gen Z Republicans making this statement and 82% of Gen Z Democrats. Parker, Graf and Igielnik (2019) say that Gen Z and Millennials are most likely to see a link between human activity and climate change. There are several other topics like this that Millennials and Gen Z agree on. The major generational gaps on issues are about issues of race, gender and family.
Activism and social media go hand in hand in today’s climate. Anderson, Toor Rainie and Smith (2018) discuss how the rise of certain hashtags like #blacklivesmatter and #metoo bring up a discussion about the effectiveness of social media for political and social topics. The research says 64% of Americans believe that social media can help raise awareness for certain groups but 77% believe that these sites are a distraction from truly important matters. A popular way to raise awareness for a cause on social media is to change profile pictures to show boarders that show your support. The research says that ages 18-49 are more likely to do this than older generations. Also, about half of Americans have used social media this year to engage in some kind of political or social activity (Anderson et al. 2018).
Within the past two elections, the use of social media has been used increasingly to promote candidates and other political issues. Jennings, Bramlett, McKinney and Hardy (2020) discuss how Twitter has affected these elections, including the presidential debates. They say that users can be more engaged with the debates with the use of “live tweeting.” Using Twitter, voters can discuss the topics with not just their close friends, but with strangers from all over the world. This allows for a circulation of ideas and topics. Jennings, Bramlett, McKinney and Hardy (2020) discuss that because of bias, people are more likely to interpret what people are saying online to fit their beliefs. Ultimately, they say, if you are a Republican, you will be more likely to favor the Republican candidate and interpret information to favor that candidate (Jennings et al. 2020).
Anderson and Jiang (2018) discuss the amount of kids using social media these days. YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the three most used platforms for teenagers. The main benefit of social media, kids say, is being connected to their friends and family, according to the research. Anderson and Jiang (2018) say that 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone and are almost constantly using them. Mostly, they believe having access to social media has had no positive or negative impact on their lives. The research says that Facebook and Twitter are the fourth and fifth most used social media sites (Anderson et al. 2018).
Section 3: Hypothesis
Independent variable1 (X1) = Values based on the Democratic party
Independent variable2 (X2) = Age
Dependent variable (DV) = Effectiveness and awareness of social media in regard to political issues
The relationships of the variables listed above yield three different hypotheses. The first hypothesis examines the relationship between the respondents’ beliefs based on their political affiliation and the spread of political issues through social media. The first null and alternative hypothesis states that:
H0: An individual’s values based on the Democratic party does not affect whether they use social media as an effective way to make people more aware of political issues.
H1: Individuals with more liberal values are more likely to use social media as an effective way to spread awareness on political issues while individuals who have less liberal values are less likely to use social media as an effective way to spread awareness on political issues.
The focal point of the second hypothesis deals with the relationship between an individual’s age and the spread of political issues through social media.
H0: Age doesn’t influence whether or not an individual will use social media as an effective way to gain awareness on political issues.
H2: Younger people are more likely to use social media as an effective way to gain awareness on political issues than older people.
Section 4: Measures
The data was collected from The Pew Research Center under American Trends Panel Wave 35. This dataset consisted of 4,594 U.S. adults who were surveyed from May 29th through June 11th, 2018.
Age (X2) and the effectiveness of social media on pollical issues (DV) were recoded for this data. The old values of X2 were condensed from 4 age ranges to 2 age ranges to draw the line between the older generations (Gen X/Baby Boomers) and the younger generations (Gen Z/Millennials). The dependent variable was condensed from 5 choices to 2 choices. The recode for the DV also changed the respondents who refused to answer to system missing because this information was irrelevant to the study. The coding scheme for X1 stayed the same except respondents who refused to answer/didn’t know were changed to system missing because it also wasn’t relevant. The new recoded variables are listed below in Table 1.
Table 1 Variables Recoded Definitions Level of Measurement
Democratic Values (X1) Each value correlates to how a respondent feels about democratic views: Ordinal
1=strongly disagree; 2=disagree; 3=neutral; 4=agree; 5=strongly agree Age (X2) Age of respondent has two ranges: 1=18-40; 2=41+ Nominal
Effectivness of social A respondent answers the level of importance on getting involved with Nominal
media on political issues (DV) political issues through social media: 1=important; 2=not important Source: Author computation of data from Pew (June 2018)
Section 5: Research design
The Pew Research Center conducted this survey from May 29th – June 11th, 2018. The 4,594 respondents were recruited from many national landine and cellphone random-digit-dial surveys. These respondents participated through a series of monthly self-administered web surveys that were conducted in English and Spanish. This surveys data was weighted in a multi-step process to reduce bias due to nonresponses. Each respondents age was obtained through the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.
Researchers used the analyses of two different Twitter hashtags. The first was an analysis of the volume of tweets over time that pertain to the awareness of political and social movements. They used a twitter analysis service called Crimson Hexagon to count the total number of tweets per day from Jan. 1st, 2013 through May 1st, 2018. The second analysis researchers used was a content analysis of the major social movements on twitter such as #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter.
The data for this study was downloaded through the Pew Research Center and was intended for descriptive purposes. The data set used for this study was taken from the American Trends Panel Wave 35 and was recoded through SPSS. In order to test the hypotheses, a frequency distribution would be run separately for the X1, X2, and the DV. Next, a bivariate crosstab would be conducted with each of the independent variables with respect to the DV. Lastly, a multivariate cross tab would be conducted to examine the relationship between the three variables.
Section 6: Hypothesis test
The level of measurement for X1 is ordinal while X2 and the DV are nominal. When running frequencies for X2 and the DV, check the statistics box to make sure mode and the min/max are checked. Since X1 is ordinal, make sure the quartiles, median, mode, range, and the min/max are checked. This is done to distinguish the difference between nominal measures and ordinal measures.
The bivariate Pearson Correlation is used to measure the correlation between each of the independent variables in regard to the dependent variable. This correlation amongst the variables can determine whether or not age effects the awareness of political issues through social media. A chi square test and a measure of association between the X’s and the DV were created for the crosstabulation to determine if the null hypothesis was rejected. A final layered crosstab between the DV, X1, and X2 was run to show the statistical significance between the three variables.
Potential problems arose during this study due to the wording of some of the questions asked during the survey. The answers from this sample might’ve differed from answers from the entire population due to many reasons. One of them being the region that this sample was taken from because certain states swing more left than right.
Section 7: Tabular presentation
The first evaluation consisted of the individual frequencies for each of the three variables. According to table 1.1, 32.6% of the sample had more liberal views, 34.4% were neutral and 33% were more conservative. The age ranges from 18-40 composed of 39.5% of the sample and ages 41+ made up the other 60.5% of the sample. Overall, 38.5% of the sample thought the awareness of political issues through social media were important while 61.5% thought it was not important.
Democratic Values (X1) Age (X2) Awareness of Political Issues through Social Media (DV)
Strongly disagree 9.4%(425) 18-40 39.5%(1812) Important 38.5%(1653)
disagree 23.6%(1065) neutral 34.4%(1551) 41+ 60.5%(2777) Not important 61.5%(2644)
agree 21%(947) strongly agree 11.6%(525) Source: Author computation of data from Pew (June 2018)
The first analysis of the data was to show each individual statistic from the data. The next analysis was carried out to see the correlation between each independent variable with respect to the dependent variable. Respondents with more liberal views found that the awareness of political issues through social media was important compared to people who had more conservative views (6.6% vs 3.6%). The significant levels in the data were .000 which would reject the first null hypothesis that individual values based on the Democratic party would think social media is effective for pointing out political issues. Due to the sample containing more people in the 65+ age range rather than the 18-40 age range, a higher percentage of the younger generations found social media as important way to gain awareness of political issues (40%) versus the older generations (37.6%).
Democratic Values (X1) Important Not important
strongly disagree 3.6%(150) 5.7%(240)
disagree 7.4%(313) 16.0%(674)
neutral 11.7%(492) 22.9%(967)
agree 9.2%(389) 11.7%(496)
strongly agree 6.6%(279) 5.3%(223)
Age (X2) 18-40 16.4%(702) 24.9%(1067)
41+ 22.1%(950) 36.7%(1574)
Source: Author computation of data from Pew (June 2018)
Finally, the last level of analysis was the cross tab between both the independent variables and the DV as shown in Table 1.3. The respondents in the age range 18-40 who had more liberal values found that social media was effective for political issues (8.3%) compared to the same age range who had less democratic values (2.3%). The respondents who fell into the 41+ age range and had more liberal values also found social media was an effective way to gain political knowledge (8.3%) versus the same age group who had less democratic values (7.0%). The data is consistent with the literature because younger generations with more liberal values agreed that social media is effective for gaining awareness on political issues while older generations with less democratic values didn’t think so.
Column1 Important Not important
Age (18-40) Strongly disagree 2.3%(37) 2.8%(73)
disagree 5.9%(96) 9.0%(233)
neutral 14.9%(242) 15.8%(411)
agree 10.4%(168) 9.0%(234)
strongly agree 8.9%(145) 3.9%(100)
Age (41+) Strongly disagree 7.0%(113) 6.4%(167)
disagree 13.3%(216) 16.9(440)
neutral 15.4%(250) 21.4%(556)
agree 13.6%(221) 10.1%(262
strongly agree 8.3%(134) 4.7%(121)
Source: Author computation of data from Pew (June 2018)
Section 8: Discussion
The purpose of this research study was to determine if social media was effective for gaining awareness about political issues. Age and democratic values were the two variables that were studied to determine whether social media is effective for spreading and gaining knowledge on political issues. It can be concluded that younger generations are more likely to use social media as an effective way to gain awareness on political issues rather than older generations. It can also be concluded that individuals with more liberal values are more likely to use social media as an effective way to spread awareness on political issues.
The correlation between age and democratic values infers that younger generations and people with more liberal beliefs think social media is an effective to spread and gain awareness on political and social issues. This study can conclude that younger generations and people with more democratic values use social media as an effective source when it comes to political issues.
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Anderson, Monica, Skye Toor, Lee Rainie, and Aaron Smith. 2020. “Activism in the Social Media Age.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/07/11/activism-in-the-social-media-age/ (December 2, 2020).
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Parker, Kim, Nikki Graf, and Ruth Igielnik. 2020. “Generation Z Looks a Lot Like Millennials on Key Social and Political Issues.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/01/17/generation-z-looks-a-lot-like-millennials-on-key-social-and-political-issues/ (December 3, 2020).
Smith, Aaron, and Andrew Grant. 2020. “How Democrats and Republicans Use Twitter.” Pew Research Center – U.S. Politics & Policy. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/10/15/differences-in-how-democrats-and-republicans-behave-on-twitter/ (December 3, 2020).