Social Networking and the Web Campaign: Observations from the 2010 Election for the U.S. House of Representatives

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Virginia Tech

Scholars and political candidates have frequently viewed online political participation as a weaker and less meaningful form of political involvement than traditional, offline activities. This thesis presents an overview of the literature on political participation and the Internet in order to understand the origins of this view and why participation on social media may be uniquely meaningful in comparison with other Internet-based activities. Examination of social media using Resource Theory and Social Identity Theory justify this unique status by highlighting and rationalizing social media's exceptional capacity to build and maintain weak-tie networks while also generating an intimacy between constituents and candidates. Social Identity Theory also provides an argument for the potential of social media for reaching and mobilizing first-time participants through its capacity to passively reach and attract constituents for non-political, personal and identity-serving reasons. This thesis then shows how social media-enable first-time participants may be more inclined to continue and expanding their participation over time, thereby substantially affecting participation trends in the United States. Using case studies composed of qualitative data collected on candidate views of the Internet and social media in U.S. House campaigns, this thesis examines the state of Web campaigning in 2010 in comparison to the theoretically "archetypal" Web campaign in order to provide indications of whether the prescribed theoretical activities deliver meaningful citizen engagement and valuable returns to campaigns.

Identity Theory, House of Representatives, Social Capital, Web Campaigning, Social Networking