Does Social Media Make a Difference in Election Campaigns? Digital Dividends in Brazil’s 2010 National Elections

Over the past decade, digital and mobile media have significantly changed the system of political communication in Brazil. An increasing number of Brazilian candidates have begun to use websites and social networking applications as an integral part of their overall campaign efforts.

To explore how these “new” media tools are used at all levels of campaigns for national office, we built an original dataset of media use by political campaigns in the 2010 elections in Brazil. We investigate factors such as a candidate’s use of web and social networking sites in conjunction with other traditional influences such as incumbency and party affiliation in order to get a robust understanding of the different roles that digital media tools are beginning to play in Brazilian elections. Does digital media provide some competitive advantage to minor party candidates facing off against major party candidates with higher profile and more resources? Do challenger candidates get any electoral advantage against incumbents for using the internet, social media, or mobile media strategies in their campaigning? In almost every instance, the incumbents who lost their office invested less in internet, social, and mobile campaign strategy than other incumbents who won. Winning challenger candidates in every level of government had more aggressive digital media campaigns than losing candidates. Social media strategies particularly using mobile technologies, provided newcomers with electoral advantages. Social networking applications proved particularly important for successful Senate campaigns, and mobile media strategies made a dramatic difference for the lower House of Deputies.

Gilmore, Jason and Philip N. Howard.  “Does Social Media Make a Difference in Political Campaigns?  Digital Dividends in Brazil’s 2010 National Elections.” Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, Working Paper 2013-2.   Seattle:  University of Washington, 2013. This working paper, done with the UW’s Jason Gilmore, is mirrored at the website of the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement and the SSRN.

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