New platform, old habits? Candidates' use of Twitter during the 2010 British and Dutch general election campaigns

This source preferred by Dan Jackson

Authors: Graham, T., Jackson, D. and Broersma, M.

Start date: 19 September 2013

An increasing preoccupation of contemporary political communication research (including this conference) is on how political actors respond to the challenges of new communication technologies and communicate in an environment of networked media abundance. In this field, Twitter has become one of the most important online spaces for political communication practice and research. Politicians across Western democracies are increasingly embracing Twitter, especially during election time, raising important questions of how connections with voters are cultivated, what tweeting practices are particularly prominent, and how differing electoral/ media contexts alter tweeting dynamics.

This study compares how British and Dutch Parliamentary candidates used Twitter during the 2010 general elections. The sample consisted of every tweet (UK N = 26,282; NL N = 28,045) from all candidates representing the three main British parties and the ten seat-holding parties in the Netherlands, which posted at least one tweet during the four weeks prior to the general elections.

We found that the Dutch politicians were more likely to use Twitter (43%) than UK candidates (23%). Furthermore, Dutch candidates on average tweeted over twice as much as their UK counterparts during the campaign. The way the two sets of candidates used Twitter during the election campaigns also differed. In line with other studies of the adoption of new media platforms by politicians, we find that in the UK the use of Twitter during the campaigns was conservative in nature: candidates tended to broadcast key party messages (e.g. updates from the campaign trail), and rarely engaged in dialogue with the public. In contrast, Dutch candidates used Twitter primarily to interact and communicate with the public: answering questions and responding to voters.

The main topics of tweets were particularly revealing. One of politicians’ most consistent complaints about media coverage of politics is their focus on the ‘game’ of politics, rather than policies. However, candidates in both the UK (80%) and Netherlands (70%) focused their tweets overwhelmingly on campaign and party affairs, rather than policy issues.

We discuss the findings in light of ongoing debates around postmodern political campaigning, the empowering potential of new media, and comparative political communication. In many ways, the findings support both continuity and change in political communication practices. Whilst it is normatively promising that a significant proportion of politicians are taking to Twitter to ‘engage’ with the public, it is clear that in this space - for UK politicians especially - old habits die hard: political communication practices of points-scoring and one-way broadcasting were prevalent. Dutch candidates were much more likely to embrace the interactive potential of Twitter, and it appeared the public responded to this by engaging in further dialogue. We attribute the more conservative approach of UK candidates to Twitter compared to the Netherlands to differences in the distribution of campaign resources, levels of party discipline, and the dynamics of the political-media systems in the two countries.

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Authors: Graham, T., Jackson, D. and Broersma, M.

Journal: New Media and Society

Volume: 18

Issue: 5

Pages: 765-783

eISSN: 1461-7315

ISSN: 1461-4448

DOI: 10.1177/1461444814546728

© The Author(s) 2014. Twitter has become one of the most important online spaces for political communication practice and research. Through a hand-coded content analysis, this study compares how British and Dutch Parliamentary candidates used Twitter during the 2010 general elections. We found that Dutch politicians were more likely to use Twitter than UK candidates and on average tweeted over twice as much as their British counterparts. Dutch candidates were also more likely to embrace the interactive potential of Twitter, and it appeared that the public responded to this by engaging in further dialogue. We attribute the more conservative approach of British candidates compared to the Netherlands to historic differences in the appropriation of social media by national elites, and differing levels of discipline imposed from the central party machines.

This data was imported from Web of Science (Lite):

Authors: Graham, T., Jackson, D. and Broersma, M.

Journal: NEW MEDIA & SOCIETY

Volume: 18

Issue: 5

Pages: 765-783

eISSN: 1461-7315

ISSN: 1461-4448

DOI: 10.1177/1461444814546728

The data on this page was last updated at 05:01 on March 20, 2019.