18-20 March 2015
Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Germany
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B 8: Representation Online / Offline
Parliamentarians online – Members of the European Parliament and national parliamentarians in comparison
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
Relevance & Research Question: This paper compares how the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and their national counterparts (MNPs) present themselves on their personal websites. The focus of this paper lies on transparency measures (e.g. hyperlinks to social network sites, financial statements) and informational means (e.g. newsletter, speeches, explanation of parliament’s workings). With their personal websites, MEPs are not dependent on the channels of the mass media anymore, and can address the challenges of being of second-order importance to the voter and thus likened to the regional level (Reif/Schmitt 1980), as well as being subject to less media coverage than the MNPs (Franklin/Van der Eijk/Marsh 1996). Thus, this paper claims that MEPs are more engaged in using these online measures than their national counterparts, and address the European communication deficit this way (Anderson/McLeod 2004).
Methods & Data: The websites are analysed using quantitative content analysis, which was conducted with a standardised codebook for both MEPs and MNPs to ensure comparability. The dataset comprises 1818 German, British, Austrian and Irish MEPs and MNPs, out of which 1631 have a website. Aggregated indices for transparency and information measures are used for the analysis.
Results: The claim that MEPs show a higher amount of these measures than their national counterparts is confirmed. For the genuine online measures, this picture is uniform across nationalities. For the information measures, the picture varies widely inside and across nationalities.
Added value: I argue that MEPs utilize the communicative tools at their disposal differently from their national counterparts and should thus be recognized as individual parliamentary players with their own agendas when it comes to communication, and not just as an extended arm of their national parties or other European Union institutions. Moreover, personal websites are a prominent feature in campaigning and are widely researched during this timeframe, but their role in daily legislative life is only rarely acknowledged. This paper analyses the day-to-day presentation of MEPs and MNPs that often retreats into the background during campaigning, and allows an innovative analysis of the parliamentarians’ use of personal websites and their communicative offers.
The Influence of Urban vs. Rural Residence on the Use of Online Social Networks
Haifa University, Israel
Relevance & Research Question: This study examines the relations of online and offline social circles and the extent to which they overlap. Focusing on the social network Facebook and two distinct offline social circles – the urban model and the model of the kibbutz (small collaborative community unique to Israel). The main contribution of this work is to search for the extent in which the offline and online social circles overlap and identify the possible impact of the two distinct offline social circles in relation to this overlapping.
Methods & Data: The research method used was an online survey questionnaire, which was distributed among 100 participants, half grew up in a Kibbutz and half in the city. The questionnaire was distributed via Snow Ball method due to the difficulty reaching kibbutz members, stemming from their scarce numbers.
Results: The findings demonstrated that the social circle on Facebook of people who grew up in a kibbutz manifest several properties that distinguish them from those of city dwellers. For kibbutz residents, the number of offline friends corresponds to the number of Facebook friends. A kibbutz resident's circle of friends is significantly smaller than an urban circle of friends, both offline and Facebook social circles. A person from a kibbutz interact offline with a significantly more Facebook friends than a person from the city. Moreover, a person from a kibbutz has more friends that he considers as close friends than a person from the city.
Added Value: These findings lead to the conclusion that the offline sphere and Facebook social circles of people who grew up in a kibbutz are more strongly connected than those of people who grew up in the city. This linkage demonstrates overlapping of traditional kibbutz social characteristics between offline and Facebook social circles, such as a large number of close friends and a small number of acquaintances. These findings may imply for the influence of offline community characteristics on online social circles.
Using Evidence from Vote Advice Applications to Estimate Issue Preferences of German Federal Electoral Districts
University of Mannheim, Germany
Relevance & Research Question: Recent research on political attitudes has increasingly focused on the variation of preferences in small geographical units. However, traditional survey research is severely limited with regard to the estimation of small-area preferences due to data sparsity. To rectify this shortcoming, this contribution proposes a novel data source that exploits process-generated information based on online vote advice applications and asks: Are there preference variations between the German electoral districts? How are the preferences clustered?
Methods & Data: The evidence stems from a German vote advice application, www.abgeordnetenwatch.de, that provided users with information on the policy preferences of candidates during the 2013 federal election. All user inputs to the platform were recorded along with geographical markers, resulting in a data set of half a million users and their preferences on a range of policy proposals. Due to the self-selected sample, there are two imbalances in the data - geographical imbalances and an imbalance regarding the sociodemographic status of users. Therefore, users were invited to take an additional survey that collected various sociodemographic indicators. The user inputs are applied to estimate the policy preferences of the electoral districts using a hierarchical model with neighborhood clustering and poststratification in order to correct for the imbalances.
Results: There are substantial and systematic geographical preference clusters among the electoral districts. The estimated differences for the various policy proposals frequently cover a range of several dozen percentage points. The clusters also accord to a priori notions of the small-area preferences of the German electoral districts. The preferences even vary along historical border such that, e.g., issue preferences are more conservative in southern compared to northern Bavaria.
Added Value: This contribution provides a novel way for capturing small-area issue preferences. By incentivizing participation in the form of vote recommendations, it is possible to increase participation to numbers that are difficult to achieve otherwise. Moreover, the contribution highlights the value of process-generated evidence to capture relevant information for substantive research questions. Finally, the contribution features a technique to estimate small-area preferences by correcting for sparse and biased data sources.
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