Facebook and the Presidential Election

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Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy has a new study on how the race for the White House can be understood through Facebook. Kendra Smith, a policy analyst for the Morrison Institute, will discuss the study.

TED SIMONS: FACEBOOK AND OTHER SOCIAL
MEDIA APPLICATIONS CONTINUE TO
GROW AS NEWS SOURCES.
ASU'S MORRISON INSTITUTE FOR
PUBLIC POLICY RECENTLY RELEASED A NEW STUDY ON HOW FACEBOOK IS IMPACTING THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. JOINING US NOW IS KENDRA SMITH A MORRISON INSTITUTE POLICY ANALYST. WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON." GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

KENDRA SMITH: THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

TED SIMONS: FACEBOOK'S IMPACT ON NATIONAL ELECTIONS, WHAT EXACTLY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT HERE IN.

KENDRA SMITH: WELL, WE'RE TALKING ABOUT A LOT HERE.
FACEBOOK IS ONE OF THE LARGEST SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS ALONG WITH TWITTER OUT THERE. SO THE USE OF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IS REALLY NEW AND IT'S REALLY BIG AND IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT.

TED SIMONS: AS FAR AS THE RESEARCH AND STUDY WAS CONCERNED, WHAT DID YOU LOOK AT AND WHAT DID YOU FIND?

KENDRA SMITH: SURE WELL, A TEAM AND MYSELF, PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS KEVIN DESUZA AND THE DATA SCIENTISTS AT DECISION THEATER NETWORK, WE LOOKED AT FACEBOOK PARTICIPATION BY FIVE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES.
SO THE LAST FIVE. SO THAT'S HILLARY CLINTON, DONALD TRUMP, TED CRUZ, BERNIE SANDERS AND JOHN KASICH.
SO WE LOOKED AT THEIR FACEBOOK POSTS AND COMMENTS ON THEIR FACEBOOK POSTS.
AND SO IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THREE THINGS. SO WE WANTED TO UNDERSTAND TOPICS THAT THEY WERE DISCUSSING. WE WANTED TO UNDERSTAND THE COMMENTER SENTIMENT, SO WHAT THE PUBLIC WAS SAYING. SO WAS THE PUBLIC HAPPY? WERE THEY SAD? WERE THEY POSITIVE? WERE THEY NEGATIVE? AND THEN WE WANTED TO UNDERSTAND IF ONLINE EVENTS MATCHED OFFLINE EVENTS OR IF THEY AFFECTED ONE ANOTHER AND VICE VERSA.

TED SIMONS: LET'S GO DOWN THE TOPICS DISCUSSED BY CANDIDATES. APPARENTLY THE RESEARCH SEEMS TO SHOW SOCIAL ISSUES BY DEMOCRATS AND NATIONAL SECURITY BY REPUBLICANS. THAT'S NOT REALLY A SURPRISE, IS IT?

KENDRA SMITH: NOT A HUGE SURPRISE.THOUGH WE FOUND THAT LARGELY GROUPED TOGETHER, SO THE REPUBLICANS WERE VERY STRONG IN TALKING ABOUT GROUPING TOGETHER ISSUES LIKE THE IRAN DEAL, ISIS AND GUN CONTROL TOGETHER, PLANNED PARENTHOOD, OBAMACARE AND IMMIGRATION WERE LUMPED TOGETHER AS ISSUES THAT WERE DISCUSSED FREQUENTLY.
AND THEN THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES DISCUSSED A LOT OF SOCIAL POLICY ISSUES, WOMEN'S HEALTH, REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, EDUCATION, AFFORDABLE EDUCATION, AND THINGS OF THAT NATURE.

TED SIMONS: AND THEN NOW WE GET TO THE COMMENTATORS, THOSE COMMENTING ON THESE ISSUES AND, AGAIN, DEMOCRATS SEEM TO BE SUPPORTIVE OF REFORM, NOT EXACTLY A SURPRISE THERE, AND IN THIS CLIMATE REPUBLICANS, A LOT OF ANGER.

KENDRA SMITH: DEFINITELY.
SO, LIKE YOU SAID, IT'S NO SURPRISE, BUT IT ALSO CLUES US IN INTO HOW THESE THINGS IMPACT THE ELECTION. SO WE DON'T KNOW THE OUTCOME OF THE 2016 ELECTION, BUT IT'S GOOD FOR US TO KNOW HOW THESE ISSUES ARE BEING PUSHED OUT TO THE PUBLIC BECAUSE THIS IS VERY NEW FOR US, RIGHT?
WE HAVEN'T HAD AN ELECTION WHERE ALL CANDIDATES ARE USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY ARE NOW.

TED SIMONS: AND THAT THIRD POINT, THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OFFLINE AND ONLINE ACTIVITY OR ONLINE AND OFFLINE WHICHEVER ONE, THE RELATIONSHIP SHOWED WHAT?

KENDRA SMITH: SO WE FOUND THERE WAS A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ONLINE AND OFFLINE ACTIVITIES. FOR INSTANCE, WHEN A CANDIDATE WOULD DROP OUT OF THE RACE, SO WE WOULD SEE A BOOST IN COMMENTS ON THE LEFTOVER CANDIDATES.
OR WHEN, FOR INSTANCE, ON THE REPUBLICAN DEBATES, TED CRUZ PERFORMED POORLY, OR PERCEIVED TO PERFORM POORLY, AND HIS COMMENTS TAPERED OFF ON FACEBOOK SUBSTANTIALLY.
AFTER THE REPUBLICAN DEBATE DONALD TRUMP SAID THE HOST WAS OFFENSIVE TOWARDS HIM AND RUDE TO HIM AND THEN WE SAW HIS COMMENTS BOOST UP.

TED SIMONS: SO OFFLINE ACTIVITY STILL DRIVES ONLINE ACTIVITY, AS OPPOSED TO VICE VERSA?

KENDRA SMITH: I THINK IT GOES BOTH WAYS. SO I THINK THAT OFFLINE IS A LOT MORE SALIENT IN THIS. AND IF THERE'S SOMETHING THAT'S MAKING NEWS, IF THERE'S SOMETHING THAT HAS HAPPENED ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, WE ARE SEEING MORE COMMENTS ONLINE ABOUT THAT.
BUT ALSO IF SOMETHING IS SAID ONLINE, WE ARE SEEING A LOT MORE ACTION ON THE GROUND OR OFFLINE IN REGARDS TO THOSE COMMENTS.

TED SIMONS:SO AND WE'VE KIND OF MENTIONED IT, THERE WEREN'T ANY MAJOR SURPRISES HERE. WERE THERE ANY SURPRISES IN THIS STUDY? OR DID IT KIND OF GO PRETTY MUCH AS ONE WOULD THINK?

KENDRA SMITH: THERE WEREN'T MAJOR SURPRISES. I THINK ONE THING THAT WAS VERY INTERESTING WAS SEEING HOW THE COMMENTS EXCUSE ME HOW THE TOPICS THAT THE CANDIDATES DISCUSSED ON FACEBOOK, HOW THEY WERE LUMPED TOGETHER.
SO I SAID EARLIER THAT REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES, THEY TALKED ABOUT IRAN AND ISIS AND GUN CONTROL ALL TOGETHER.
AND SO THOSE ARE THREE VERY DIFFERENT ISSUES. OKAY,
ESPECIALLY IRAN AND ISIS AND GUN CONTROL.
BUT THEY WERE ALL LUMPED TOGETHER. AND LUMPING TOGETHER OF IMMIGRATION AND OBAMACARE AS AN ISSUE THAT'S DISCUSSED TOGETHER IS VERY INTERESTING, AND TO SEE HOW THE PUBLIC RESPONDS TO THAT.
SO IN THOSE TWO INSTANCES, THE PUBLIC HAD VERY NEGATIVE REACTIONS TO THAT.
THAT'S NOT TO SAY NEGATIVE REACTION TO THE CANDIDATES, BUT PERHAPS NEGATIVE REACTIONS TO THE ACTUAL TOPIC.

TED SIMONS: INTERESTING.

KENDRA SMITH: AND THERE WAS ANGER IN THOSE TOPICS.
AND SO REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES ELICITED A LOT MORE ANGER IN THEIR COMMENTS AND DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES ELICITED A LOT MORE POSITIVE COMMENTS IN SUPPORT OF THE CONTINUATION OF SAME TYPE OF POLICIES.

TED SIMONS: IF I HAVE A CAMPAIGN RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT AND I LOOK AT THIS REPORT, WHAT DO I TAKE FROM THIS? WHAT DO I LEARN FROM THIS IN ORDER TO BENEFIT MY CAMPAIGN OR JUST TO GET BETTER KNOWLEDGE HOW FACEBOOK IMPACTS THINGS?

KENDRA SMITH: SURE, I THINK THAT THERE'S A LOT TO LEARN HERE, AND ONE ISSUE IS THE PRESENTATION OF ISSUES, AND THE PRESENTATION OF INFORMATION, AND IN MY MIND, A LOT OF THE THINGS THAT WE FOUND, SUCH AS THE TOPICS THAT WERE DISCUSSED AND THE TOPICS THAT WERE PUSHED TOGETHER, THEY WEREN'T REALLY IN ANY COHERENT THEY WEREN'T DELIVERED IN A COHERENT WAY THAT WOULD MAKE SENSE OF WHY THESE ISSUES WOULD BE LUMPED TOGETHER, BUT IT'S SOMETHING ABOUT THE ISSUES TOGETHER THAT GOT THE PUBLIC EXCITED.

TED SIMONS: INTERESTING.

KENDRA SMITH: AND I THINK UNDERSTANDING WHAT THESE BUTTONS ARE THAT GET PEOPLE EXCITED IS WHAT IS MOST RELEVANT AND WHAT WE PULLED FROM THE STUDY AND WHAT WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA IN ELECTIONS.

TED SIMONS: NOW I UNDERSTAND YOU GUYS ARE WORKING ON MAYBE ANOTHER STUDY REGARDING LIKE LINGUISTIC CUES AND BODY LANGUAGE AND HOW THAT IMPACTS WHAT'S BEING SAID OR WHAT'S NOT BEING SAID.
KENDRA SMITH: SURE. WE ALREADY HAD THE PRELIMINARY FINDINGS OF THE STUDY AND WHAT WE FOUND SO WE LOOKED AT LINGUISTIC QUES FROM THE SAME STUDY AND LINGUISTIC CUES ARE THINGS LIKE DO YOU SPEAK WITH AUTHORITY OR DO YOU SPEAK WITH ANGER OR DO YOU SPEAK TO ELICIT CLOUT FROM OTHERS. SO WE LOOKED AT THOSE THINGS, AND FROM CERTAIN CANDIDATES THERE WERE PEOPLE THAT IN THEIR COMMENTS TRIED TO ELICIT A LOT MORE CLOUT.

TED SIMONS: HOLD IT RIGHT THERE. WE MAY BRING YOU BACK FOR THAT ONE. THAT'S KIND OF A DIFFERENT STUDY BUT IT'S PSYCHOLOGICAL CUES.
THAT'S FANTASTIC. VERY INTERESTING STUF.THANKS FOR JOINING US. THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

"ARIZONA HORIZON" IS MADE POSSIBLE BY CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE FRIENDS OF ARIZONA PBS, MEMBERS OF YOUR PBS STATION.
THANK YOU.

Kendra Smith, policy analyst, Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy

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