First Advisor

Christopher Shortell

Date of Publication

Summer 7-16-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Affairs and Policy


Public Affairs and Policy


Voter turnout, Political participation, Social media -- Political aspects, Mass media -- Political aspects



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 163 pages)


The growth of social media use raises significant questions related to political information and its effect on political knowledge and participation. One issue is whether social media delivers news and political information in a similar manner as traditional news media sources, like newspapers, TV, and radio, by contributing to political knowledge, which is linked to voter turnout. This dissertation examines the relationship between an individual's social media use, their use of traditional news media sources, and whether they turn out to vote. It utilizes American National Election Survey data from the 2016 U.S. Presidential election to complete three studies. First, the dissertation compares people who prefer social media and those who prefer traditional news media sources across as series of political habits and attitudes. Second, it looks at the expansion of the media environment and examines whether a person's social media use and preference for news or entertainment is related to political knowledge and voter participation. Finally, this dissertations examines at whether social media use increases the odds an individual will turn out to vote, thus acting in a similar manner as traditional news media.

The results identify differences between people who prefer social media and people who prefer traditional news media sources. In particular, people who prefer social media tend to be younger, have less political knowledge, and have a lower voter turnout rate. However, unlike traditional news media use, the use of social media did not increase the odds an individual turned out to vote in 2016. Further, the use of social media and an individual's content preference of entertainment versus news was not related to political knowledge nor voter turnout. While social media does not appear to have a positive relationship with turnout, it does not appear to discourage a person from voting either. The results suggest that more work needs to be done, including examining the relationship between age, social media use and turnout, as well as how content length may be related to political participation. Finally, further examination is needed of the possible indirect ways social media may be related to voter attitudes and participation.

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