Rice, Moffett, Madupalli publish research on social networking among young voters

Associate Professors of Political Science Drs. Ken Moffett and Laurie Rice along with Business Assistant Professor Dr. Ramana Madupalli have recently co-authored an article entitled “Campaign-Related Social Networking and the Political Participation of College Students” in Social Science Computer Review.

Dr. Ken Moffett

Dr. Ken Moffett

Moffett and Rice contributed theoretical and social science research expertise for the article, while Madupalli initially designed the project and managed data collection.

The article shares the results of the 2008 survey designed and implemented by the professors that measured the amount of civic engagement in college students during the presidential election campaigns.

“We look at civic engagement, or the degree to which younger voters are engaged in a civic sense,” explains Moffett.

The web-based surveys, which were circulated to about 2,000 SIUE students, asked students about their degree of civic activity in both online and offline settings. Students were asked if they participated in political campaigning or attended political meetings and how often they performed community service or volunteered, among other “offline” civic duties.

For online civic engagement, Moffett and Rice studied young voters’ online social networking activities. They specifically studied the voters’ “friending” and group-joining frequency on both Facebook and MySpace, which were the two major social networks during the 2008 elections.

Rice, who was responsible for developing the theoretical framework for the research, found that she had to present these social networks as being valid platforms for civic engagement and not just media for leisure online activity.

“One of the things we ran into when we started to present data from the survey research project was political scientists saying, ‘How could Facebook matter?’” says Rice. “We really started to think about the potential of social networking to transform young Americans’ political involvement. This article started as an effort to explain why we should expect social networking to matter.”

Moffett and Rice received 350 completed surveys out of their sample, and the data showed that those who are civically engaged online are also civically engaged offline, not only in friending and group-joining activities but also in posting, which Moffett calls “a different animal entirely” compared to friending and joining groups.

Dr. Laurie Rice

Dr. Laurie Rice

“It’s easy to join a group when other people are joining a group, and it’s easy to ‘friend’ a candidate when that candidate might have 5 million Facebook friends,” Moffett says.

“It’s also very different to write a blog post and put your name on it. It is very different to have that as your status update,” he continues. “You’re putting yourself out there in a very different way, and if you will, in a much more public way. What we find here is that posting activity has a positive effect on friending and also has a positive effect on offline engagement, too.”

Having just published their research concerning the 2008 data, Moffett and Rice now have the immense task ahead of them of going through the data from the 2012 campaign surveys. This year, they surveyed all SIUE students and received 950 surveys back.

Madupalli, due to his other commitments as Director of the School of Business’ MMR program, was not able to participate in the 2012 survey, but he was happy to be involved with the research.

“I love politics,” he says. “When this offer came, I did not want to let it go.”

Even with the 2008 election behind us, though, Rice says that they still have data from the surveys that has yet to be analyzed and even without some of the content not being analyzed, the project has still yielded “fruitful research” that has grabbed the interest of her students.

With this year’s survey, Moffett and Rice focused on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as the social networks of interest. With technology always changing and access to social networks becoming more common, they are hopeful that online and offline civic engagement will keep increasing, but they also know that new technologies keeps them, as researchers, on their toes.

“We’re always looking at new questions to add. What’s the next big technology that might change presidential campaigning?” says Rice. “I think it’s constantly changing, and the trick is to try to anticipate what those changes will be and to ask about them.”

Rice and Moffett will be working hard to analyze the data from this year’s surveys as well as some of the data from the 2008 surveys.

Along with this project, Moffett, along with co-authors Drs. Brian Harward and Scott Ainsworth, has also published an additional article entitled “Congressional Response to Presidential Signing Statements” in American Politics Research. 

This article was published around the same time as “Campaign-Related Social Networking and the Political Participation of College Students.” Unlike the survey research, however, Moffett investigates the workings of the government, specifically the signing statements that the President often attaches to new bills or laws.

Signing statements may contain praise or disagreement with the decision. What Moffett delves into in the paper is how Congress responds to disagreements and the response is not often known by the American public.

“What we find in the paper is…Congress responds when the President objects to different provisions of law by increasing their oversight of bureaucratic agencies,” says Moffett. “Basically, we find that Congress pushes back against the President.”

Moffett and his co-authors Harward and Ainsworth continue to do research on this topic, and Moffett has also continued to conduct more research on civic engagement. While still researching young voters, Moffett has also been researching how civic engagement was affected by opposition to the Iraq War.

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