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Donor Networks and Social Media Influencers in the 2018 Congressional Primaries

Sat, August 31, 12:00 to 1:30pm, Hilton, Columbia 2

Abstract

Social media platforms provide a relatively inexpensive means for politicians to disseminate information to the public. While the mechanisms by which information gains traction on social media are varied, messages that reach many people tend to originate from, or be benefitted by, social media influencers (i.e. users who have built large audiences). In this paper, we contrast the role that social media influencers play in elections with a more traditional measure of influence: money. For all candidates who either won their 2018 U.S. congressional primary or came in second, we collect data on their committee donations and merge it with data from their Twitter account. Our data are rich enough to: 1) construct the network of committees who donated to each candidate, which includes all donations between committees and those to other candidates, and 2) construct a network of social media influencers who shared the candidate’s tweets in the months leading up to the primary, which includes how readily influencers share one another’s tweets. We find that network metrics of the donor network explain some of the variation in electoral outcomes. Metrics of the social influencer network explain electoral outcomes as well, especially in races where candidates are unevenly matched in their donor network metrics.

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