Qualitative Political Communication Research

"Methodology is intuition reconstructed in tranquility" – Paul Lazarsfeld

Month: March, 2014

Special section of IJoC on qualitative political communication research

by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

We are happy to announce that the International Journal of Communication (IJoC) has agreed to publish a special section on qualitative political communication research based on our forthcoming ICA preconference.

The IJoC is the premier international, interdisciplinary open access journal in media and communications research.

A special section there provides us with the perfect opportunity to publish the best work from the preconference in a timely and accessible manner and make it available to the wider academic community.

The four ICA preconference organizers, David Karpf, Daniel Kreiss, Matthew Powers, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen will select the best papers from the conference which will be submitted for peer review through the IJoC review system. (As we already have such an international and strong set of submissions for the preconference itself, there will be no separate call for papers.)

On this basis, the final special section on qualitative political communication research is expected to be published in the early summer of 2015, in advance of next year’s ICA conference.

We are grateful to Larry Gross, the IJoC editor, for providing us with this opportunity.

“The old idea of bifurcating research into qualitative and quantitative is entirely unproductive” – ICA preconference preview interview

by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Kevin Barnhurst and Leopoldina Fortunati are working on a paper focusing on “emerging citizenship” amongst university students in Europe for the ICA Preconference on Qualitative Political Communication Research. It is part of a larger collaboration with Stephen Coleman, Birgit Eriksson, Víctor Sampedro, and Slavko Spichal.

The full abstract is below the jump and on the conference page.

Here are questions and answers from an email interview I did with them about their research.

RKN: You work on emerging forms of citizenship, with a special emphasis on students. This is not a common topic in political communication research, where more focus has been on political actors and news media, and perhaps citizens seen as voters and people with political attitudes. How would you say your work connects to core concerns of political communication research, then? Are there particular researchers or schools of thought you see yourself as being in a dialogue with, or are you simply looking where few have looked before you?

Our project asks where political actors, ranging from citizens to journalists and politicians, come from, a basic question because political communication usually treats their emergence as a given. Our focus of research is not new in political communication but responds to a long history of political socialization studies that assume the preexistence of “the political.” Civic life and political engagement exist full-blown and then correlate so that the first is usually a necessary if not sufficient condition of the second. Although the notion of citizenship has clear roots in political research, the emerging digital conditions demand looking at the pre-political, at how young people, especially those who enter universities and are likely to become engaged voters, media workers, and leaders, come to understand ways to coordinate their lives.

RKN: Your work is partly rooted in political communication research, but also draws on other fields—are there disciplines that have been particularly important sources of theoretical and methodological inspirations in how you approach this project?

In mobile and networked platforms alongside face-to-face interactions, young adults begin to work out what it means to do the right thing politically. So our work draws most on social science theories of the early 20th century, including the British mass observation studies and Chicago sociology—Mead, Park, Blumer, and others—but also on critical and cultural thought from later in the century—Foucault, Raymond Williams, and others. Judgments of “the good” also lead into the sociology of emotions and recent work on embodiment of action. Some examples include Vincent and Fortunati’s Electronic Emotion, the new materialism of Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway, and other works like Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, which call for understanding the physicality of what scholars investigate. Emergent work on citizenship studies (including the journal of that name) are another influence, particularly the theoretical work by Isin, Bennett, Alexander, and Ranciere on “the political.”

RKN: Few scholars challenge that qualitative research excels at depth, detail, and precision in terms of understanding particular cases or processes. But some would question whether findings based on, for example, interviews can be generalized. Do you see your own work in this paper as pointing toward generalizable findings? If so, how and under what conditions? If you don’t, does it matter to you, or do you think about the reach and validity of your work in different terms?

Political communication as a field tends to keep qualitative methods at the margins and treat them as subordinate by asserting they cannot reach generalizations of fact. But all research involves comparisons of different kinds and arrives at general observations of patterns when comparison is sufficient. The fundamental way that qualitative work establishes facts is by continuing to compare until reaching “saturation.” It’s the product of a recursive process of going back to carefully selected sources, “grounded” with an aim to disprove patterns observed, until it’s clear that the patterns (and pattern of differences) hold. At the point of qualitative saturation, the resulting knowledge is as strong and general as any resulting from quantitative tools. Our project compares different countries facing different issues related to citizen involvement, such as the 15 May movement in Spain and the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo in Italy, but doing it on the ground in universities that claim to prepare citizens. In national case studies, our partner teams will be testing the results of our shared methods (traces of young adults’ digital lives, “teach-ins” among faculty, and targeted searches of university documents) by comparing other groups like non-students, super-political students, and national samples using a range of methods (including surveys, for instance, in Spain).

RKN: Imagine you are talking to a colleague at a conference who mainly does fairly conventional forms of behavioralist, quantitative political communication research, i.e., studies agenda-setting in lab experiments or frame effects on attitudes through survey research. Is your research on news sharing relevant to this colleague? If so, how?

We would probably start by suggesting the analogy of economics. Economists are now recognizing that the formal economy can tell only part of the story because it grows from and constantly intersects and interacts with the informal economy—consider for example the work by Lobato et al. In a sense, privileging “hard” data is a way of ignoring the “soft” politics of communication now emerging. When conditions of citizen engagement change as profoundly as they have with the creation of the EU cross-national polity and they are now in the digital era, going back to intensive studies with people can bring new insights to political research. In analogy with the formal and informal economies, a nuanced understanding of citizenship today requires a careful analysis that integrates all levels of comparison. The cross-cultural research project we have designed can go deeply in understanding the lived experience of citizenship in the digital era and also grasp the main similarities and differences among the five universities—in Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdom—to see how citizenship emerges in the EU.

We find the old idea of bifurcating research into qualitative and quantitative entirely unproductive. One vicious circle asks, “Which comes first?” Should qualitative work precede quantitative work, and does quantitative work fall short unless it follows up on findings by returning to its sources? Or worse, one side will claim the other works from an epistemology at fundamental odds with the other. The lack of integration is the main problem here. All quantitative and qualitative work involves many hands: the work of the human mind in asking questions of others (who “handle” their responses) and then looking for and finding patterns. Political communication must search for a way to integrate its methods and reject the binary. Think about it: quantity and quality are not opposites or axes but fully meshed ideas. A unifying concept is what McCloskey and Ziliak calls “oomph” in their The Cult of Statistical Significance.

Finally we would make an ecumenical argument, expressing our interest in their research and the kind of results they produce and encouraging the same interest in our research. In a virtuous circle of scholarship, all kinds of methods are necessary to depict a wide and detailed fresco of political communication and to find new questions for our range of methods to address.

Full abstract below. Read the rest of this entry »

Susan Herbst’s Reading Public Opinion: Further notes from a reading group

by Matthew Powers

By Matthew Powers, Dave Karpf, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Chris Anderson

 In politics, “public opinion” represents something of a catchall term: politicians claim responsiveness to it; journalists assert a professional duty to help shape it; and activists often profess acting on behalf of it. Yet as Susan Herbst shows in her important book, Reading Public Opinion, no single “public” lay behind the claims of these various parties. Instead, the term means different things to different participants in the political process – and the social spaces and communication environments that actors occupy shape these differences in important ways. A key task for scholars of political communication, therefore, is not simply to understand “public opinion” on a given issue (e.g., via opinion polling) but to understand how different participants construct and understand what public opinion is and what role it ought to play in the democratic process.

At the heart of Herbst’s book is a call for taking seriously the “lay theories” of participants in political process. By lay theory, she refers to the experientially based ideas actors hold about what public opinion is, how it operates and why it matters. She acknowledges that such theories have no scientific basis (in terms of external validity), yet argues that they nonetheless exert important effects on the political process by shaping political actors’ views of whose opinions count as public. Reading Public Opinion is thus an attempt to gather these various lay theories together, show how they interact and analyze what they mean for the democratic process.  

The book takes the Illinois capitol of Springfield as its site of empirical inquiry. Herbst conducts interviews with over 40 policymakers, journalists and activists to learn what they understand public opinion to be. She finds that policymakers – concerned as they are with crafting legislation – first look to lobbyists and interest groups for views on what is required in their constituencies. At the same time, policymakers also use the news media as proxies for a citizenry to which they have little direct access: they try to anticipate and respond to news coverage, as that coverage serves as a stand-in for the public opinion of the citizenry at-large. By contrast, journalists reporting on legislative affairs understand something different by the term. To them, public opinion refers to the news audience. The reporter’s task is to provide that audience with the information they need in order to form opinions about legislation. In Herbst’s analysis, policymakers and journalists conflict with one another precisely over questions of which party best represents “the public”: journalists express skepticism of the “spin” policymakers and communication directors put on news, while policymakers see journalists as biased against government. Both views, she suggests, stem more or less directly from their lay theories of public opinion.

Herbst’s chapter on how activists view public opinion shifts away from the state-level and draws on national survey data of party delegates to the national Republican and Democratic conventions. Unlike policymakers and journalists, she finds activists more likely to see public opinion as aggregate-level individual views rather media coverage or interest groups. Much more than the other two groups, activists are likely to see opinion polling as a legitimate expression of public opinion. It’s worth noting that her definition of activist here refers primarily to party activists – it would be interesting and useful to expand the inquiry to include groups with an interest in shaping the political process but without any clear party affiliation.

The book’s final chapter aims to tease out the normative implications of the various lay theories her research unearths. Drawing on her interview data, she shows how different actors maintain different views on democratic theory – some more elitist, others more representative and still others more participatory. She then connects these views with long-standing scholarly debates – stretching back as far as classical antiquity – on what the political process ought to entail.

Reading Public Opinion stands out as an important piece of political communication scholarship and its qualitative research design is key to its importance. Rather than assuming public opinion to have a fixed meaning, Herbst begins from the premise that the concept is essentially contingent. As such, public opinion is not so much a fact awaiting discovery so much as a fact that must be built, maintained and contested. The book offers a key account of some of the ways that happens at a key level of politics. At the same time, transformations to our contemporary communication environments raise interesting questions about whether the lay theories of actors are changing. The emergence of new techniques – audience metrics, consumer data, etc. – that bring “public opinion” into being raise important questions how political actors view the democratic process today and how they go about reading public opinion into it. Written more than 15 years ago, Reading Public Opinion provides an important exploration of the construction of public opinion at a specific point time. The time now is perhaps ripe for further empirical exploration.

References

Herbst, Susan. 1998. Reading Public Opinion: How Political Actors View the Democratic Process. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

“When we focus solely on an elite group of actors, whether politicians, journalists or even the Twitterati, we risk ignoring key political participants who are off the radar”-QualPolComm preview interview

by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Jen Schradie is working on a paper focusing on how different labor unions in the US use social media as part of their organizing work for the ICA Preconference on Qualitative Political Communication Research.

The full abstract is below the jump and on the conference page.

Here are questions and answers from an email interview I did with her about her research.

RKN: You work on labor unions and social media. As you note in your abstract, this is not a common topic in political communication research, where more focus has been on electoral politics and news media, including their use of digital technologies. How would you say your work connects to core concerns of political communication research, then? Are there particular researchers or schools of thought you see yourself as being in a dialogue with, or are you simply looking where few have looked before you?

A lot, yes, and yes. Oh, wait. This isn’t a survey.

Political communication theorists are foundational for my research on social class, social movements and social media, as well as this Preconference paper on labor unions and digital technology.

When I was an undergraduate, I majored in public policy. I soon became frustrated with most of the coursework, which had a narrative that went something like this: mostly rich white men come up with a new policy idea, and they convince another group of mostly rich white men on a subcommittee in Congress to make it into a proposed bill, and then Congress, which consists of mostly….you get the idea. Even with the massive corporate influence on American politics, if you look at any major piece of social legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act, each would never have happened without the political, social and labor movements that forced elite politicians to act. Similarly, I have the same critique of some of the political communication literature, which often looks at how the political elite use the media and how journalists cover the political elite to shape political opinions and actions. When we focus solely on an elite group of actors, whether politicians, journalists or even the Twitterati, we risk ignoring key political participants who are off the radar.

Some communication theorists, ranging from Jurgen Habermas to Phil Howard, or mediatization scholars, such as Nick Couldry, Charles Ess, Andreas Hepp and Knut Lundby, speak to some of these broader societal and structural factors in communication. More specifically, I am in dialogue with scholars who have done two things First, extend media into social media – which automatically disrupts the traditional pathways of news elites + political elites = influencing voters. This includes you, Rasmus, as well as Daniel Kreiss and Katy Pearce. Two, examine organizations outside of the traditional beltway powerholders, similar to the work of Lance Bennett, Dave Karpf, or Matt Powers. All of these scholars look at political communication more wholistically and, in turn, take a small part of that whole and study it in-depth.

I see my work as part of this trend by studying an understudied part of political communication, in this case southern labor unions and their relationship to theories of digital democracy. Just as importantly, however, I am evaluating more than the traditional unions who are part of the AFL-CIO. I am also studying emerging worker centers and other rank-and-file unions, as well the broader political movements in which they are situated.

RKN: Your work is partly rooted in political communication research, but you come at this also as a sociologist—are there parts of your own disciplines that have been particular important sources of theoretical and methodological inspirations in how you approach this project?

Absolutely. As a sociologist, I am a scholar of stratification—inequality—social movements, and labor movements, a scholar of political sociology and culture. All of these fields shape how I approach political communication. Rather than ask how communication shapes politics, my sociological research offers the reverse. How does politics shape communication? I switch around the independent and dependent variables. The independent variable becomes in-depth contextual analysis of inequality, ideology and hierarchy, which all shape communication practices. For instance, in my Qualitative Political Communication Preconference paper, I find that differing ideologies create different levels and types of digital engagement. Ideology, I contend, is more than a left/right perspective but also includes political strategies and views of the state.

Considering who inspires me sociologically feels like a kid in a candy store, as I have been influenced by so many sociologists. One theorist is Antonio Gramsci. He’s the guy who introduced the concept of hegemony as a way of explaining this articulation of the state, ideology, civil society (i.e. NGO’s, non-profits, labor unions, etc.), and the media for social change.

My mentor Kim Voss, who is a labor and social movements scholar, has been critical to my situating and comparing these political movements and their communication practices. Methodologically, I conduct multi-methods, so I have been influenced by Kathy Edin with in-depth interviewing and coding, Jenna Burrell for ethnography in a digital context, and Mike Hout for quantitative analysis that goes beyond basic regression. I have also been inspired by computational methods from Neal Caren. But what really defines my work is the concept of public sociology a la Michael Burawoy. He has been a leading advocate for making our scholarship relevant, not only to the broader public but also to the communities we study.

RKN: Few scholars challenge that qualitative research excels at depth, detail, and precision in terms of understanding particular cases or processes. But some would question whether findings based on, for example, interviews can be generalized. Do you see your own work in this paper as pointing towards generalizable findings? If so, how and under what conditions? If you don’t, does it matter to you, or do you think about the reach and validity of your work in different terms?

Really? Are we still having these debates? Actually, I know this is a real issue in many disciplines, even sociology at times. I’m a multi-methods researcher and *love* talking, teaching and debating about methods. What does that mean? It really comes down to methods 101: What is your research question? The question drives the method. Pure and simple. Ok, it may not always be that easy, but if we want to understand mechanisms and practices, for instance, in-depth interviewing and ethnography are key. No, participant observations of labor union media practices are not generalizable to the general population, but neither is a lab-based study using elite college students generalizable either. All of our research methods have strengths and weaknesses.

The problem with this debate is that quantitative and qualitative research is coming from different epistemological points of view. Each has different sets of criteria to evaluate research, as Howard Becker has pointed out. Quantitative researchers evaluate studies based on reliability—that is, replicability—and validity. Qualitative researchers evaluate studies based on accuracy, precision and breadth. Both lead to building knowledge and theory.

In addition to my qualitative work, I have also published three articles based on survey data, so I clearly see the value of quantitative  research – especially with my interest in digital inequalities and questions around who exactly *is* engaged with political communication activities – and who isn’t. I recently got into an open scholarly debate with a researcher who had conducted survey research in Britain. He came up with findings different from most every other digital divide study in the United States, including mine. Rather than pick apart our various methods, I argued that it is more useful to look at what broader structural differences exist between the two countries and suggested more qualitative research.

Indeed, in our social science era of an increasing reliance on Big Data, we need to look at what is happening in the context of these data points. For instance, in my work, I created a data set of 50,000 Facebook posts, Tweets and Web site metrics across 34 political, labor and social movement organizations. I found that two unions had dramatically different rates of online activity. It was only through ethnography and in-depth interviews that I was able to see how these differences largely arose from different political practices and ideologies.

RKN: Imagine you are talking to a colleague at a conference who does mainly fairly conventional forms of behavioralist, quantitative political communication research, i.e., studies agenda-setting in lab experiments or frame effects on attitudes through survey research. Is your research on labor unions relevant to this colleague? If so, how?

Scholars who use different methodologies complement each other. I am adamant, however, that qualitative research is not simply a way to discover “real” quantitative research questions. If we are really honest with each other, we all cite each other because we each have something to contribute. We also offer each other triangulation of findings.

This is more than a binary offline/online debate, as well. I can provide what Geertz called “thick description” to more conventional communication research.  For instance, qualitative research can resolve quantitative puzzles, such the one in my research in which I found that one union uses the Internet less frequently and with lower levels of participation than another union. I spent time at union meetings, protests and other events and was able to ask probing, follow-up questions to union members and activists. I discovered that the union who had a bottom-up grassroots approach to organizing saw the Internet as simply one of many tools to organize their members and, therefore, de-emphasized the Internet. The union who had a top-down approach and looked to political and media elites embraced Internet technologies and had high levels of digital engagement.

The bottom line is that we, as qualitative scholars, should not be in a defensive position. We should all be asking how others’ work is relevant not only to our own work but also, in this case, to a union activist in the rural South.

Full abstract below. Read the rest of this entry »

“How does communication infrastructure organize the campaign?”—QualPolComm preview interview

by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Fenwick McKelvey and Jill Piebak are working a paper called “Porting the Good Campaign” on how U.S. campaign technology is imported and used in Canada for the ICA Preconference on Qualitative Political Communication Research.

The full abstract is below the jump and on the conference page.

Here are questions and answers from an email interview I did with them about their research.

RKN: You work on the import and translation of political technologies across borders, political cultures, and contexts. How would you say this connects to core concerns of political communication research? Are there particular researchers or schools of thought you see yourself as being in a dialogue with?

FM & JP: We’re looking at the spread of political campaign software, so far, from the United States to Canada. By political software, we mean the technology that runs the back-end databases, keeps track of donations or manages voter contact. We’re still working on a survey of the field to give a sense of the features offered.

JP: The industry ranges across from marketing to large-scale, big-budgeted campaigns to non-profit, low-budget advocacy groups with products ranging from customizable and expensive to one-size fits all or open source.

FM & JP: Encoded in this software is a lot of the processes of political communication.  The good practices that make winning campaigns, if you read the sale brochure. We’re interested in what practices travel with software from one political culture to another.

FM: If you look at the advertisements, this software usually promises political players greater control over their messaging and organization. These are core tasks of political communication. How does communication infrastructure organize the campaign? I am very intellectually indebted to the work of the organizers of this pre-conference who have focused on the different ways of organizing through digital technology either as passive democratic feedback, computational management and mundane technologies. This branch of organizational communication — one that I am slowly learning — connects to issues of framing and agenda setting in political communication. Keeping the voters in the system to ensure you can craft the right message. Software stabilizes — or as Kreiss & Anderson claim make durable — these two aspects of political communication.

JP: Another term rather than control that they offer is to target and speak directly to individual donors, voters, potential volunteers. The company’s stress that it’s not just about controlling a message it’s about having the ability to reach out to each person and getting the information about what their stake is in the election or campaign. Segmenting the population down to the individuals rather than speaking to the broadest base of voters. “Reach the voters that matter with the right messages” according to CampaignGrid or “Reach the right people with the right message at the right time in the right place” as SalsaLabs says.

FM: I hope this work compliments what I would call the literature of digital political communication. Philip N Howard, Andrew Chadwick and Lance Bennett introduced me to how changes in political communication relate to the Internet. Howard, in particular, helped me start thinking about the potential of digital technology to increases the control of the voter in the communication system. What he would call managed citizenship. Whether you buy this claim or not, Howard put me on a question that Lance Bennett and Jarol B. Manheim pose nicely as a shift from a two-step to one-step flow of communication. Their basic claim is that the social conditions of political communication differ enough from the assumptions of Lazarsfeld and Merton to require more observation and attention to the practices of political communication.

FM: It’s a period then of change and experimentation into the techniques of control in political communication. The United States, for reasons likely to do with size and the ongoing campaigns across the country, has created a whole industry attempting to master this one-step flow. With great work already on this American context, I thought it would be helpful to then look at how these new practices circulate as software products from the USA and abroad.

FM & JP: If some strategies and tactics have proven effective in the United States, will they work elsewhere? It always struck me as an interesting question to look at this process of adaptation of this software. Can you store the data in the same way? Do the same best practices hold true? What products can make this international transition? What is the work involved in a party adopting this technology? How can this help with reflecting on the nature of political communication in a digital era? How have these practitioners in outside of the US adapted or made-do with the product in order for it to work best in a Canadian political environment?

RKN: In your abstract for the conference, you make it clear you draw on work from well beyond traditional political communication research. In addition to those mentioned above, where did you find the main theoretical and methodological inspirations for your work?

FM: I have always seen myself as an interdisciplinary researcher for better or worse and I have been inspired by a few sources. I’d point to the concept of the political and media studies embedded in web archiving.

FM: I think of the field as it relates to the concept of the political — a word I came to understand through Laclau & Mouffe. The political refers to the irresolvable differences inherent in society. Republicans or Democrats or in my own Canadian way, New Democrats, the Bloc, Liberals and Tories all have different ways of seeing the world or the future that cannot be resolved. Their differences create antagonisms that play out in the democratic campaign with winners and losers. Mouffe especially rejects the idea of a rational deliberative democracy with its promise in consensus. Instead, campaigns and elections resolves these differences in very contingent ways and imperfect ways. This is never settled and its what I’ve called a Permanent Campaign in my work with Greg Elmer and Ganaele Langlois.

FM: I’d also point out that my interest in software from an applied media studies necessary for web archiving. I began my research in political communication at the Infoscape Centre for the Study of Social Media in 2006. There I joined a project looking at the discussion of candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party in blogs. We were looking at these platforms as intersections between traditional elites and new elite actors. (This I would add distinguishes political communication from the more narrow interest of political science with politicians).

FM: Methodologically, we drew on the work of Kirsten A. Foot and Steven M. Schneider on political web archiving. Their work in retrospect included a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods. One can’t really separate these quantitative results from the very qualitative studies of the platform or even in interpreting the quantitative results. An example of this approach is that we could find the most popular links among Canadian partisan bloggers. From this quantitative count we’d then have a reason to dig into a part of the data and be able to tell a certain story about blog activity during the campaign.

FM: At the Centre, we began to notice that as social media developed, the platforms became more complicated and I had to spend more time studying how that platform worked in order to scrape it. Eventually, these questions of a very applied media study had me start wondering about the back-end of technology. What was the software running behind the scenes? This research looking specifically at the political campaign software is part of answering that question. So while, I see a direct relation to the study of software in political communication, there is also a component of media studies or Internet studies in the work.

FM: There is some tremendous work being done on platform studies that looks at channels of communication and interaction online such as Tania Bucher, Ganaele Langlois, Robert W. Gehl and Carolin Gerlitz to name a few of the scholars I really try to follow.

FM: I’d add that as a junior scholar I’m learning about my own education as a Canadian researcher and how its national communication studies diverged from the American tradition. The Canadian field has then always had a strong qualitative side perhaps best summarized in the ‘dirt research’ of Harold Innis. While that emphasis has a convoluted history before it reaches me, it still encourages an attention to things. It’s good to play around with it as much as I can. I’m excited to be integrating interview with this attention to software to understand the processes of adaption and internationalization.

RKN: Few scholars challenge that qualitative research excels at depth, detail, and precision in terms of understanding particular cases or processes. But some would question whether findings can be generalized. Do you see your own findings as generalizable? If so, how and under what conditions? If you don’t, does it matter to you, or do you you think about the reach of your work in different terms?

FM & JP: We’re not, at this point, aiming to make a generalizable claim, but rather make a focused observation about the flow of American political technology to Canada. That process, while specific and unique, speaks to a broader phenomenon. American political technology firms have been active across the globe, especially in the lead up to the  European Union elections. We assume that these technologies will need to become more internationalized, staff will need to be trained and data imported will need to be added the new system. Further research will be looking at how this work will be comparable to the work being done in Canada.

FM & JP: We’d say it matters because its analyzing changes in the nature of campaigning and democracy in a Canada. We’re talking about a small part of this change, but one that could inform comparative work globally. So we’re not worried about being generalizable because I see this process as being really specific and focused, but common to many other countries.

RKN: Imagine you are talking to a colleague at a conference who does mainly fairly conventional forms of behavioralist, quantitative political communication research, i.e., studies agenda-setting in lab experiments or advertising effects on attitudes through survey research. Is your research relevant to this colleague? If so, how?

FM: I would cite Bennett and Manheim that I really think offer a way to work across these fields. To instrumentalize, we need to understand the present context. How might we be able to identify some new techniques that will be used in the next election based on knowing the changing political infrastructure? Blue State Digital sold a feature in the last US election called Quick Donate. They suggested that a campaign could not only target voters, but at particular emotional moments such as “right after a campaign rally, in response to a Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan speech and so on”. It’s a whole other approach to targeting, not just the segments, but targeting specific emotional moments. Does this work? Is this effective? I’d really appreciate quantitative work that discusses this issue and also helps us understand — here I put on my hat as a policy researcher — whether its something that requires new regulation or governance. Door-to-door sales have a ‘cooling-off period’. Would political donations require that too? It’s something that both qualitative and quantitative political communication could answer.

Full abstract below.

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