Blog Post

Making Sense of Election 2016 & Digital Political Communication

Making Sense of Election 2016 & Digital Political Communication

Hi all,

Last week I attended the conference "Making Sense of Election 2016," which was organized by the Aggie Agora team and the Texas A&M University. The meeting included relevant keynote speakers in the fields of political science and communication, such as Julia Azari, Daniel Kreiss, John Murphy, and Jennifer Stromer-Galley. The main idea of the conference was to gather these famous scholars and doctoral students in order to make sense of the last election, with an emphasis on the political communication dimension.

In particular, I was interested in listening to Daniel Kreiss and Jennifer Stromer-Galley presentations. Both are scholars that study political communication from quantitative and qualitative perspectives, which is pretty rare in the political communication field. 

Daniel Kreiss presented his research about how political parties and candidates use digital media tools for organizing its internal and external activities. By and large, he concluded that technology and data drive most of the strategies and decisions of a political campaign. There were two relevant concepts in this presentation. First, parties are constituted by massive databases that contain the names, addresses and personal information of millions of citizens. Parties are not, as they used to be in the past, organizations that congregate people in physical spaces. Currently, parties are small groups of individuals managing their constituencies through different digital technologies. Second, these databases are growing in its content. Every day, political parties gather data from citizens. According to Kreiss, parties are trying to create a "unified view of citizens," a concept that he uses to explain how political parties are increasing their micro-targeting strategies. The primary goal of the political parties is to have enough information of each citizen in order to create personalized messages. Here is a Storify of Kreiss presentation: 

“Trumps Tweets and Other Tremendous Tales: Lessons from Illuminating 2016,” was the name of Jennifer Stromer-Galley’s presentation. She presented a large-scale research project that is called “Illuminating 2016." The main objective of this project is to analyze all the Facebook and Twitter posts that the primary and general election candidates. Her fundamental research question is to understand what are the candidates doing in social media. She draws from previous research and explains that by and large, candidates and politicians, in general, do not use the Internet for democratic purposes. The use digital technologies to broadcast messages, for collecting data from Internet users, for controlling their messages, to attack their opponents, and for building their political images. Here are three interesting facts and reflections that were part of Stromer-Galley's presentation: 1. Contrary to what many of us thought, Clinton was the one candidate who created more attacks on the Internet. She presented more attacks on Trump, than Trump to Clinton. Of course, this is only a quantitative measure of the campaigns. It is important to also reflect on the characteristics and qualities of these attacks. 2. Campaigns tend to use Facebook for engaging with the community and Twitter for attacking opponents. 3. According to this research, "sentiment analysis" has proved to be a bad research tool for political communication. Communication researchers, she explained, should be able to make the difference between information and speech acts. It has been tough to analyze political communication with dictionaries and lexicons that are not created specifically for certain speech acts. Thus, automated content analysis works when researchers have the time and resources to build systems based in machine-learning, but especially understanding that each speech act and communicative situation require a new analyzing tool. Here is a Storify of Stromer-Galley’s presentation: 

Finally, I presented my research, which deals on how Hillary Clinton used the Internet to communicate, in Spanish, to the Latino community during the elections. Soon I will post more detailed information about my research. Here is a Storify my presentation: 



Hi Juan— reading about the Daniel Kreiss presentation reminded me of a book written about the 1896 Presidential election, Realigning America: McKinley, Bryan, and the Remarkable Election of 1896 by historian R. Hal Williams. Williams argues that this election brought fundamental realignments in American politics. One of his major points is that the election saw the transition from the “military style” of campaigning (basically parading through the streets for your candidate) to “education style” (advertisements, publicity, pamphlets, and reasoned discussion). It was interesting to see how political campaigns have again transitioned, now divorced from physical space and driven by technology and data. It seemed like a really neat conference! 


Hi Ali, thanks for recommending this book! I will definitively read this piece for my dissertation!