Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

How Important Is Twitter to Local Elections in Brazil? A Case Study of Fortaleza City Council

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

How Important Is Twitter to Local Elections in Brazil? A Case Study of Fortaleza City Council

Article excerpt

While investigating the motivations that lead citizens to choose their candidates, different studies in political science and electoral behavior emphasize the importance of acknowledging multiple factors that can influence voting decision: the transitory economic and political conditions; the degree of knowledge that voters have about candidates; which political coalitions the candidates belong to; whether the candidates have the support of local, state and national authorities; the plurality of the journalistic coverage, with its frames and emphases; the contents that characterize electoral advertising; the performance of competitors in public debates; and the results of opinion polls (BAQUERO, 1997; BORBA, 2005; CARREIRÄO, 2000; CASTRO, 1997; CHAIA et al., 2002; FIGUEIREDO, 1991; POPKIN, 1994; PRZEWORSKI et al., 2003; TELLES et al., 2009).

A significant part of these topics are tied to the mass media, as most information and images about politics available to constituents are provided by mass communication channels (GAMSON, 1992; GOMES, 2004; HACKER, 2004; MIGUEL, 2000; SCHUDSON, 1995; SELLERS, 2010; SKIDMORE, 1993; SWANSON and MANCINI, 1996). More recently, the internet has brought important changes to political campaigns (ALDÉ and MARQUES, 2015; ENLI and SKOGERBO, 2013; HOWARD, 2005; KARLSEN, 2010), wherein candidates adopt digital media as a political campaign strategy to introduce a different interactive scenario in which citizens could enjoy the opportunity of having access to multiple sources of information, questioning candidates in a public arena and creating independent projects that demand answers from parties and coalitions (BIMBER and DAVIS, 2003; BRAGA et al., 2013; COLEMAN, 2001; HOWARD, 2006; MAIA, 2011; MILLIKEN, 2011; MARQUES et al., 2013; MENDONÇA and PEREIRA, 2012).

A balance of the main works that have studied e-campaigns over the last few years allows us to identify two phenomena that still need to be investigated. First, there is a permanent tension between (a) projects aimed to increase democracy's practices and (b) initiatives related to a strategic use of digital media. Therefore, the internet can be a dubious tool for political agents, since they cannot completely control the messages sent to or posted by users on the candidates' social network sites, or SNSs (JACKSON and LILLEKER, 2009; STROMER-GALLEY, 2000). Second, digital communication has led users to expect more from politicians (at least regarding political communication strategies). Now, candidates or representatives need to utilize multiple SNSs if they aim to show constituents how "interactive" they are, even if online conversations do not influence candidates' platforms or real-life actions. Therefore, a greater sense of competition between candidates can stimulate an increased use of digital media (DRUCKMAN et al., 2009; MARQUES et al., 2011; WILLIAMS and GULATI, 2010).

Our aim is to highlight this unprecedented window of opportunity for candidates to influence voters. Through digital media, candidates "can reach large numbers of constituents for a relatively small fixed cost" (GLASSMAN et al., 2010, p. 2). Through this research, we seek to contribute to the existing literature by examining 27 Twitter accounts managed by Fortaleza's city councilors who ran for reelection in October 2012, to analyze how the internet has been used to reach voters. The objective is to understand if and how local sociability, understood as relations and interactions among individuals, influences how digital communication is used by candidates who are running a reelection campaign.

Notwithstanding the fact that many scholars in social and human sciences interpret the notion of sociability differently, the term has been commonly referred to social interaction in groups (PREECE, 2000). In other words, sociability can be understood as "the ensemble of intercurrent relations or interactions among the individuals who are part of a given society" (FORTUNATI et al. …

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