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Social Media, Political Expression, and Political Participation: Panel Analysis of Lagged and Concurrent Relationships

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Abstract

This article relies on U.S. 2-wave panel data to examine the role of social media as a sphere for political expression and its effects on political participation. Informational uses of social media are expected to explain political expression on social media and to promote political participation. This study clarifies the effect of using social media for social interaction in fostering political expression and participation processes. Results indicate that social media news use has direct effects on offline political participation and indirect effects on offline and online political participation mediated via political expression. Furthermore, social media use for social interaction does not have direct influence in people's political engagement, but rather an indirect effect by means of citizens expressing themselves politically.
Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Social Media, Political Expression,
and Political Participation: Panel Analysis
of Lagged and Concurrent Relationships
Homero Gil de Zúñiga1,2, Logan Molyneux3, & Pei Zheng3
1 Medienwandel Chair Professor, Media Innovation Lab (MiLab), University of Vienna
2 Research Fellow, Facultad de Comunicación y Letras, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile
3 Digital Media Research Program (DMRP), Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, University of Texas at Austin,
Austin, TX 78712, USA
is article relies on U.S. 2-wave panel data to examine the role of social media as a sphere
for political expression and its eects on political participation. Informational uses of social
media are expected to explain political expression on social media and to promote political
participation. is study claries the eect of using social media for social interaction in
fostering political expression and participation processes. Results indicate that social media
news use has direct eects on oine political participation and indirect eects on oine and
online political participation mediated via political expression. Furthermore, social media
use for social interaction does not have direct inuence in people’s political engagement,
but rather an indirect eect by means of citizens expressing themselves politically.
doi:10.1111/jcom.12103
Using the Internet and social media to seek information, including news, has been
linked to greater political participation (Kwak, Lee, Park, & Moon, 2010, Shah, Cho,
Eveland, & Kwak, 2005). But social media are used for much more than seeking infor-
mation.Inwhatotherwaysmightsocialmediacontributetonewmodelsofciti-
zenship now emerging in younger generations (Bennett, Wells, & Freelon, 2011)?
Research in this area has shown the importance of political expression in leading
people to participate politically (Elin, 2003; Pingree, 2007), and we conrm these
pathways using cross-lagged and concurrent tests from a two-wave panel survey of
U.S. adults. Another key contribution of this study is to propose general social media
use as a new antecedent of political expression. People keep in touch with friends and
family, express themselves, and discuss various aspects of their lives on social media.
In doing so, people tend to present a dierent aspect of themselves to each social
group they encounter (Abercrombie & Longhurst, 1998), and the more groups they
interact with, the more aspects of themselves they may develop (Papacharissi, 2012).
Corresponding author: Homero Gil de Zúñiga; e-mail: homero.gil.de.zuniga@univie.ac.at
612 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
Ourndingssuggestthatevenrelationalusesofsocialmediamayleadpeopleto
express themselves politically, thereby putting them on a pathway to participation. e
results contribute to an understanding of expressive citizenship models now emerg-
ing in younger generations (Gil de Zúñiga, Bachmann, Hsu, & Brundidge, 2013). is
understanding may aid engagement eorts and expand the range of activities that
political communication researchers study.
Before adding this new leg to the model of inuences leading to political partici-
pation, we rst discuss online and oine political participation and the antecedents
identiedinpreviousliterature(namely,socialmediausefornewsandonlinepolit-
ical expression). We then explain our rationale for suggesting that relational social
mediausemayalsosetusersonapathwaytopoliticalparticipationthroughonline
political expression.
Informational use of social media and political participation
Political participation is usually conceptualized along four dimensions: voting, cam-
paign activity, contacting ocials, and collective activities (Verba & Nie, 1972). But
these traditional measures do not directly assess the inuence of informational media
use and mental elaboration about political issues on political participation. Jung, Kim,
and Gil de Zúñiga (2011) found that the relationship is indirect, passing through
knowledge and ecacy. Informational uses of many media types have been shown to
lead directly and indirectly to political participation, including informational uses of
newspapers (McLeod et al., 1999), television (Norris, 1996), the Internet (Shah, 2005),
and mobile communication technologies (Campbell & Kwak, 2010). We expect that
informational uses of other media, including social media in this case, will lead to
political participation.
PoliticalparticipationhastakennewonlineformswiththeriseoftheInternet,par-
ticularly with the advent of social media (Gil de Zúñiga, Copeland, & Bimber, 2014).
Although the production cycle for newspapers and television involves delays and is
comparatively costly, social media are constantly updated and require signicantly less
time, money, and physical eort (Best & Krueger, 2005). People use social media not
only to access online versions of oine content, but also to generate original content
themselves, thus creating new forms of political participation.
People can pursue their political goals online by forwarding e-mails, sharing opin-
ions about politics and current events, expressing dissatisfaction with governments by
commenting on government ocials’ social media pages, and participating in online
collective actions against certain policies (Di Gennaro & Dutton, 2006). All this can
be done with far fewer resources than have generally been considered necessary for
political participation (Verba & Nie, 1972). e ease of using and creating social media
have spawned an explosion of grassroots participation, allowing individuals to express
their opinions more openly and freely as well as to build a more active and signi-
cant relationship with ocial institutions (Rojas H & Gil de Zúñiga H, 2010, Gil de
Zúñiga H. 2012). e Internet and social media in particular thus provide new forms
of media consumption as well as new forms of political participation. We therefore
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 613
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
expect that using social media for news (Time 1) will be positively associated to both
oine (H1a) and online (H1b) political participation (Time 2).
Informational use of social media and political expression
Observations of traditional media consumption found that hard news through radio,
newspapers, magazine, and television increased political knowledge. As political
knowledge increases, it encourages media reection and elaboration among the
audience, thus cultivating better informed citizens (Carpini, Cook, & Jacob, 2004),
and fostering a sense of political ecacy and political participation (Eveland, Shah, &
Kwak, 2003). People are more likely to be exposed to dissimilar political views when
they consume news (Mutz, 2002). Using the Internet as a source for political news has
dramatically increased the diversity and openness of information (Gimmler, 2001).
Especially with social media platforms’ ood of up-to-the-minute information,
citizensaremorelikelytobeexposedtopoliticalnewsandthereforegivenmore
opportunities for political expression (Kushin & Yamamoto, 2010). In particular, the
interactivefeaturesofsocialmediamayamplifytheimpactofexpressionbecause
they readily allow one’s expression to be shared with many people simultaneously.
e expressive potential of the average citizen has been transformed; individuals are
now in a position to “post, at minimal cost, messages and images that can be viewed
instantly by global audiences” (Lupia & Sin, 2003, p. 316). Although a greater use
of social media may not be linked instantly to more intensive political expression,
it does result in increased informal communication among individuals (Shah, Cho,
Eveland, & Kwak, 2005). Social media as a user-friendly platform cultivates its users’
political consciousness in their daily practice; therefore, it is believed to display
political expression in a more accessible format and spirited condition (Geo et al.,
2012). Based on the above literature, this study proposes (H2) that social media use
for news (Time 1) will be positively related to people’s use of social media for political
expression (Time 2).
Political expression and participation
"Political expression is conceptually distinct from political participation in the
way that political talk is distinct from political action" (Gil de Zúñiga, Veenstra,
Vraga, & Shah, 2010). Several studies have shown a consistent connection between
political talk and political action (Huckfeldt & Sprague, 1995). Furthermore, some
research suggests that having more opportunities for expression, including oppor-
tunities for expression online, may help mobilize people to take real-world actions
(Elin, 2003).
We expect that political expression becomes an antecedent for citizens to further
engage in political participatory practices, up to and including various forms of par-
ticipation oine (i.e., attended a public hearing, town hall meeting, or city council
meeting, and called or sent a letter to an elected public ocial) and online (i.e., made
a campaign contribution, and signed up to volunteer for a political campaign). In the
614 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
samewaythattalkprecedesaction,expressionmayworktoenablepoliticalaction
by causing the expresser to alter his self-perception (Bem, 1967) from observer to
participant.
In fact, Pingree posits that “Expression, not reception, may be the rst step toward
better citizenship,” considering that expression can “motivate exposure, attention
and elaboration of media messages” (Pingree, 2007). Expression may have an eect
through several pathways, and at least one overall model has been proposed (Pingree,
2007). Eects may even occur before any message is expressed so long as one expects
some future expression. Also, composing a message in preparation for expression
reorganizes items in the mind as they are transformed into language (Greene, 1984).
Composition may even cause reection about one’s own views, leading to new
understanding (Bem, 1967). Expression may also cause eects once the message
is released, strengthening a commitment to the views expressed (Tetlock, Skitka,
& Boettger, 1989) or, perhaps importantly in a democracy, creating a feeling that
the speaker’s voice has been heard (Pingree, 2007). All three mechanisms (expec-
tation of expression, composition, and message release) are potentially inuential
in the realm of social media, where there is always an audience (and therefore an
expectation of expression) for whom messages can be composed and to whom they
mayeasilybereleased.Indeed,socialmediamayfacilitatetheprocessofexpression
by providing a convenient platform for it. is political talk, then, may work to
change the person expressing it from observer to participant, leading to political
action.Infact,therearesomeindicationsthatthishappenswhenpeopleusemedia
technologies in an eort to mobilize others. Rojas and Puig-i-Abril (2009) found that
using cell phones and social media to mobilize others in support of a position led
people to oine political participation. eir ndings advanced the communication
mediation model by suggesting that there is a sequence of behaviors that may lead
to participation, including expression and mobilization. Taken together, this empha-
sis on expression as part of a political engagement model supports the alternate
conception of citizenship advanced by Bennett et al. (2011) and Coleman (2008).
ey envision a spectrum of citizenship activities, with older generations more
commonly adopting a managed, dutiful engagement with authorities and younger
generations preferring autonomy and activism centered on expression. Both may be
valid pathways to political participation, they argue. is study seeks to empirically
shedlightoverthisproposition.Politicalexpression(Time2)willbepositively
related to oine political participation (H3a) and online political participation (H3b;
Time 2).
e pathway we propose here — with social media use for news leading to expres-
sion, which in turn leads to participation —is supported by another study of online
political discussion. Price, Nir, and Cappella (2006) found that reading postings by
other discussion group members predicted expression by the individual, and that
individual expression contributed signicantly to changes in opinion aer the discus-
sion. Taken together, the literature reviewed here suggests that expression mediates
the eect of content consumed; that is, the pathway to political participation may
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 615
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
begin with content consumption, but it goes through expression as a key mediating
construct.
A new connection to political expression
e pathway described above is based on people’s reliance on social media as sources
of news. But people use social media for much more than gathering news and infor-
mation. ey keep in touch with family and friends and interact socially in numerous
other ways. Does this social interaction lead to any political expression, thereby con-
necting it to participation?
Some research suggests that it may. Papacharissi’s (2011) work in understanding
people’s conception of themselves in a networked world is useful in making a new
connection between general social media use and expressing oneself politically. A key
attribute of social media, Papacharissi suggests, is that they allow multiple connec-
tions to varied and distinct social realms. Distinct social realms each represent an
audience for the demonstration of self (Abercrombie & Longhurst, 1998), includ-
ing aspects of the self that exist only for or are presented only to a specic audi-
ence (Papacharissi, 2012). Drawing on literature studying performance as a means of
projecting and understanding one’s self, Papacharissi (2012) suggests that networked
technologies such as social media allow people to express multiple aspects of their per-
sonality. Because people create a face for each social group or audience they interact
with (Goman, 1959), and because social media allow them to maintain connections
to several groups at once (Pagani, 2011), these media bring out more faces and enable
people to express more parts of themselves. Gergen (1991) even saw this potential in
earlier information communication technologies, calling them “technologies of social
saturation.”
Additional research has also conrmed the value of this perspective (Ostman,
2012), suggesting that repeated performance online helps users develop the con-
dencetoexpressthemselvesmoreoenandinmoreways.isframeworkiskeyin
Davis’s (2011) study of “multiplicity” as young people confront various audiences in
a networked world, especially as desires to express themselves dierently to dierent
audiences conict with the desire to dene a consistent self. In fact, social media
users now confront so many dierent audiences that they must develop strategies
to manage them (Papacharissi, 2012). Other studies have suggested that the desire
for self-expression is a strong motivator for creating content online (Krishnamurthy
& Wenyu, 2008), with expressive people being more likely to create content online
(Pagani, 2011).
Still, for most people, politics is incidental to normal life and their “social life as
communicators” is most important to them (Eveland, Morey, & Hutchens, 2011).
Despite the potential that exists for people to develop a political self as they confront
variousgroupsonsocialmedia,thereisnoguaranteethatanyonewillinterface
with a politically oriented group or happen to develop a political self, simply by
participating in social media interactions. Even so, because at least that potential
exists,itsimportanttostudynotjustpoliticallymotivateddiscussions,butany
616 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
interactions where there is at least the opportunity for politics to enter in. One study
of user-generated content online (including any type of content, not only political
postings) found it to be signicantly correlated with online and oine political
participation (Ostman, 2012).
It may not be likely that social media use for social interaction purposes is directly
related to political participation. But we question whether it is related to political
expression given that social media encourage various forms of expression, includ-
ing potentially political ones. What is the eect (RQ1) of social media use for social
interaction purposes (Time 1) on political expression (Time 2)?
Methods
Sample
e data for this study were drawn from a two-wave U.S. national panel study
conducted by the Community, Journalism & Communication Research unit in the
SchoolofJournalismattheUniversityofTexasAustin.Bothwavesofthesurvey
were administered online using Qualtrics, a web survey soware to which the authors
have a university-wide subscription account. Respondents for the initial survey were
selected from among those who registered to participate in an online panel adminis-
tered by a media research lab at a Research I university. To overcome some of the lim-
itations of using convenience samples, we specied a gender and age quota so that the
sample would match the distribution of these two demographic variables as reported
by the U.S. Census. e rst wave was conducted between late December 2009 and
early January 2009, and comprised 1,159 respondents over the age of 18. e response
rate (AAPOR RR3)1for this survey was 23%, yielding comparable response rates to
high-quality data collected via Internet panels (Iyengar & Hann, 2009) and similar
to organizations that employ random digit dialing (American Association of Public
Opinion Research, 2011). e second wave of data collection took place in July 2010.
In this case, 312 original interviewees completed the questionnaire, for a retention
rate of 27% (see Gil de Zúñiga & Hinsley, 2013; also for a detailed discussion on the
importance of retention rate for web panels see Watson & Wooden, 2006). Compared
to U.S. Census data, the second wave sample was older, had more females, and was
slightly better educated. ere was no evidence, however, of skewness with regard to
income.2
Measures
e analyses in this study included ve groups of variables: demographics,political
antecedents,media use,anddiscussion. en the study registered each subject’s social
media uses distinguishing between social media use for news, and a use that relates
much more to social interactions. And nally, the study also includes three criterion
variablesthataddresspeoplespoliticalexpressionandparticipatorybehaviors(online
and o).3
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 617
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
Endogenous and exogenous variables
Social media use for news. Drawing from data based on the rst wave of the panel data
used in the model, and adapted from Gil de Zúñiga, Jung, and Valenzuelas (2012)
work, four items composed this index measuring to what extent social network sites
helpedindividualstostayinformedandgetnews“aboutcurrenteventsandpub-
lic aairs,” “about their local community,” “about current events from mainstream
media,” and “about current events through friends and family” (4 items averaged
scale, Cronbachs α=.90, M=3.34, SD =2.48).4
Social media use for social interaction. Also from Wave 1, three items composed this
indexaskingtowhatextentsubjectsreliedonsocialnetworksitesforsocialinteraction
purposes.Wespecicallyasked,“inkingaboutthesocialnetworkingsiteyouuse
most oen, how would you classify the following statements, where 1 means never
and 10 means all the time?” e statements were “I feel out of touch when I haven’t
loggedontoitforaday,”“Irelyonittostayintouchwithfriendsandfamily,”and“I
donotrelyonittomeetpeoplewhosharemyinterests(recoded)”(3itemsaveraged
scale, Cronbach’s α=.79, M=4.41, SD =2.54).
Political expression in social media. Being part of the model’s criterion variables, this
composite variable draws on data from the second wave, and aimed to register peo-
ple’s use of social network sites to express themselves politically in a variety of ways,
including “posting personal experiences related to politics or campaigning”; “friend-
ing a political advocate or politician”; “posting or sharing thoughts about politics”;
“posting or sharing photos, videos, or audio les about politics”; and “forwarding
someone else’s political commentary to other people” (5 items averaged scale, Cron-
bachs α=.93, M=8.21, SD =6.45).
Political participation oine. Also drawing from the second wave of the panel data and
using an 11-point scale with endpoints labeled “never” and “all the time,” respondents
were asked how oen during the past 12 months they had engaged or not in any of
the following activities: “attended a public hearing, town hall meeting, or city council
meeting”; “called or sent a letter to an elected public ocial”; “spoken to a public
ocial in person”; “attended a political rally”; “participated in any demonstrations,
protests, or marches”; “participated in groups that took any local action for social or
political reform”; and “been involved in public interest groups, political action groups,
political clubs, or party committees.” Responses to each statement were added into a
single index (7 items averaged scale, Cronbach’s α=.87, M=3.19, SD =1.94).
Political participation online. Similar to political participation oine, but centered on
the online domain which entailed dierent behaviors, this variable taps the level of
political engagement that subjects report on online activities. e questionnaire asked
respondents how oen in the past 12 months they had “written to a politician,” “made
a campaign contribution,” “subscribed to a political listserv,” “signed up to volunteer
for a political campaign,” and “written to a news organization.” All responses were
then added into a single index (5 items averaged scale, Cronbach’s α=.82, M=2.51,
SD =1.94).5
618 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
Residualized variables
Network size. e size of citizens’ political discussion networks aects in a meaningful
way the political engagement process online and oine (see for instance Mutz, 2002).
Accordingly, the study controls for the eects of individual discussion network size to
isolate potential confounding eects. Survey respondents were asked in open-ended
fashion to provide an estimate of the number of people they “talked to face-to-face
or over the phone about politics or public aairs,” and “talked to via the Internet,
including e-mail, chat rooms, and social networking sites about politics or public
aairs” during the past month. As could be expected, the variable was highly skewed
(M=6.21, Mdn =3.00, SD =43.19, skewness =12.33), so it was also transformed
using the natural logarithm (M=0.61, Mdn =0.54, SD =0.48, skewness =0.82).6
Strength of party identication. Prior research has also identied that peoples strength
of partisanship exerts a positive eect on their participatory levels. us, our model
included this measurement as a control (Lee, Shah, & McLeod, 2012). Respondents
were asked to rate their party identication using an 11-point scale ranging from
strong Republican (coded as 0; 7.1% of respondents) to strong Democrat (coded as
10; 15.1% of respondents), with the midpoint (coded as 5) being Independent (23.4%
of respondents). is item was subsequently folded into a 6-point scale (i.e., scores 0
and 10 were recoded to 6, 1, and 9 to 5, 2, and 8 to 4, 3, and 7 to 3, 4, and 6 to 2, and
5 to 1), ranging from no partisanship to strong partisanship (M=3.3, SD =1.5).
Internal political ecacy. e study also controls for the eect of people’s political
ecacy on participatory behaviors as this construct has also been observed as a proxy
to political participation (i.e., Pingree, Hill, & McLeod, 2012). Researchers suggest
that some items used to measure internal ecacy, such as “people like me don’t
haveanysayaboutwhatthegovernmentdoes,”maybeproblematicbecausethey
could be measuring both internal and external ecacy at the same time (see Morrell,
2003). Drawing from this approach, some scholars (e.g, Bennett, 1997) have been
inclined to utilize a single-item measure, such as “people like me can inuence the
government.” Accordingly, this study follows the second approach. us, political
ecacy was also introduced as a control to present the most stringent model possible.
Responses ranged from 1 (notatall; 11.9% of respondents) to 10 (all the time; 8.0%
of respondents) with M=5.14, SD =2.65.
News media use. Respondents were asked to rate on a 7-point scale ranging from 1
(every day)to7(never) how oen they used the following media to get information
about current events, public issues, or politics: network TV news, cable TV news, local
TV news, print newspapers, online newspapers, online news magazines, and citizen
journalism websites. e items were reverse-coded, so that a higher number indicated
more news use, and combined into an additive index (Cronbach’s α=0.70, M=13.97,
SD =5.39).
Demographics. A variety of additional variables were included in the multivariate
analysis to control for potential confounds, as these are variables that the literature
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 619
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
has found to be related to political participation online and oine (Norris, 1996).
e respondent’s gender (67% females), age (M=49.32, SD =12.25), and race (67%
whites) were straightforward in their measurement. Education was operationalized as
highest level of formal education completed (M=4.49, Mdn =2-year college degree).
For income, each respondent chose one of 15 categories of total annual household
income (M=6.18, Mdn =$50,000 to $59,999).
Statistical analysis
To test the hypotheses posed by this research, rst a series of hierarchical regressions
were conducted. Structural equation modeling (SEM) and cross-lagged correlations
to further test causal inference were also employed.
Social media use for news and social interactions are highly correlated (Pearson’s
r=.75). When introduced altogether as independent variables in a general linear
regression model, a variance ination factor test indicates a mild multicollinearity
problem (VIF (Variance Ination Factor) =2.59). us, some authors argue that a
specic type of SEM may be a more appropriate technique to avoid type II errors due
to multicollinearity (Kelava, Moosbrugger, Dimitruk, & Schermelleh-Engel, 2008).
Other authors introduce the independent variables in distinct regression models to
avoid multicollinearity issues granted that the total variance explained by the control-
ling blocks in these dierent models is similar, or also in order to introduce interaction
term of independent variables (Eveland & Scheufele, 2000). We have followed the
approach by both lines of scholarship. First, the hierarchical regressions used in this
study introduced both variables separately. Additionally, we have employed SEM to
test the theoretical structure.7
Results
With the rst two hypotheses, this study seeks to replicate and expand recent nd-
ings presented by Gil de Zúñiga and colleagues (2012) that suggest the positive eect
of social media use for news in predicting political participation oine (H1a) and
online (H1b). Consistent with this work but relying on panel data, results indicate
a positive association between informational uses of social media and participating
oine (β=.278, p<.001) and online (β=.134, p<.05).epresentedregression
models accounted for a total variance of 26.4% for political participation oine and
25.3% for the online engagement model (see Table 2, Models 1). Among the variables
controlled in the model, age (β=.139, p<.01), political ecacy (β=.208, p<.001),
media use (β=.159, p<.05),andthesizeofindividuals’discussionnetwork(β=.270,
p<.001) were all positive predictors of oine political participation; whereas, polit-
ical ecacy (β=.271, p<.001) and discussion network size (β=.270, p<.001) were
also statistically signicant in explaining online political involvement. Further causal
inference analysis based on cross-lagged correlation tests (Locascio, 1982) indicates
that social media use for news (Time 1) predicts political participation oine (Time
2; cross-lagged r=.206) and online (Time 2; cross-lagged r=.205) more strongly
620 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
Table 1 Zero-Order Correlations Among All Independent and Dependent Variables in the
Study
Variables 1234567891011121314
1. Age
2. Gender .13a
3. Education .07 .12a
4. Race .12a.08 .03 —
5. Income .01 .23c.44c.01 —
6. Political Ecacy .10 .07 .06 .06 .05 —
7. Strength Partisanship .08 .02 .02 .12 .04 .10 —
8. Discussion Net. Size .01 .12a.13a.01 .22c.06 .01 —
9. Media Use .18b.01 .03 .04 .07 .21b.15b.16b
10. S.M. News Use .07 .04 .09 .05 .13b.08 .08 .16b.25c
11. S.M. Social
Interaction
.05 .09 .07 .01 .14c.06 .11 .07 .19c.77c
12. S.M. Pol. Expression .15b.12a.11 .06 .15c.10 .02 .21c.25c.36c.33c
13. Pol. Participation
Online
.12a.01 .08 .05 .10 .28c.01 .31c.33c.23c.15a.46c
14. Pol. Participation
Oine
.08 .02 .08 .05 .02 .30c.11 .30c.28c.19c.12a.45c.76c
Note: Cell entries are two-tailed zero-order correlation coecients. (N=312). Gender and race are dichotomous variables and Pearson’s
point-biserial correlations were used.
ap<.05. bp<.01. cp<.001.
than the relationship that goes from political participation online (Time 1) and oine
(Time 1) to the consumption of social media for news (Time 2; cross-lagged r=.031,
and cross-lagged r=.020, respectively).8
e second hypothesis seeks to establish the relationship between peoples social
media use for news and the extent to which this behavior would spur political expres-
sionviathesamemedium(H2).AsshowninTable3,individualswhoengageinthis
type of social media use at some point in time (Wave 1) tend to express themselves
politicallyatalatertime(Wave2;β=.278, p<.001), with the model explaining over
23% of the variable variance (R2=23.2%). It is also worth noting that among all the
controls, age (β=−.183, p<.01) and income (β=−.141, p<.05) hold a negative and
statistically signicant relationship with expressing politically via social media which
mayelicitsomebrightpictureforthefuture.atis,youngpeopleandless-privileged
individuals tend to express their voice politically via social media (see Table 3).
e third set of hypotheses posed in this study addressed the relationship between
political expression via social media and political participation oine (H3a) and
online (H3b). As shown in Table 2 (Models 2), political expression via social media
is the strongest predictor among all variables included in the political engagement
models, explaining a fair size of variance for political participation oine (β=.405,
p<.001; ΔR2for “political expression via social media” =12.6%; model R2=40.2%)
and online (β=.435, p<.001; ΔR2for “political expression via social media” =14.1%;
model R2=39.4%). Most importantly, the results also indicate that the eects of social
mediainformational and social interaction useson political participation may
be mediated by individuals’ political expression via social media.
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 621
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
Table 2 Regression Models of Oine and Online Political Participation
Oine Political Participation
Wave 2
Online Political Participation
Wave 2
Model 1 Model 2 Model 1 Model 2
Step 1 Demographics
Age .139** .211*** .096 .126*
Gender (female) .023 .007 .036 .056
Education .015 .047 .053 .086
Race (white) .037 .005 .036 .007
Income .071 .125* .078 .017
ΔR24.8%4.8%1.7%1.7%
Step 2Political antecedents
Political ecacy .208*** .183*** .271*** .250***
Strength of partisanship .051 .050 .073 .075
ΔR27.3%7.3%11.1%11.1%
Step 2 Media use and discussion
Media use .159** .120* .109#.061
Discussion network size .270*** .193*** .270*** .186***
ΔR213.4%13.4%10.9%10.9%
Step 3 Social media uses
Social media use for news
(Wave 1)
.280*** .093 .141* .019
Social media use for social
interactions (Wave 1)
.096 .033 .032 .021
ΔR22.1%2.1%1.5%1.5%
Step 3 Social media uses
Social media political
expression (Wave 2)
.405*** — .435***
ΔR212.6%14.1%
Tota l R226.4%40.2%25.3%39.4%
Notes: Standardized regression coecients reported. N=312.
#p<.10. *p<.05. **p<.10. ***p<.001 (two-tailed).
e research question (RQ1) addressed the relationship between using social
media for interactional purposes and expressing politically via social media. As pre-
sented in Table 3 those who use social media also for being in touch and interacting
with others tend to express themselves politically (β=.310, p<.001; ΔR2for “social
media use” =6.6%; model R2=23.2%), supporting our hypothesis. Nevertheless, to
more stringently test the relationship of all our variables of interest as a structure,
this study theorized a model (see Figure 1) by which the eect of informational
and interactional social media uses on oine and online political participation is
mediated through social media political expression. e MPLUS estimates of the
structural relationships among all these variables are shown in Figure 2. Overall, this
622 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
Table 3 Regression Model of Political Expression via Social Media
Social Media Political
Expression (Wave 2)
Step 1 Demographics
Age .183**
Gender (female) .040
Education .076
Race (white) .102#
Income .141*
ΔR26.4%
Step 2Political antecedents
Political ecacy .060
Strength of partisanship .001
ΔR21.4%
Step 2 Media use and discussion
Media use .101#
Discussion network size .194***
ΔR28.8%
Step 3 Social media uses
Social media use for news (Wave 1) .298***
Social media use for social interaction (Wave 1) .310***
ΔR26.6%
Tota l R223.2%
Note: Standardized regression coecients reported. N=312.
#p<.10. *p<.05. **p<.10. ***p<.001 (two-tailed).
model tted the data fairly well, yielding a χ2value of 1.69 with 3 degrees of freedom
(RMSEA (Root Mean Square Error of Approximation) =0.000, CFI (Comparative
Fit Index) =1.000, TLI (Tucker-Lewis Index) =1.001, SRMSR (Standardized Mean
Square Residual) =0.012). Since all the control variables were residualized on our
variables of interest, the variance explained for all three variables is smaller when
compared to the regression analyses: political expression (R2=6.7%), oine political
participation (R2=16.3%), and political participation online (R2=17.8%).
e relationships observed in Figure 2 support the view that both social media
use for news and social interactions contribute to individuals’ political expression
via the same medium, which in turn spurs political engagement oine and online.
Specically, individual dierences in social media use were positively associated with
expressing politically via social media (β=.164, p<.001forsocialmediausefor
news; β=.127, p<.05 for social media use for social interaction). Social media use
for news also has a direct positive eect in predicting oine political participation
(β=.107, p<.05). Similarly, data show that expressing politically via social media
is positively associated with participating politically oine (β=.387, p<.01) and
online (β=.432, p<.001). at is, respondents who frequently engaged in a political
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 623
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
RQ1
H1a
H3b
Social Media Use
News (Wave1)
Social Media Use
Social Interaction
(Wave1)
Ofine Political
Participation
(Wave2)
Online Political
Participation
(Wave2)
Social Media
Political Expression
(Wave2)
H1b
H2 H3a
Figure 1 eorized model of social media uses, social media political expression, and political
participation.
expressive communicative action through social media were more likely to exhibit
high levels of political engagement oine and on.
e SEM test also allowed us to shed light on the inuence of social media uses
on participatory behaviors by estimating direct and indirect paths through political
expression to political participation outcomes. In contrast to social media use for
news, which had a direct eect on political participation (oine), social media use
for social interactions had no signicant direct eect on either type of political par-
ticipation. However, both types of goals had a signicant indirect relationship with
.127
.107
.432
Social Media Use
News (Wave1)
Social Media Use
Social Interaction
(Wave1)
Ofine Political
Participation
(Wave2)
Online Political
Participation
(Wave2)
Social Media
Political Expression
(Wave2)
.164 .387
.603
Figure 2 Results of SEM model of social media uses, social media political expression, and
political participation. Note: Sample size =312. Path entries are standardized SEM coecients
(betas) at p<.05 or better. e eects of demographic variables (age, gender, education, race,
and income), political antecedents (political ecacy and strength of partisanship), media
use, and discussion network size (online and oine), on endogenous and exogenous vari-
ables have been residualized. Model goodness of t: χ2=1.69; df =3; p=.63; RMSEA =0.000,
CFI =1.000, TLI =1.001, SRMR =0.012. Explained variance of criterion variables: Political
expression R2=6.7%; Oine political participation R2=16.3%; Political participation online
R2=17.8%. is theoretical model was also bootstrapped based on the standard errors with
1,000 iterations, converging in 960 iterations and with a 95% condence interval.
624 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
Table 4 Indirect Eects of Social Media Use on Political Participation
Indirect Eects β
Social media news (Wave 1) Political expression (Wave
2)Political participation oine (Wave 2)
.059***
Social media news (Wave 1) Political expression (Wave 2)
Political participation online (Wave 2)
.065***
Social media/Social interaction (Wave 1) Political expression
(Wave 2)Political participation oine (Wave 2)
.046**
Social media/Social interaction (Wave 1) Political expression
(Wave 2)Political participation online (Wave 2)
.051**
Notes: Standardized regression coecients (β)reported.N=312.
*p<.05. **p<.01. ***p<.001 (two-tailed).
political participation oine and online through political expression. As reported in
Table 4, social media use for news (β=.059, p<.001; β=.065, p<.001) and for social
interaction (β=.046, p<.01; β=.051, p<.01) operated on political participation
oine and online via citizens’ expressive political participation behavior. ese
ndings match for the most part our theorized model described in Figure 1, with the
exception of the direct path drawn from social media use to political participation
online, which is completely mediated through expression. In fact this path yielded
the largest regression coecient (beta) among all the indirect eects (see Table 4).
Discussion
As social media continue to seamlessly integrate in people’s daily media choices, more
research also focuses on parsing out the eects of such use within the democratic
process.Inparticular,inthecontextofU.S.publicopinion,somestudieshavealready
established a connection between social media use and participation (Gil de Zúñiga,
Jung, & Valenzuela, 2012). ese empirical connections have also been observed in
international contexts (Bakker & de Vreese, 2011; Skoric, 2011; Valenzuela, Arriagada,
& Scherman, 2012) with similar results.
Overall, these studies called for new avenues for research in this area which
included (a) discerning between dierent patterns of use within dierent social
media sources, as well as (b) observing more nuanced and complex models that
would develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between social media and
political engagement.
is study represents a step further in this direction. It attempts to pursue both
suggestions by exploring new theoretical grounds that include distinguishing between
social media use for news seeking (i.e., being informed about current events and pub-
lic aairs), and using the medium for more socially oriented behavior (i.e., interacting
with friends and family or to feel more in touch with others in general). Furthermore,
the proposed theoretical model in this study also accounts for the eect of peoples
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 625
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
political expression through social media (i.e., posting personal experiences related
to politics or campaigning).
We rst theorized that, as expected according to previous research, individuals
whousesocialmediatobeinformedwillalsotendtobeinvolvedinpolitics,asa
direct eect. In fact, drawing on cross-lagged correlation results, the notion of a vir-
tuous circle might be taken for granted: People who get informed via Social Network
Sites tend to participate more, and participation also leads to information-seeking
behaviors. Nevertheless, according to these ndings from panel data, the causal rela-
tionship that goes from social media news use to participation is stronger than vice
versa. is indicates an asymmetrical reciprocal causation between media use and
participation (Rojas, 2006; Shah et al., 2005).
Wealsotheorizedthatthisrelationshipwillbemediatedviapoliticalexpression
in social media, considering studies showing that the act of expression tends to have
an eect on the one expressing a message. But perhaps more interestingly, this study
introduces another theoretical advancement. Although the use of social media for
social interaction may not have a direct eect on political participation, we posit
it would do so via political expression instead —a fully meditated relationship. e
rationale was that social media today allow for multiple connections to varied and dis-
tinctsocialrealms.Eachsocialgroupapersoninteractswithrepresentsanaudience
for the demonstration of self (Abercrombie & Longhurst, 1998), including aspects of
theselfthatexistonlyfororarepresentedonlytoaspecicaudience(Papacharissi,
2012). One of these notions of self could therefore be expressing your political self as
one more aspect of people’s digital personality and identity. e mechanism of this
eect is in the process of expression, wherein the expectation of expression and the
composition and transmission of a message may lead to changes in cognition (Pingree,
2007) and participation (Rojas & Puig-i-Abril, 2009).
e results of this study, especially the SEM test, show signicant connections
between social media use, political expression, and political participation. All pro-
posedpathwaysprovedsignicantexceptone,thedirectconnectionbetweensocial
media use for news and online political participation. ere may be at least two pos-
sible explanations for this result. First, this study was constructed in a conservative
manner, using many controls to isolate the eects of one variable on another with two
waves of panel data, which also lower considerably the sample size. e smaller sam-
plesizemayhaveleopenapossibilityforsignicanteectstonotbeobserved.But
we rather take the risk of committing a type II error than leaving important controls
out of the equation. A larger sample size or fewer or dierent controls may have pro-
duced a signicant direct relationship between social media use for news and online
political participation as well.
Another alternative possibility is that this particular relationship, of all those
described in the model, is exceptionally prone to being mediated by political
expression online. All three concepts (social media use for news, online political
expression, and online political participation) although theoretically distinct seem to
be complementary rather than exclusive. Because all these events occur in the same
626 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
context, and even potentially use the same tools (i.e., social media), it is likely that the
connection between social media use for news and online political participation is
more prone to mediation than other pathways in the model. In fact, an examination
of the direct eects of political expression on online participation registered the most
robust relationship in the SEM (β=.432, p<.001), and the indirect eect shows this
pathway (newsexpressionparticipation) to be the strongest of all the mediated
pathways, giving strength to this argument (β=.065, p<.001).
One more point to discuss may be one of the most theoretically noteworthy links
presented in this model. at is the novel link between social media use for social
interaction, and online political expression. is suggests that even relational use of
social media may be able to set users on a pathway toward political expression, which
in turn may lead to participation. Previous research has focused on informational
uses of media as the beginning of a pathway to participation, but this study suggests
thatotherusesofsocialmediaareconnectedtopoliticalexpression.ekeyele-
ments of social media platforms that allow this relationship to occur are their ability
(a) to provide a space for people to express themselves and create their own iden-
tity (which may include political expressiveness), and (b) to introduce people to new
social groups and to maintain connections to many groups and individuals at once,
something that is much more taxing to accomplish in a world without digital con-
nections. With this larger number of interpersonal connections and connections to
groups, users are likely to express more aspects of their personalities, and even poten-
tially develop new aspects in order to t into a larger number of social settings online.
For many people, one of these “faces of expression” that is performed (and thereby
developed) for others is a political face. And the more oen that practice is given, the
more a person may develop their political self, eventually leading to political action,
even outside the context of social media.
ese ndings are particularly important in an age of concern over the lack of
political interest and motivation to participate, especially among the youngest gen-
erations. Interestingly, it is these same generations who are the largest users of social
media and for whom it is a normal part of social life. Political discussion in person
and oine expression, while not being less important, may now be complemented
by supplemental paths to political involvement via social media. is supplementary
connection to political expression in social media use is promising for the develop-
ment of a politically active future, especially for younger people.
Overall, these ndings help to shed some light on the eects of social media use in
the democratic process. Nevertheless, there are a number of limitations to this study
that also merit attention. e data employed in this study is based on two-wave panel
data that may elicit a better causal inference. Even so, it also made our data some-
what less representative as respondents from the second wave are not exactly the same
subjects included in the rst wave who were selected to fairly represent the U.S. pop-
ulation (Wave 1: N=1,159 vs. Wave 2: N=312). It is a trade-o we were willing to
accept,giventheimportanceofsettingcausalbenchmarksforthesetypesofrelation-
ships in the context of literature scarcity when it comes to studies about social media
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 627
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
and politics. A related point to discuss lies on the relatively low retention rate between
data collection points (27%). e potential problem being that the dropouts may be
signicantly dierent than those who remained in the sample. Although we made
every eort to obtain the highest retention rate possible we understand this is a lim-
itation to this study. On the other hand, there was over a year’s dierence between
Wave 1 and Wave 2. Similar studies found the longer the period between data collec-
tions, the more likely attrition becomes. In retrospect, our study compares very well
in terms of retention rates with similar studies and time spans between waves (Wong,
Culhane, & Kuhn, 1997).
Our explanation of the overall model of theorized eects is limited by what mea-
sures were available at Time 1 and Time 2. Ideally, the model would use a measure of
political expression in Time 1 to predict political participation in Time 2, but such a
measurewasnotavailable.emodelwouldideallytreatexpressionasanantecedent
of participation, not merely as a concurrent eect. However, other studies have
shown this link eectively (Elin, 2003; Gil de Zúñiga, Veenstra, Vraga, & Shah, 2010;
Ostman, 2012), and this study aims to strengthen a dierent leg of the model: the
linkbetweenrelationalsocialmediauseandpoliticalexpressiononline.Forthis
reason it was important to measure relational social media use at Time 1 and political
expression at Time 2.
Another limitation to this study relates to the inherent multicollinearity problem
between our independent variables. Social media use for news and social interaction
were highly correlated. When introduced altogether as independent variables in a
general linear regression model, a variance ination factor test indicated a mild multi-
collinearity problem. us, we followed the suggestion of two distinct lines of scholar-
ship to prevent further issues of interpretation in our ndings. First, we introduced the
independent variables in distinct regression models to avoid multicollinearity issues
granted that the total variance explained by the controlling blocks in these dier-
ent models is similar, or also in order to introduce interaction term of independent
variables (Eveland & Scheufele, 2000). Additionally, we employed a SEM test, which
mayalsobeamoreappropriatetechniquetoavoidtypeIandIIerrorsduetomul-
ticollinearity (Kelava, Moosbrugger, Dimitruk, & Schermelleh-Engel, 2008). Despite
its limitations, this article advances our understanding of the eects of social media
uses in relation to political antecedents and participatory behaviors oine and online.
Futureresearchwoulddowelltoinvestigatepreciselyhowtheconnectionbetween
relational social media use and political expression works. A survey or other more
contextual observation of users’ actual activity (i.e., natural experiments) might pro-
duce alternative explanations for this connection. Furthermore, political expression
on social media sites may be dierent than expression in other settings. Users may eas-
ily forward or pass along messages that others have prepared, potentially eliminating
or at least limiting the eects of message composition. And even more subtle forms of
expression exist: Does liking someone’s post on Facebook constitute an expressive act,
and does it have the same eect as composing an original message and transmitting it
to others? Also, transmission and reception are decoupled in an online environment
628 Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association
H. Gil de Zúñiga et al. Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation
in a way that they are not during face-to-face communication, which may change
the eects of perceived reception and identiability (Pingree, 2007). In short, future
research should focus on the unique setting of online social media to determine path-
ways and mechanisms of eect in that realm.
isstudyprovidesanswerstocurrentquestionsinrelationtohowsocialmedia
useaectsthepoliticalrealm,andindoingso,italsoopenssomenewquandaries
that will need to be solved by future studies. For instance, what other mediating
mechanismsexertaninuenceonparticipation?Itisplausibletothinkthatpolitical
expression may lead individuals to further discuss politics, which in turn should also
spur further participation.
Social media are part of life for most Americans today. is study attempted to
register the eect of a medium that not only grows in popularity and penetration, but
also has a prominent position in explaining and inuencing the democratic process.
Notes
1 e formula for RR3 is (complete interviews)/(complete interviews +eligible
nonresponse +e(unknown eligibility)), where ewas estimated using the proportional
allocation method, that is, (eligible cases)/(eligible cases +ineligible cases).
2 For even more details on these datasets see authors’ publicationsbasedondataofwave1
such as 2010, 2011, 2012, or wave 2, 2012).
3 When conducting the analyses with MPLUS wealsoallowthesowaretohandlemissing
data encountered in our data by estimating means and intercepts for those missing cases
(for detailed explanations on how to work with missing values with structural equation
modeling SEM see Acock, 2005).
4 An avid reader of this study may note that our measurement for social media use for news
(4 items) included two items that may not entirely tap on sheer news consumption
behavior as they may be potentially registering users’ gratications. e four items (with
Cronbach α=.90) are as follows: (a) I use it to get news about current events from
mainstream media (such as CNN or ABC), (b) It allows me to stay informed about my
localcommunity,(c)Iuseittogetnewsaboutcurrenteventsthroughmyfriendsand
family, and (d) It helps me stay informed about current events and public aairs. To
further investigate the validity of this index, we conducted several analyses which pointed
a highly empirically and theoretically valid measurement (Clark & Watson, 1995). First,
data reduction tests resulted in a unique factor loading (with 78.9% of the variance being
explained). Additionally, an index reliability test showed that the scale would lose
structure validity if any of the items were to be deleted. Individual interitem correlations
also showed a robust correlation between them (i.e., r=.76 between items a and b; or
r=.77 between items a and d).
5 Both of the above participation measures include items that may be understood as
expression (items 2 and 3 in oine, and 1 and 5 in online), but they are used as
participatory measures for two reasons. First, they have been frequently used in previous
research as measures of political participation (see for instance McLeod et al., 1999;
Campbell & Kwak, 2010). Second, we reason that interaction through ocial channels ts
better conceptually with Bennett’s “dutiful citizenship” model rather than the more
expressive “actualizing” model (2011).
Journal of Communication 64 (2014) 612– 634 © 2014 International Communication Association 629
Social Media, Political Expression, and Participation H. Gil de Zúñiga et al.
6 e authors also tried recoding the values over a specic threshold into a single category.
For four dierent thresholds (10, 20, 25, and 30), the relationship between the
transformed variable and the dependent variables did not change signicantly. To avoid
the inherent arbitrariness of picking a threshold value, we opted for a logarithmic
transformation, although we recognize that this makes the numbers of the variable less
interpretable. Additionally, this variable was incorporated into our theoretical model
(residualized in the structural equation modeling) to control for potential confounding
eects.
7 Pleasealsonotethatanotheralternativemethodtoovercomeproblemsinaregression
model with highly correlated independent variables is based on partial least squares (PLS)
regression analyses or projection of latent structures,whichpreventpotential
multicollinearity issues. However, this study does not include this alternative strategy
since it may be less interpretable, as it is solely based on independent latent variables,
which are based on cross-product relations with the response variables, not based on
covariances among the manifest independents (Wold, 1980).
8 Since oine participation was measured with dierent scales between Time 1 and Time
2, we converted both variables into z-score indexes to compare equally constructed
variables. Online political participation and social media use for news were identically
measured.
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... This relationship varies depending on the type of informational use; reception, following or dissemination (Hyun & Kim, 2015). Likewise, the social use of these platforms is related to each citizen's propensity to express political opinions (Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2014), and the political use of these tools is an important predictor of online and offline engagement (Bode et al., 2014;Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2014;Valenzuela et al., 2009;Yang & DeHart, 2016). ...
... This relationship varies depending on the type of informational use; reception, following or dissemination (Hyun & Kim, 2015). Likewise, the social use of these platforms is related to each citizen's propensity to express political opinions (Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2014), and the political use of these tools is an important predictor of online and offline engagement (Bode et al., 2014;Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2014;Valenzuela et al., 2009;Yang & DeHart, 2016). ...
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