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PoliSci Senior Examines the Effect of Social Media on Presidential Election

Rachel Norton ’17
Rachel Norton ’17

Making sense of internet behavior can be one of the most ambitious undertakings of the digital age, and Keene State Political Science major Rachel Norton ’17 succeeded in the undertaking. Her research gave her an opportunity to take her findings to the Midwest Political Science Association Conference this spring.

Norton studied the connection between the use of social media and participation in the 2016 presidential election. “Most existing research states that those who use online social networking and media sites will be most involved in political processes, but there’s also research that shows that the generation that participates the least is millennials. These are people who use social networking most. So, I researched the types of social networking that best represented a mobilization effect on voting in 2016,” said Norton.

Norton found that sites that require the user to provide the most active engagement led to political participation. “I found that Facebook is the best mobilizer, because it requires engaged action and effort on the users’ part. This indicates behavior that seems to lead to voting. And LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Twitter were negligible in their results,” said Norton.

As for presenting her research at the conference in Chicago, Norton said that she was surprised at the number of people who were interested in engaging with her during her two-hour poster presentation. “I thought I was going to have to wait for people to come and discuss my research but I was constantly talking to people and explaining my research,” she said. “There was a lot of interest because of the setting that I was in, everyone was there to learn more. It was nice to be surrounded by people who share common interests and the zeal for learning.”

While at the conference, Norton made several contacts from across the country who were interested in her research for a number of reasons. “Three professors from schools across the country took my research and said they wanted to incorporate it into the classroom, either to inspire their students to conduct similar research or to show them my results,” said Norton. “It’s nice to have something tangible to look at and explain that there might be a correlation between social networking and political participation.”

Norton received assistance from multiple sources on campus to make her trip to Chicago possible. First and foremost, her professors Mike Welsh and Philip Barker helped her to formulate her research and compile her findings into a coherent presentation. Another source of help from on-campus was the Center for Creative Inquiry that provided a grant to Norton to fund her trip to Chicago.

“Junior year, I worked with Professor Welsh in my Writing and Research course. He helped me with fleshing out questions like who I should be targeting as survey respondents and the ways you conduct a survey anonymously and collect the results,” said Norton. “Professor Barker, my advisor, helped me with the SBSS statistics and compiling them so I could make sense of it and write my final paper.”