Joan Balcells, Ana Sofía Cardenal: The influence of the Internet on voting behaviour

Notes from the research seminar The influence of the Internet on voting behaviour: tracking ERC’s massive vote loss in the 2010 Catalan Elections, organized by Joan Balcells and Ana Sofía Cardenal, Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 1 December 2011.

Joan Balcells, Ana Sofía Cardenal
The influence of the Internet on voting behaviour: tracking ERC’s massive vote loss in the 2010 Catalan Elections

(A former version of this seminar was presented as a communication at the 6th ECPR General Conference as The Internet’s Double Edge: Increasing Mobilisation and Fragmentation in the Catalan Pro-Independence Movement .)

Data from the Catalan elections in 2006 and 2010 show that there was an important shift of voters from the main Catalan political parties towards (a) other minor/new parties, (b) Convergència i Unió (CiU, the right wing nationalist party) and (b) abstention, with minor shifts from major parties towards other major parties (e.g. PSC towards PP).

Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, the main Catalan left-wing nationalist pro-independence party) is the one that loses more voters, losing them in benefit of many other parties: other nationalist parties, other left-wing parties, ERC spin-offs, and abstention.

What is the role of the Internet in this vote drain? General hypotheses:

  • Normalization hypothesis: the Internet is yet another communication media, where big parties have more resources and, thus, benefit more from the Internet.
  • Equalization hypothesis: the Internet is a different communication media and, thus, provides new opportunities to those who know how to manage the Internet to reach out.

Web analytics (Alexa) show that small parties did have lots of visits on their websites. Indeed, Solidaritat Catalana (one of ERC’s spin-offs) had more visits than ERC, and ERC had more than CiU. In many cases within small parties, only the website would provide full information about their policy proposals, implying that people would often visit the website to get what was behind a simple message (unlike major parties, whose messages were given fully by traditional media).

Working hypotheses:

  • Exposure to political information online will reduce the likelihood of voting again for ERC.
  • Greater exposure to political information online will have no effect on probability of abstaining.
  • Greater exposure to political information online will increase the likelihood of voting for small and fringe parties, while offline exposure to political information will increase the probability of voting for large parties (equalization vs. normalization).

Dependent variable: vote 2010. Independent variables: media environment (online and offline exposure), acceptance/resistance of new political messages (political interest and party identification), controls (support for independence, age).

Results

It does not seem that exposure to political information online reduced the likelihood of voting again for ERC, while greater exposure to political information online didn’t seem to have an effect on the probability of abstaining.

On the other hand, online exposure significantly increased the odds of voting for Solidaritat Catalana, as did identifying oneself with ERC and stating support for independence. That is, former self-identified ERC-voters with high online exposure were more likely to vote for Solidaritat Catalana. Indeed, the more the online exposure, the higher the likelihood of vote drain from ERC to Solidaritat Catalana. Thus, the Internet will be playing an equalizer role.

  • Online exposure plays no role in the probability of voting again for ERC.
  • Being exposed to online political information has no significant effect on the probability of abstaining.
  • Being exposed to offline political information does not increase the probability of voting for CiU.
  • Being exposed to online political information increases the probability of voting for Solidaritat Catalana.