Presidential Campaigning and Social Media: An Analysis of the 2012 Campaign. Edited by John Allen Hendricks and Dan Schill. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 320 pp.
The 2012 contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was not the first U.S. presidential campaign in which social media played a role. In 2008, political activists blogged about the presidential race while the candidates, particularly Obama, reached out to potential young voters via Facebook and YouTube. By 2012, however, social media's reach had exploded with the emergence of sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Social media moved to center stage as the candidates, the news media, and the public used these digital communication platforms to strategize, share information, and express opinions.
In Presidential Campaigning and Social Media, John Allen Hendricks and Dan Schill set out to "empirically examine, describe, and analyze the role of social media in the 2012 campaign" (p. 3). Their edited volume contains 17 chapters grouped into five sections: political communication, political knowledge, the presidential primary elections, the general election, and voter/media engagement. The empirical research in those chapters features a mix of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, leaning heavily toward the latter. Nonacademic audiences might find the book intimidating, but academics will appreciate its methodological rigor.
Hendricks and Schill have assembled an impressive lineup of 35 contributors. Equally impressive is the scope of the volume. Rather than focusing on a single candidate, a single campaign, or a single form of social media, the editors have compiled a comprehensive overview of the role of various social media in both the Republican primaries and in the general election. Individual chapters draw upon communication theories, such as uses and gratifications and the spiral of silence, to investigate how social media were used by the political campaigns and by citizens as well as the platforms' effects on political knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.
The research orientation is a welcome break from popular accounts that rely on anecdotal evidence or make inflated claims about the impact of social media. Presidential Campaigning and Social Media cuts through the hype and avoids sweeping generalizations about whether social media are good or bad. Indeed, many of the findings are decidedly mixed. For example, Paul Haridakis, Gary Hanson, Mei-Chen Lin...