Using Social Media Data to Analyse Issue Engagement During the 2017 German Federal Election
A fundamental tenet of democracy is that political parties present policy alternatives, such that the public can participate in the decision-making process. Parties, however, strategically control public discussion by emphasising topics that they believe will highlight their strengths in voters’ minds. Political strategy has been studied for decades, mostly by manually annotating and analysing party statements, press coverage, or TV ads. Here we build on recent work in the areas of computational social science and eDemocracy, which studied these concepts computationally with social media. We operationalize issue engagement and related political science theories to measure and quantify politicians’ communication behavior using more than 366k Tweets posted by over 1,000 prominent German politicians in the 2017 election year. To this end, we first identify issues in posted Tweets by utilising a hashtag-based approach well known in the literature. This method allows several prominent issues featuring in the political debate on Twitter that year to be identified. We show that different political parties engage to a larger or lesser extent with these issues. The findings reveal differing social media strategies by parties located at different sides of the political left-right scale, in terms of which issues they engage with, how confrontational they are and how their strategies evolve in the lead-up to the election. Whereas previous work has analysed the general public’s use of Twitter or politicians’ communication in terms of cross-party polarisation, this is the first study of political science theories, relating to issue engagement, using politicians’ social media data.