Does Social Media Promote Civic Activism? A Field Experiment with a Civic Campaign (Draft, September 2019)

Florian Foos, Lyubomir Kostadinov, Nikolay Marinov and Frank Schimmelfennig

Social media may help civil society organize and mobilize for different campaigns. However, the extent to which social media campaigns simply recruit like-minded individuals as compared to exerting a causal impact on joiners' attitudes is difficult to disentangle. We test both the organizational and transformative potential of a civil society campaign in a randomized field experiment deployed via Facebook or an email newsletter in collaboration with a Bulgarian environmental campaign. As expected, we find that Bulgarian Facebook users who are active in pro-environmental groups, and those who decide to follow the campaign, are more highly educated than those who decide to stay at the sidelines. Moreover, beliefs in the effectiveness of civic society, character traits, and prior activism systematically predict whether a Bulgarian Facebook user decides to join the cause on Facebook, or subscribe to the email newsletter. In contrast, we find little evidence that the campaign affected opinions, knowledge, or self-reported behavior. We conclude that social media campaigns that are commonplace among civil society organisations are effective at selecting activist-types, but changing the views and behaviors of the broader social media population may be more difficult than assumed.

Does Exposure to Gender Role Models Increase Women’s Political Ambition? A field experiment with politicians (Journal of Experimental Political Science, First View)

Florian Foos and Fabrizio Gilardi

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There is a persistent gender gap in motivations to run for political office. While exposure to role models is widely believed to increase women’s political ambition, there is little field experimental evidence on whether exposure to female politicians in realistic settings can increase political ambition. We conducted a field experiment in which a sample of 612 female students was randomly assigned to receive emails inviting them to an event which included career workshops with female politicians, or no email. The treatment increased interest in the ongoing national election campaign, but against expectations, did not have any positive effect on political ambition. Our results suggest that female politicians who discuss their experience bluntly instead of following a motivational script may fail to motivate other women to pursue a political career. These results highlight the need for more research into the type of events and messages which bring more women into politics.

Mobilizing Party Activism: A Field Experiment with Party Members and Sympathizers (Draft, August 2018)

Giordano Neuenschwander and Florian Foos

Electoral mobilization and persuasion are often characterized as two-stage processes, where parties mobilize their core supporters, who then mobilize and persuade larger shares of the electorate. While there is a lot of research on the second stage of this process, the mobilization and persuasion of the wider electorate by party activists, there is little causally identified evidence on whether party elites can encourage campaign activism among party members. To address this question, we conducted a randomized field experiment in cooperation with the Swiss Social Democratic Party in the context of the 2015 cantonal elections in Ticino. The experiment consisted of the randomized administration of mobilization telephone calls to members and strong supporters of the party, while their self-reported campaign activism and attitudes towards the campaign were measured in a two-wave online panel survey. Against expectations, we record small, negative effects on different measures of campaign activism including on the mobilization of relatives, and friends. The results raise important questions about omitted variable bias in observational studies of party activism that consistently report significant positive effects of party contact on the campaign activism of members and core voters.