Does Social Media Promote Civic Activism? A Field Experiment with a Civic Campaign (Draft, May 2018)

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 on Facebook 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, believes 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, but not whether a user selects to sign-up to receive the same information via an email newsletter. In contrast, we find little evidence that the campaign affected opinions, knowledge, or self-reported behavior. We conclude that low profile social media campaigns are effective at selecting activist-types, but changing the views and behaviors of the broader social media population may be more difficult than assumed.


Can Exposure to Role Models Decrease Women’s Political Ambition?
(Draft, June 2018)

Florian Foos and Fabrizio Gilardi

One of the main reasons for the continued underrepresentation of women in politics is the persistent gender gap in the motivation to run for office Exposure to role models is widely believed to increase women’s political ambition. We show that this view is incomplete because it fails to account for mechanisms highlighted in related fields such as economics and psychology. When role models share their experiences candidly, they can decrease political ambition, by reinforcing perceptions of the challenges women encounter in a political career. We conducted a field experiment in which students were invited to participate in workshops led by female politicians. Against expectations, the treatment increased interest in the ongoing national election campaign, but did not have any positive effect on political ambition, and possibly decreased it. This study demonstrates the need for a new line of research into gender role models in politics.


Mobilizing Party Activism: A Field Experiment with Party Members and Sympathizers (Draft, March 2016)

Giordano Neuenschwander and Florian Foos

Electoral mobilization is often characterized as a two-stage process, in which parties mobilize their core supporters, who then mobilize a larger share of the electorate. It is, however, still unclear whether mobilization in the context of electoral campaigns can affect the campaign activism of core supporters. 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 the Swiss state of Ticino. The experiment consisted in the randomized administration of mobilization telephone calls to a sample of 258 members and sympathizers of the party, while their opinions and self-reported campaign activism were monitored by means of an online panel survey. Against expectations, we find that phone calls appear to have been ineffective -- and at worst -- might have backfired, since we consistently 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 campaign activism of core voters.