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Abstract

Political communications is an underdeveloped area of research in Ireland. There is no precise definition of political communications as the topic has developed as an ‘interdisciplinary endeavor, drawing on theoretical, philosophical, and practical foundations of diverse disciplines of study, including communication, political science, history, psychology, and sociology, among others’ (Miller and McKerrow, 2010: 61–2). Nimmo and Sanders (1981: 12) describe political communications as ‘one of three intervening processes (political leadership, and group structures being the other two) by means of which political influences are mobilized and transmitted between formal governmental institutions, on the one hand, and citizens voting behavior, on the other’. Web 2.0 possesses the potential for new kinds of interaction between political parties and voters. This is critical in light of Putnam’s (1995a, 1995b) argument that traditional media reduces the amount of time people spend engaging with politics. Thus, political communications has never been more important, yet many political scientists have pointed to the falling levels of political interest, electoral turnout, participation and trust in the system (Dalton, 2007; Ward and Gibson, 2009). However, ‘if political organizations can present politics in ways that are more relevant to voters, the current decline in their political interest levels may be slowed, stopped, or perhaps even reversed’ (Lupia and Philpot, 2005: 1123). Here we examine the use of a specific aspect of the internet, social network sites (SNS), by the campaign of candidate Seán Gallagher in the Irish presidential election of 2011. Internationally there is a growing body of literature on the role played by SNSs in election campaigns, from studies in the United States (US) by Williams and Gulati (2007; 2008) and (Zhang et al., 2010), to studies in the United Kingdom (UK) by Chadwick (2011) and in Germany by Jungherr et al., (2012). As such, this research aims to expand our understanding of the use of SNS in an Irish electoral context. The fact that we are examining the use of SNS in a presidential election campaign means that the perspective is focused on the national as opposed to the constituency level.

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