Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Mass Communication and Media Arts
U.S. politics, media, and citizens are highly polarized, stipulating that society is divided between Democrats and Republicans (Hameleers, 2019). The U.S. has seen an increased political polarization over the past 25 years (Heltzel & Laurin, 2020; Westfall, Van Boven, Chambers, & Judd, 2015). Technological development in the campaign environment has fueled this political polarization (Hong & Kim, 2016). In such a polarized technological society, partisan news media cover political issues and events from their ideological perspective (Arceneaux, Johnson, & Murphy, 2012), which may affect the polarized citizens.The Republican Party is conservative, while the Democratic Party is liberal (Westfall, Van Boven, Chambers, & Judd, 2015). Each party has issue agendas that they prioritize during the campaign. When political campaigns post a message on social media, they not only post just one issue but several related issues. These interlinked issues have a networked effect on the partisan news media and the polarized citizens (McCombs, Shaw, & Weaver, 2014). How political campaigns interlinked different issue agendas during campaigns in a polarized environment has not been investigated. This study intends to see the similarities and dissimilarities between the Democratic and Republican Party issue networks using a network agenda setting theory during the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign and how they build and set networked issue agendas in the partisan news media and the polarized public on Facebook. The study uses a hybrid content analysis and network analysis of issue agendas presented by the Biden and Trump campaigns, partisan media (CNN and Fox News), and the Democratic Party and the Republican Party supporters on Facebook. Facebook posts are collected using Facebook’s CrowdTangle Search option from January 1, 2021, to November 3, 2020. This study uses a hybrid content analysis method which engages with both human coders and computational means to analyze big data sets (Guo et al., 2016). The data analysis involves measuring core-periphery block model, clique analysis, network visualization, and Quadratic Assignment Procedures (QAP). A social networking analysis software, UCINET, is used for measuring core-periphery block model, clique analysis, and QAP correlations(Borgatti, Everett, & Johnson, 2018). The scholarship of political campaign communication needs to reconnect to the ideological positions of political campaigns, partisan news media, and party supporters. This holistic study is significant in terms of better understanding the mechanism of networked agenda-setting activities of presidential campaigns in a polarized environment on Facebook. Methodologically, this study offers new techniques for investigating networked issue agendas of campaigns, news media, and citizens. It uses core-periphery block model and clique analysis as indicators of network agenda building and network agenda-setting influences. Social media practitioners like campaign managers can consider the political polarization, fragmented nature of social media, and polarized audience during political campaigning.
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