Are active citizens on the Internet more politically radical?

Electoral uses of the Internet and social media were especially controlled during the pre-first round campaign. New platforms, such as TikTok and Twitch, have invested heavily in reaching the youngest, and some candidates appear to have performed better than others, particularly Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Éric Zemmour. In this sense, studies show that Internet activism is often structured for ideological reasons and is higher at the extremes of the political spectrum. Hence the question: Are active citizens on the Internet more politically radical than all voters?

Are active citizens on the Internet more radical?

In France, electoral uses of the Internet and social media have developed since the 2012 presidential election. However, they remain relatively small. The figures presented in Figure 1 below and collected during the first week of January testify to this:

Figure 1. Number of likes and comments on the candidates’ Twitter and Facebook posts during the first week of January 2022. Among the candidates present in the first round, only Jean Lassalle does not appear in this table.
Data People2022

Subsequent comments on candidates’ messages are still relatively few on both Twitter and Facebook. Thus, if Jean-Luc Mélenchon collects 23,491 and 126,465 comments, respectively, making him the most commented candidate, these figures remain relatively modest if they relate to the number of voters registered on the electoral rolls, or even to the number of registrants. on social media in France (40 million monthly Facebook users, 8 on Twitter, 22 on Instagram, 50 on YouTube).

Above all, some candidates only receive a few hundred comments, or even less. Even if we look at the number of likes, a less expensive practice for Internet users than comments, reactions to candidates’ messages are still relatively rare, especially when compared to their number of subscribers. To give just a few examples, the likes collected by Emmanuel Macron on Twitter during the first week of January represent only 2.6% of his subscribers, those received by Jean-Luc Mélenchon 4.4%, those received by Marine Le Pen 1.8% and those received by Anne Hidalgo 0.8%.

However, some candidates provoke more reactions than others and, except in the case of the outgoing president, the candidates who receive the most interactions (likes and comments) are far-right candidates (Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour , Nicolas Dupont-). Aignan) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who tends to support the idea that citizens mobilized on the Internet express more radical and polarized electoral choices than the general electoral population.

Why these differences in Internet activity?

We know that citizens who are politically active on the Internet have different characteristics: they are more interested in politics, are more educated, and are younger than average. Except for age, they actually look a lot like “offline” active citizens. These political practices are also strongly intertwined: in 2012, for example, voters who attended a meeting were also among the most active on the Internet.

But we also know – and above all – that, after controlling gender, age, level of education, professional status and interest in politics, the politically active individuals on the Internet in 2012, those who went consult a candidate’s website or Facebook page during the 2015 regional election, or even those who followed a candidate on the Internet during the 2017 presidential campaign, or are significantly more left-wing or , to a certain extent, weaker, more to the right, than the rest of the citizens. This is especially the case when the intensity of Internet activism is lower, as during the 2015 regional elections.

Table 1 below completes this picture by showing that, between those who declare themselves far to the left and those who declare themselves far to the right on the political spectrum, there are, however, differences in the networks in which they choose to be active.

Table 1. Content related to the 2022 presidential election has been viewed, shared, shared on social media over the past 7 days (in%) Scope: all respondents (N = 1619) Tips of reading: within 7 In the last 7 days before the administration of the questionnaire, 9.4% of people who declare themselves at the center consulted, liked or shared content related to the 2022 presidential election on a private network ( WhatsApp, for example).
French Electoral Study 2022, Wave 1 (November-December 2021), CDSP, Provided by the author

If Facebook seems to be mobilized both on the far right and by individuals who declare themselves far from the left, there are, however, differences from other social networks, much more used on the far right.

The gap is very large on Twitter: only 2.5% of individuals who declare themselves to be very left-wing claim to have consulted, shared, “liked” or commented on the contents of this platform during the seven days prior to the survey. This figure is four times higher among those far to the right (12%), possibly underlining the intense activism of Eric Zemmour’s supporters on this platform.

Finally, we note that the sociology of partisan organizations offers an additional explanation to that mentioned above: unlike parties structured in currents or trends, far-right parties, more centralized and formed around a charismatic leader, they may have less difficulty conceiving a unitary discourse and disseminating it on the Internet through their militant bases.

Based on these results, and although the influence of social media on the end result of an election must be put into perspective, we can expect voters who support Emmanuel Macron to mobilize less strongly on the Internet. than far-right voters. – although he is the incumbent president and his digital strategy will take this parameter into account. Similarly, during the legislative elections, we can again expect excessive investment in social media by citizens who express more polarized political preferences than the electorate as a whole.

This article was co-published as part of the partnership with Polyverse, which provides information on the running and conduct of the presidential election..

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