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ANES launches new study on social media and public opinion

May 19 2020

Facebook has provided a $351,000 gift to the American National Election Studies (ANES) to gather data on an important topic pertaining to the American electorate: what is the nature of the relationship between social media usage and public opinion? This survey will augment the data collected by the primary ANES study, which is carried out during the years of US presidential elections to inform explanations of election outcomes.

The gift funds will be used to carry out a two-wave, web-based survey sampling the national electorate, a large proportion of which will be Facebook users. The objective of the study is to connect social media usage with political attitudes and behavior.  "By linking what happens in an individual's Facebook newsfeed over the course of the 2020 presidential campaign with changes in their political attitudes and voting behavior, we hope to shed light on the mechanisms underlying important outcomes including polarization, misinformation, and support for democratic norms," said Shanto Iyengar, co-PI of the ANES at the Stanford Institute for Research in the Social Sciences and professor of political science. Data collection is scheduled to begin in June, with a follow up after the election this November.

The data from both waves of the survey will be released to the public as stand-alone datasets on the ANES’s Data Center webpage. Additionally, the ANES team will produce datasets that link the survey data to respondents' social media usage (provided by Facebook). However, these will only be accessible through the Social Science One interface, which requires prospective users to go through a formal application process to use the data.

Data collection for the primary ANES survey will begin in August, and has two components: a web-based survey and face-to-face interviews, the latter of which has been the centerpiece of the ANES since 1948. COVID-19 poses challenges for this in-person portion, and the ANES team is currently redesigning this part of the study. Matthew DeBell, director of the ANES’s Stanford operations, explained “we are actively exploring the use of video interviews, which can provide many of the same benefits as face-to-face interviews in terms of participant engagement, while being affordable and safe during a pandemic.” The multimodal data collection will run through the end of the year to interview the same respondents twice, once before the election and again afterwards. 

The ANES is a joint collaboration between the University of Michigan (U-M) and Stanford University; U-M administers the in-person portion of the ANES, while Stanford IRiSS runs the online component of the study.

To learn more about the ANES, visit the study website.