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Presidential Candidates Focus on Character Through Use Headline of Facebook and MySpace, says MU Researcher

Nov. 13, 2007

Story Contact:  Bryan C. Daniels, Contact phone,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As a result of the popularity of “social networking” Web sites MySpace and Facebook, it comes as no surprise that presidential candidates are reaching out to perspective voters through the use of  technology.          

 William Benoit, communication professor in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and graduate students Leslie Rill and Anji Phillips, recently studied the emerging trend by examining candidate-created Facebook and MySpace sites. Combined, the sites receive about 150 million visits each month. 

 Here is what they found:

  •  99 percent of the statements on Facebook were positive, compared to 88 percent on MySpace. Benoit said this means that so far in this campaign, candidate pages on the social networking sites were more positive than their statements in primary debates. About 70 percent of candidate debate statements were positive (and primary television spots from 1952 through 2004 were about 70 percent positive).
  •  Overall, the candidates on Facebook and MySpace stressed character more than policy. On each site, he said, Republicans stressed character more than Democrats. In contrast, during primary debates, Democrats and Republicans discussed policy more than character (although Democrats in primary debates emphasized policy even more than Republicans in debates). Historically (1952 through 2004), presidential primary candidates stressed policy more than character (54 to 46 percent) in their television spots. Once again, Democrats tend to emphasize policy more than Republicans in primary television spots.
  •  The candidates’ Facebook and MySpace sites also were relatively brief: an average of nine to 31 statements per candidate appeared on these Web sites. In fact, the Facebook pages had less content than the MySpace pages. The Democratic candidates’ primary Web pages in 2004, in contrast, averaged 430 statements each.
     “The candidates may be adapting their messages to the audiences who are likely to frequent these social networking Web pages,” Benoit said. “These Facebook and MySpace pages tend to be relatively short and more positive. By focusing less on policy, they address character more than other kinds of candidate messages.”
     The study examined Facebook and MySpace pages by Democrats Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson and Republicans Sam Brownback, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo and Fred Thompson.