Elad Klein, Joshua Robison | Political Communication
There is much discussion about the potential negative effects of social media use on people’s political attitudes. But, does social media use shape trust in government? We use evidence from the 2012 and 2016 ANES as well as the 2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll to test competing expectations regarding this question: that social media polarizes versus de-polarizes trust judgments across partisan lines. Our analyses provide greater support for the expectation of polarization. We then unpack the potential mechanisms behind these findings. We use the number of “stealth” issue campaigns targeted to the respondent’s state in 2016 as a proxy for the amount of political conflict the respondent was likely to have experienced when using social media during the 2016 Presidential election. Notably, we find that polarization is substantially impacted by the nature of the voter’s broader political environment. These findings are consequential for our understanding of how social media influences public opinion and draws attention to the role of the broader political context for this relationship.