Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Are Online Political Influencers Accelerating Democratic Deconsolidation?

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Abstract:  Social media campaigning is increasingly linked with anti-democratic outcomes, with concerns to date centring on paid adverts, rather than organic content produced by a new set of online political influencers. This study systematically compares voter exposure to these new campaign actors with candidate-sponsored ads, as well as established and alternative news sources during the US 2020 presidential election. Specifically, we examine how far higher exposure to these sources is linked with key trends identified in the democratic deconsolidation thesis. We use data from a national YouGov survey designed to measure digital campaign exposure to test our hypotheses. Findings show that while higher exposure to online political influencers is linked to more extremist opinions, followers are not disengaging from conventional politics. Exposure to paid political ads, however, is confirmed as a potential source of growing distrust in political institutions.

Keywords:  democratic deconsolidation; digital campaigning; micro-influencers; online election; online influencers; social media



© Rachel Gibson, Esmeralda Bon, Philipp Darius, Peter Smyth. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.