Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

The Relationship Between Topics, Negativity, and User Engagement in Election Campaigns on Facebook

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Abstract:  Negativity is a common feature of current online political communication during elections. Previous studies on negativity and its impact on user engagement focused mainly on Western European countries. Considering the political particularities of the Central and Eastern European countries, the present study focused on Czechia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, and Romania, where national election campaigns took place from 2020 to 2022. We aimed to investigate comparatively different topics prevalent in the negative messages and look at users’ engagement with negative communication. We applied manual content analysis of N = 4,095 Facebook posts published four weeks before the elections by political parties elected in the national parliament. Results showed significant differences across countries using negative messages and the associated topics. The posts’ highest rate of negative statements was identified in Czechia (52%), while the lowest was in Lithuania (17%). There are topics consistently associated with negative statements across most countries, such as corruption, economy and finance, foreign policy, labor, and social issues. However, given that those elections took place during the Covid-19 pandemic in Czechia, Lithuania, Romania, and the Republic of Moldova and, in Hungary, after Russia invaded Ukraine, we also identified contextual topics such as health, war, and conflicts with other countries and defense that were mainly associated with negative messages. Furthermore, negative posts generate more reactions and comments than posts containing no negative statements. Addressing foreign policy in negative posts generates significantly more reactions and comments.

Keywords:  campaign topics; Central Europe; Eastern Europe; Facebook; national elections; negative campaign; user engagement

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.8098


© Delia Cristina Balaban, Alena Macková, Krisztina Burai, Tamara Grechanaya, Dren Gërguri. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.