Interpersonal communication and opinion leadership in the context of the 2009 German federal election - How the Internet raises the bar for most, but lowers it for some; and how ideas seem to flow from the Internet to the general public via opinion leaders

Professorship/Faculty: Fakultät Sozial- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften: Abschlussarbeiten 
Author(s): Odefey, Max Andreas
Publisher Information: Bamberg : opus
Year of publication: 2012
Pages / Size: 241 Bl. : Ill., graph. Darst.
Supervisor(s): Schoen, Harald
Language(s): English
Bamberg, Univ., Diss., 2012
URN: urn:nbn:de:bvb:473-opus4-4266
Document Type: Doctoralthesis
This study investigates how political interpersonal communication and opinion leadership on the Internet differ from face-to-face interaction. Based on evidence from a survey conducted on the largest online social network in Germany at the time of the 2009 federal election, the characteristics, sources and perceived influence of those conversing about politics online and offline are juxtaposed.
The data reveals that, in aggregate, differences present in face-to-face discussions are amplified when people communicate online. Particularly those who are less active political discussants regard the Internet as a rather unpolitical medium. Only very few people who refrain from influencing others face-to-face act as opinion leaders on the Internet. In fact, it seems that online opinion leadership is primarily a consequence of offline opinion leadership.
At the same time, the analysis shows that aggregate data pointing to a reinforcement of differences online is insufficient for refuting the mobilising power of the Internet. The small number of online discussants and online opinion leaders who are not active face-to-face are characterised by especially low levels of internal efficacy and political interest, suggesting that the Internet provides a space for political interaction for some of those who are less confident in political matters.
Finally, the results demonstrate that people consider face-to-face discussions to have a considerably higher impact on their political views than interpersonal communication on the Internet and that opinion leaders make disproportionately more use of campaign information on the Internet than non-leaders. Since opinion leaders probably draw on the political information they have gathered online when they influence the views of others, Lazarsfeld et al.’s (1944) Two-Step Flow Model seems to play a role in the dissemination of online campaign information. A noteworthy part of the campaign information available on the Internet probably reaches the general public via face-to-face conversations with opinion leaders. And, as these discussions have such a crucial impact on people’s political views, the Internet’s influence on political opinion formation is likely to be more significant than suggested by the comparison of direct effects.
SWD Keywords: Bundestagswahl ; Geschichte 2009 ; Interpersonale Kommunikation ; Meinungsführer ; Internet ; Online-Publikation
Keywords: Opinion Leadership, Interpersonal political discussion
DDC Classification: 320 Political Science 
RVK Classification: MG 15460   
MG 15120   
Release Date: 9. May 2012

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