Community Partisanship: How Local Processes Produce National Politics

Social Data Dissertation Fellowship

Abstract

How does place continue to matter for politics in an era of social media politicking? Although the concepts of red and blue states are familiar to most Americans, we have little understanding of how that patchwork emerges from the everyday processes and interactions of the people who live within it. We know even less about how local politics are being transformed as political discourse moves more and more online. To understand how local contexts produce the geography of American politics even as social interaction becomes increasingly virtual, my dissertation follows three communities through the 2020 presidential campaign. They are similar Midwestern towns located in predominantly rural counties, and yet they vote for opposing parties in presidential elections: one is staunchly Democratic, another is devoutly Republican, and a third has a voting history that is more mixed. What is it about these communities that continues to influence similar people to vote differently? How is political engagement on social media perpetuating or eroding the role of community life in shaping residents’ political behavior? To answer these questions, this study has three key components: longitudinal interviews of voters at five points during the 2020 campaign; comparative case selection that allows for evaluation across the three communities; and social media analysis exploring how voters are interacting with local social media discourses during the campaign. The results of this research will shed light on how a social media-based political environment is reshaping the role of place in American politics.

Research Team

Principal Investigator

Stephanie Ternullo

PhD Candidate, University of Chicago

  • Bio ▾

    Stephanie Ternullo is a PhD candidate in the sociology department at the University of Chicago, specializing in political and urban sociology. Ternullo is particularly interested in how place matters for political outcomes. How do the communities where people live shape the way they understand national politics? And how does place continue to matter for politics in an era of social media politicking? Although the concepts of red and blue states are familiar to most Americans, we have little understanding of how that patchwork emerges from everyday interactions. We know even less about how the relationship between those interactions and political understandings are transformed as political discourse becomes increasingly virtual. To understand how local contexts continue to produce the geography of American politics, Ternullo’s dissertation follows three Midwestern communities during the 2020 presidential cycle, drawing on multiple methods and data sources. Ternullo uses quantitative methods to identify field sites, qualitative and quantitative methods of analyzing local politicians’ social media activity, and longitudinal, in-depth interviews with voters for the bulk of the analysis. This research advances the scholarship on partisanship and spatial polarization in American politics by re-orienting its focus away from individual-level factors and toward place-based processes of sense-making.

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