European Union Policy Studies

JMU Faculty, Alumni, and Students collaborate on research study

Research led by EUPS Executive Director John Scherpereel

JMU EP Twitter Research

James Madison University, Florence, Italy - A recent study involving JMU faculty, alumni, and graduate students has revealed that the legislative chamber where legislators sit may do less to affect the ways they use social media than the nature of the legislative positions (e.g., committee chairships) they hold. The study, published last month (August 2017) in Policy & Internet, was led by Dr. John Scherpereel, Executive Director of James Madison University’s European Policy Studies program. “A major goal of the project,” Scherpereel noted, “is to explain multiple dimensions of variation in legislators’ social media behaviors, and, ultimately, to understand the extent to which Twitter and other social media channels affect the quality of European political communication and democracy.”

Last month’s article is the ripest fruit of seven years of continuous collaboration between Scherpereel, EUPS alumni, and graduate research assistants. The project was born in 2010, when alumnus (then EUPS student) Jerry Wohlegmuth began collecting publicly available data the active accounts of members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Thanks to increased access to data and the expanded use of Twitter among European leaders, their research has taken on particular relevance.

In 2015 the Twitter project--which to that point had primarily involved database construction and early testing--marked its first public milestone. The research team--which had expanded to include Scherpereel, Wohlgemuth, and EUPS research assistant, Peg Schmelzinger (M.A. 2015)--presented analysis of which MEPs Tweet most often (e.g., men vs. women, older vs. younger, those in leadership positions vs. those not in leadership positions, and those from different political party groups) at the biennial European Union Studies Association conference in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2016, the three collaborators later published a revised version of the paper in European Politics & Society.

Since that point, the research effort has deepened further, thanks in part to the work of successive graduate research assistants. Audrey Lievens (M.A. 2016) contributed to the project’s most recent paper, which systematically compares the ways that MEPs and members of national legislatures in Europe use Twitter. Scherpereel and Lievens presented preliminary findings of this inquiry at a European Consortium for Political Research conference in Trento, Italy in 2016 before the team reworked it into its current form.

Work on the project continues today, as Scherpereel, Wohlgemuth, and research assistants Jesse Giammarino (M.A. 2017), Richard Shapiro (M.A. x2018), and Rachel Young (M.A. x2018) look to expand coverage of the Twitter database. The goal of the current venture, according to Scherpereel, is to set up a continually updated, publicly accessible archive to European and national legislators’ tweets that can be used, among other things, to analyze the extent to which legislators in different European countries discuss similar events.



Published: Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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