AEFP 46th Annual Conference

Promoting Equity and OpportunityThrough Education Policy Research

Held Virtually from March 17-20, 2021

Social Media and School Bond Elections: An Examination of how Facebook Engagement Influenced Election Results.

Presenter: 
Lauren Loyless, UTD, laurenhannahloyless@gmail.com

Bond elections for Texas independent school districts are the seeds for new growth. School bond elections allow for capital improvement needs such as campus renovations for overcrowded classrooms or increases for teacher salaries. To advocate the passage of the bond, school districts will leverage social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In this paper, we analyze how social media engagement impacts bond passage in social districts.
School bond elections are of integral interest in the inner workings of school district leadership and community stakeholders. Historically, bond election engagement strategies between the two stakeholders, as mentioned above, ranged from town hall meetings to a tri-fold informational pamphlet or fact sheet. Yet, with the rise of social media, in particular, Facebook, districts are using various social media platforms to engage with citizens on bond elections.
To examine the impact on social media on bond elections, we examine bond election data of 54 Texas independent school districts from May 4, 2019, in coincidence with each district’s social media engagement strategies on Facebook, has conferred the following hypothesis: competitive school bond elections produce an increase in social media engagement. It is theorized that the bonds which pass with a higher percentage have less social media engagement. Such a conclusion could infer that school district administrators turn towards Facebook to emphasize the necessity of passing a bond election, whereby Facebook engagement may alternatively evoke detrimental election results.
In this project, we explore:
-The degree to which social media serves as an effective catalyst in emphasizing organizational needs to stakeholders.
-The role of social media in local elections; a focus on Facebook's two-way engagement and the risk of generating complex interactions.
-Can voters sense a sales pitch? Desired results backfire when administration overcompensates.
-An involved discussion of finding a balance when sharing on social media; examining how to disseminate knowledge with stakeholders in a format that meets the organizational purpose and desired outcomes.
Nonetheless, social media is furthermore highly public and provides an immediate two-way communication stage. What a school district posts, or rather any organization could post, will be interacted with, negatively or positively. The solution is hence finding a balanced approach when employing a social media agent, specifically in regards to elections, that allows the modern-day public administrator efficient distribution of new knowledge that suffices organizational intentions.

Poster: 

Comments

Very interesting and important study. I wonder if districts might engage with social media in anticipation of a narrow result?

It's important to think about which way the causality runs here. Do you have any measures of "expected bond passage margin" or results from prior bond issues that might help control for the issue Celeste raises?

Really interesting to link social media engagement to local elections, but teasing out what is affecting what is challenging in this setting. What is the role of *timing* of engagement? Do districts make use of social media close to the election when they anticipate a narrow margin? Do citizens engage more near the date of the vote when it is going to be close?

Really interesting to link social media engagement to local elections, but teasing out what is affecting what is challenging in this setting. What is the role of *timing* of engagement? Do districts make use of social media close to the election when they anticipate a narrow margin? Do citizens engage more near the date of the vote when it is going to be close?

As you assemble more data, you should think about the possibility of a regression discontinuity study. A number of examples exist in the literature on school bond elections. Doing that will give you a potentially causal link between Facebook presence and election success, since districts on either side of the 50% cutoff for election success should be close to being similar.

Thanks for sharing this work--this is a really interesting question. I'm not sure I understand the theory that you put forward in the Research Problem--is the negative relationship between social media engagement and bond passage one that you expect to see based on a particular theorized channel, or is this based on a pattern observed in the data? I'd echo others above that a potential concern is that school boards may feel more inclined to, say, highlight needs or laud the way they've spent past funds if the votes are anticipated to be close--but excluding that relationship, I wouldn't expect social media postings to causally backfire, which leads me to wonder what channels you were envisioning there. Wish I could have seen the paper in person to hear more of your thoughts!

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