Online candidate image : analysing online images and impression management in politics
In their attempt to attract voter’s attention, informality seems to be playing an increasing role in the branding strategies of politicians around the world. Within the context of an ongoing individualization, privatization and celebritization of politics, social media platforms such as Instagram encourage political candidates to share personal pictures, highlighting their human side. This entertaining, casual self-presentation strategy has been observed not only amongst international high-profile leaders, such as former US President Barack Obama and current Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, but is also often observed amongst Belgian politicians such as Conner Rousseau or very recently, the media performance politician Sami Mehdi as a drag queen in a Belgian television show. This phenomenon can be explained by citizens’ declining interest in political debates. Hence, voters are increasingly making electoral decisions based on impressions or cues at the expense of objective arguments and content - often received via media messages and images (De Landtsheer, 2004). The importance of these impressions cannot be underestimated and are strong predictors of voters’ perceptions and preferences (Marcus, Neuman, & MacKuen, 2000). Perception politics and impression management techniques can help to create a favourable impression or image and increase perceived political suitability amongst the voters (Diedkova, De Landtsheer, & De Vries, 2019). However, in contrast to the aforementioned observations, previous research on impression management postulates that a formal self-presentation style, such as conservative clothing, adds to the notion of political suitability (De Landtsheer, 1999, 2004; De Vries, 2007). Although visuals are omnipresent in digital media, little is known about how voters interact and engage with the presented content. The impact of image attributes on voter engagement is understudied, particularly within the political context. One of the possible explanations is the lack of a fast and effective methodology that allows the visual analysis of large datasets on social media platforms such as Instagram. This PhD aims to fill this gap by establishing which type of online self-presentation style garners the most voter support: do voters still prefer a formal, conservative presentation style or has the image of political suitability shifted towards a more informal style? Additionally, it proposes a solution to the problem of fast and accurate data collection of visuals on Instagram by introducing a state-of-the-art, real-time object detection program called ‘You Only Look Once’ in the programming language Python. Therefore, the results in this thesis offer interesting observations and recommendations on effective digital self-presentation strategies in a politician’s visual rhetoric.
Antwerp : University of Antwerp, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Communication , 2023
156 p.
Supervisor: De Vries, Philippe [Supervisor]
Supervisor: De Landtsheer, Christ'l [Supervisor]
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Creation 22.09.2023
Last edited 01.10.2023
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