Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Communication and Information

Major Professor

Stuart N Brotman

Committee Members

Nick Geidner, Elizabeth Foster


Although a considerable amount of research has proved that the use of social media by candidates fighting national elections has resulted in success, like the Obama campaign of 2008 (Hughes et al., 2010) and the Trump campaign of 2016 (Williams et al., 2018) it is still unclear whether the use of social media by candidates has any impact on local city council elections in the U.S. Focusing on the 2021 Knoxville City Council election, this study investigates whether candidates that had a social media presence, posted on social media more frequently than their opponent in the four weeks before Election Day and allocated more funds to running campaign ads on social media ended up winning the race. Furthermore, it also examines public opinion about political ads on social media, social media effectiveness and candidate interaction through social media.

The results from secondary data accessed from the Knox County Election Commission office and social media showed that candidates with social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter, a higher number of social media followers and more frequent posts on Facebook and Twitter were successful in the 2021 Knoxville city council elections. However, higher spending on social media ads wasn't necessarily correlated to electoral success. Two candidates with lesser followers and lesser social media posts who spent more on running ads lost the election.

The survey findings (n=14) also indicated that voters felt “very fatigued” after consuming political social media ads and the general perception was negative. However, respondents were positive when it came to using social media as a tool to share information and solve civic issues in the city. Previous research (Krebs 1998) has stated that incumbency, party support and campaign spending were determinants in city council elections; this study extended those findings to add social media usage by candidates as an important element in predicting electoral success at the city council level.

Keywords: social media and city council elections, local elections campaigning, political campaigns on Facebook, city council research

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