No. 68 Social Media, Incumbent Support, and Election Irregularities: Evidence from Malawi
How does rising access to social media shape elections in low-income democracies? In a controversial, overturned election in Malawi, this paper shows how exposure to online platforms can reduce unfair incumbency advantages and improve election administration. First, leveraging geocoded polling station returns and the expansion of 3G mobile internet in a difference-in-differences setting it shows that incumbent vote share and election irregularities decline in newly exposed areas. Second, it uses survey data to show that coverage corresponds to higher individual-level social media access and anti-incumbent sentiment. Third, it draws on detailed interviews with voters, party activists, and election officials to examine mechanisms. These reveal opposition parties made more effective use of social media, online platforms allowed civic education campaigns to reach more voters, and internet access helped officials coordinate on election day. This paper contributes to the literature on social media, party strategy, and election administration in new democracies.
Keywords: Social media; internet; elections; voting; democracy; Malawi