The use and impact of information sources during the 2014 elections in Tunisia

By Andrea Kavanaugh
Submitted to Session P4670 (Tunisia’s Democratic Transition: Progress and Challenges, 2016 Annual Meeting
Information Technology/Computing;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In this paper we report findings from a mixed methods study of communication behavior and effects among young, educated Tunisians regarding the Parliamentary and Presidential elections of 2014. Specifically, we report results from statistical analyses of survey data provided by an opportunity sample of Tunisian university students in Spring 2015. The questionnaire is the third in a series, in which the first two asked about information sources, such as TV, newspapers, Internet and social media, regarding the 2011 uprising. The questionnaire reported in this paper asked participants which information sources they used to most often to get information related to the 2014 Presidential and Parliamentary elections (e.g., candidates, policies, protests). We use communication behavior theory to explain respondents’ use of different information sources, with a view to providing empirical data regarding the reliability of sources, the sharing of information with family and friends, and the respondents’ sense of being well-informed and knowledgeable (i.e., political information efficacy).
Our results show that respondents not only used face-to-face communication, but also predominantly used the Internet, including social media, especially Facebook, to find information and to share it with family and friends. Very few respondents used Twitter; this is consistent with our two earlier surveys of young, educated Tunisians from the same university with regard to their use of different information sources to stay informed about the 2011 uprising. Even among those respondents who used Twitter, they did not rate it very reliable. Respondents predominantly used online sources of information and judged them to be more reliable than traditional broadcasting, with the exception of Al-Jazeera TV (whether online or broadcast). Regression analyses show that the use of perceived online sources and the sharing of information with family and friends predicted higher levels of political information efficacy. In prior studies, political information efficacy is strongly associated with increased political participation. Our finding of the use and sharing of online sources of information leading to higher political efficacy suggests that democratic tendencies in Tunisia are increasingly supported by online information sources.