Political Online Communication: Stability and Change

The availability of digital technologies for information and communication has led to a fundamental structural change in political communication in the online world—with far-reaching consequences for political processes and systems. This is a frequently heard thesis in political and communication science. It refers to a multitude of empirical phenomena, such as the space- and time-independent access to an immense amount of political information, the acceleration of news cycles, the challenge of the classical top-down structure of political communication through interactive media, the loss of importance of traditional gatekeepers, new ways for political participation of the governed, the effectiveness of the so-called 'social media' as organizational technology for political protest, and much more.

All this is undeniably true. Nevertheless, a closer look reveals more stability than the assertion of fundamental change would suggest, especially at the level of structures. The structural conditions of political communication are not determined by (communication) technology, but by social, cultural and political factors. Parties and candidates spread the same messages via new channels as they did before via traditional media; additional possibilities for information and participation are used above all by those who were already well informed and willing to participate; selective attention in the sense of avoiding dissonance works in the digital public sphere as well as in the traditional one; the dominance of the entertainment function in media use remains unbroken in the digital world; the laws of attention economy affect digitally distributed content as well as analogously distributed content, etc. In other words, political online communication initially creates potential for change, which—according to the leading thesis—often remains unrealized due to the stability of fundamental structural features. Whether this must always be a disadvantage for politics and democracy is an open question.

The division’s research is concerned with the relationship between stability and change in political communication both at the structural and at the process level. It is of interest whether the online environment creates new phenomena, or if merely the same political instruments just appear in a different medium. For example, do petitions signed on the street fundamentally differ from petitions that can be supported online with a single click? On the other hand, we are interested whether perception, selection and aggregation processes in political online communication deviate systematically from those in offline communication, or whether here, too, only the medium has changed, but the mechanisms remain the same. For example, does election campaign advertising in offline media have a different effect than in online media? If so, what exactly is the reason for this? What is the difference between the dynamics of online and offline opinion-forming?


  • Emergence of Aversion to Election Campaign Through Unwanted Exposure to Campaign Communication in Social Media
  • Perception and Evaluation of Online Participation Tools by (Potential) Users

Selected Publication

Marcinkowski, F. & Dosenovic, P. (2020). From incidental exposure to intentional avoidance: Psychological reactance to political communication during the 2017 German national election campaign. New Media & Society.

Flemming, F., & Marcinkowski, F. (2016). Der ‚trap effect‘ des Internet. Ausmaß und Folgen inzidenteller Rezeption von Wahlkampfkommunikation im Internet während des Bundestagswahlkampfs 2013. In P. Henn & D. Frieß (Hrsg.), Politische Online-Kommunikation. Voraussetzungen und Folgen des strukturellen Wandels der politischen Kommunikation (S. 191-212). doi: 10.17174/dcr.v3.9

Marcinkowski, F. & Flemming, F. (2016). Politische Internetnutzung bei Haupt- und Nebenwahlen in Deutschland. In J. Tenscher & U. Russmann (Hrsg.) Vergleichende Wahlkampfforschung. Studien anlässlich der Bundestags- und Europawahlen 2013 und 2014. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. 205-231.

Marcinkowski, F., Metag, J. (2014). Why do candidates use online media in constituency campaigning? An application of the Theory of Planned Behavior. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 11(2), 151-168.

Flemming, F. & Marcinkowski, F. (2014) Das überschätzte Medium. Nutzung und Wirkung des Internet im Wahlkampf. In U. Dittler & M. Hoyer (Hrsg.). Kommunikation mit digitalen Medien: Kundenkommunikation, Facebook-Biographien, digitale Meinungsbildung und virtuelle Gerüchte in Zeiten von Social Media. München: kopaed. 259-281.