Beyond their role as a comforting escape from the horrors of traditional election coverage, there’s a case to be made that such posts may have contributed to the election’s record turnout. It’s one way in which social media — rightly criticized for its part in increasing polarization and spreading disinformation — may have helped democracy.
At first glance, this claim probably seems counterintuitive. The 2020 turnout was undoubtedly bolstered by strong feelings on both sides. One would think that the pandemic-driven expansion of mail-in voting also contributed to turnout by making it easier to vote — a plausible explanation that has nothing to do with social media. The problem with this reasoning is that there’s plenty of evidence — for example, from the United States and Switzerland — that mail-in voting has historically had a very limited impact on turnout.
This phenomenon is elucidated in a remarkable 2010 paper by