Political Influencers on YouTube

Julia Davis

Authors:  Benjamin Johnson, Miguel Fernandez, Julia Davis, Samydrise St Fleur

Faculty Mentor:  Benjamin Johnson

College: College of Journalism and Communications


This study looks into the presence of parasocial cues, argumentative fallacies, and commercial sponsorships in political YouTube influencer videos. We examine political YouTubers across the ideological divide in order to assess the influence of video posts’ features on audience engagement. Parasocial cues and argumentative fallacies were expected to have positive relationships with audience engagement metrics. We also posed questions about the role of sponsorship and ideological extremity. These relationships were examined by conducting a content analysis. A sample of 160 political videos from a constructed list of 20 left-wing channels and 20 right-wing channels were coded by four researchers. Specific parasocial cues recorded were visual presence, camera gaze, terms of endearment, calls for engagement, calls to actions, and self-disclosure. The presence or absence of ad hominem, strawman, appeal to status quo, appeal to authority, appeal to ignorance, and anecdotal evidence fallacies were recorded, too, as were advertisements, sponsorships, donation requests, and merchandise promotions. The political leanings of the hosts were rated on a 10-point scale, and metrics regarding audience engagement and video attributes were recorded. Data collection is underway now, to be followed by analyses in April 2020.

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18 Responses
  1. Julia Davis

    Welcome to my virtual presentation! Comment any questions you have about my research, and I’ll hopefully have the answer you’re looking for.

  2. Joni Splett

    Very interesting! i’m wondering how you are measuring audience engagement. Also did you do any consensus coding or interrater agreement on the codings, especially for the 10-point rating of political leanings. How do you plan to use the political leaning rating in analyses?

    1. Julia Davis

      Thank you so much, Joni! The audience engagement information comes from the videos’ likes, dislikes, views, and comments. My co-authors and I are double coding each video for reliability. The political leaning rating is being used to identify trends among influencers of similar ideologies and similar levels of contrasting ideologies.

  3. Hi Julia! This is a fascinating research topic and incredibly relevant. Your discussion section mentions that while influencers use similar techniques regardless of political position, right-wing videos have more engagement. Is this a finding that you expected going into the project? Do you have any suspicions as to why this is the case?

    1. Julia Davis

      Thanks, Indica! To be honest, I didn’t expect much of a difference in engagement between left-wing and right-wing influencer videos. I suspect that right-wing ideology causes more audience engagement for various reasons. First, I noticed in my video coding that there were more right-wing influencers with large audiences (over a million subscribers) than there on the left. Additionally, I would guess that because conservative ideology is growing more controversial as times goes on, some of the engagement comes from disagreers disliking and negatively commenting.

  4. Aleksandra Orlovic

    I think your research is very interesting! I am interested in knowing the results, especially the effect of commercial sponsorship on audience engagement. Overall, great job! 🙂

  5. Anonymous

    Hi Julia! I really enjoyed learning about your research. I think it’s interesting that you looked into the relationship between parasocial cues and argumentative fallacies. I am sure it is difficult to reach high agreement when coding for fallacies, because there is some subjectivity involved. Do you happen to know which fallacies were most prevalent? Great job overall!

    1. Julia Davis

      Thank you! We haven’t crunched the numbers on fallacy occurrence yet, but the fallacies I remember noting most frequently were ad hominem, strawman, and appeal to status quo.

      1. Julia Davis

        Hi again! My faculty mentor just told me that the most common fallacies of the six were ad hominem (in 19% of videos), strawmanning (in 17%), and anecdotal evidence (in 12%).

  6. Nicholas Selgas

    Sounds like an interesting and relevant topic you’re looking into!

    It’s not completely clear to me what you’re intending to measure with your “parasocial cues” categories. With “argumentative fallacies” it seems like you’re trying to measure something like the extent to which the content creator goads its audience into correcting them; presumably parasocial cues is meant to be something like how capable the content creator is at getting their audience to comment or act?

    Thanks, Nick

    1. Julia Davis

      Thanks, Nick! What we’re measuring under “parasocial cues” is the behavior of influencers (e.g. whether the host is on or off screen, if the host has a general or specialized name for the audience such as “Ace Family” or simply “guys,” etc.) and how those behaviors affect engagement.

  7. chanoan

    Wonderful work! I wasn’t sure what ad hominem was. I’m also curious as to how you delved into this topic? What drove you to study this phenomenon?

    1. Julia Davis

      Thank you! Ad hominem is when a speaker attacks the character of another person as a way to undermine their argument. I actually got into this topic for a bunch of reasons. I’ve been an avid YouTube watcher since I was in sixth grade and got into politics in the summer of 2015, so the two interests and curiosities went together quite nicely for this research. Additionally, I worked on a related research project without a focus on politics that lead me to want to do more! If you’re interested in learning more, my co-author has a presentation on it: https://cur.aa.ufl.edu/2020/03/13/hinds-jonathan/.

  8. Jade Bittenbender

    Great Job with your presentation and poster, Julia! This is a very interesting research topic!

  9. Emily Boykin

    I think this topic is super interesting as a political science person, but especially your concluding results that engagement seemed to have null influence on the dependent variable. Do you have any hypotheses as to why the right-wing videos were more “popular”? I can imagine how difficult it was to keep track of your measurement over time, too, as Joni was asking. Keep me updated on this, as I’m excited to see where the research goes!

    1. Julia Davis

      Thanks, Emily! I think that right-wing videos were more popular primarily because, at least in my portion of the coding, influencers on the right tended to have more subscribers than influencers on the left. I don’t know why this is, but I’d be interested to research this from a sociological perspective.