This dissertation examines the contribution of user-generated digital content to political candidates' media personas, specifically those of the two major-party contenders in the Texas 2018 Senate midterm election: the incumbent Senator Rafael "Ted" Cruz, and his challenger, Robert "Beto" O'Rourke. Data from online spaces dedicated to each of the candidates on the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and Tumblr platforms from September 1, 2018 through November 14, 2018 were collected and analyzed using Critical Discourse Analysis. Overall, both pro-Cruz and pro-O'Rourke content spaces emphasized the importance of the authentic performance of ethnic identity. In addition, hegemonic masculinity was upheld as an important marker of a candidate's suitability for public office, while stereotypically feminine behaviors were positioned negatively. Heterosexuality was also characterized as masculine (and therefore more desirable in a political candidate), while homosexuality was associated with femininity. Finally, both Cruz and O'Rourke content made arguments based on the personal characteristics of the candidates. While Cruz supporters tended to use traditional symbols associated with the United States and Christianity, O'Rourke supporters used references to popular culture in their characterizations of the candidates. There was also an elision in both communities between American values, Christian values, whiteness, and capitalism. These findings offer several conclusions about digital political participation in candidate image management. First, users generally extend narratives begun by official campaign materials and popular press coverage. Second, traditionally "American" values were upheld across the political spectrum as important for candidates to embody. Finally, the demographics of different platforms can determine what type of content is predominantly shared, as well as whether and how different affordances are incorporated, such as hashtags. As digital content increasingly plays a role in electoral politics, this study contributes to an understanding of the significance of users' digital political participation in forming candidates' images and garnering support.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Texts and Technology
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)
Winter, Rachel, "Political Fandom and Social Media: A Case Study of the Texas 2018 Senate Race" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 585.