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The use of social networking sites utilization in politics is obviously continued to grow in recent times. Since Barack Obama broke the world record in the history of social networks use for political purpose during the 2008 US presidential elections, many nations and politicians across the globe have continued to embrace the platform to mobilize their citizens and shape candidates preference on candidate and towards active participation in the political process. This study examines the impact of social networking sites on voters’ preference on the 2015 presidential elections. The study was anchored on the agenda setting theory that shows that information posted on social networking sites plays a vital role in shaping people’s perception on topics. The survey research method was used to generate data for this research work. Findings show that social networking sites play a vital role on voters’ preference. The study recommended that political parties should utilize the social networking sites in the subsequent elections in Nigeria and see it as an avenue to generate more votes.
1.1 Background to the Study
The prevalence of democracy as a political system of government among the countries of the world is indisputable. Democracy, over the years in history has come to replace other less popular systems of government like monarchy, theocracy, autocracy, military junta etc. Starting from the American Revolution of 1776, to the French Revolution of 1789, to the Russian Revolution of 1917, democracy swept across the world as the most preferred form of government.
Today, there are only a handful of countries practising monarchical/theocratic system of government compared to the vast majority of countries practising democracy. The popularity of democracy is undoubtedly attributable to its people oriented nature. As demonstrated by the French revolutionists, what the people wanted was encapsulated in their motto Liberté, Egalité et Fratenité (Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood). The French people wanted the freedom to choose their own leaders and their representatives. They sought a kind of government where everyone would be equal irrespective of their class or status in the society. Former President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, puts it aptly in his classic definition of democracy as “government of the people by the people and for the people”.
An online dictionary, www.thefreedictionary.com, defines democracy as “government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives”. The process of choosing representatives by the people to represent/govern them is known as ‘election’ which is a sine qua non in any democratic setting. Elections are at the very heart of democracy, and are indeed the very essence of democracy. However, prior to the election proper, political parties, politicians, party members and other stakeholders engage in an equally important process called “electioneering”. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines electioneering as “speeches and other activities that are intended to persuade people to vote for a particular person or political party”. It is popularly regarded as ‘campaigning’ in this part of the world.
An ‘election year’ is like no other year in any country practising democracy. Politicians and their respective political parties go to a great length to reach out to eligible citizens with persuasive messages in order to convince the electorates to vote for them. No stratum of the society is spared from the barrage of electioneering: market women, working class, traders, artisans, students, professional bodies, youths, etc. are all targeted in order to secure their votes.
The mass media is the tool of choice to reach the heterogeneous and widely dispersed electorates. Massive funds are usually earmarked by politicians and their parties for electioneering in the traditional mass media i.e. television, radio, newspapers and magazines. The popularity of the mass media is due to its wide reach/coverage. Nomadic herdsmen can be reached via their transistor radios, elites and literati can be reached via newspapers, women can be reached via magazines and town/city dwellers mostly via the television. However, a very important component of the electorates – the youth – seem to be increasingly ‘unreachable’ through the traditional media, as they seem to be making a shift away from the traditional media to internet based applications like social media. The decreasing influence of traditional media was noted by Thomas, Allen and Semenik (2014): as “an important issue propelling this search for new ways to reach consumers is the slow but steady erosion in the effectiveness of traditional broadcast media”. Dominick (2011) also noted that: ‘The audience for network news, newspaper, and news magazines has been shrinking for the past 30 years. The same trend holds true for local TV news. The Nigerian youth make up a substantial part of the Nigerian populace as well as eligible voters. Ex-Finance Minister, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, at a conference in Lagos in 2010 cited 70 percent of Nigeria’s population of 150 million as “under 30 years old”. She further stated that the youth population (those between 12-24 years of age) was estimated at 30 million (Kolapo, 2010). This is a significant number that cannot be ignored by any politician or political party. The media shift of youths from traditional media to internet based applications like social media is traceable to a number of factors. One is the increasing internet penetration in the country. According to the latest statistics from www.internetworldstats.com, there are 92, 699, 924 internet users in Nigeria as at November 15th 2015, representing 51.1% of the population. In Nigeria today, information and communication technology (ICT) is now part of secondary schools’ curricula and students in their final year are required to register for their various examinations online. The results of the examinations are also accessible online. The subscriber base of GSM has grown to over 148 million representing a teledensity of about 98% according to subscriber stat 2015 report released by the Nigerian communication commission (NCC, 2015). Many Nigerian universities are now equipped with Wi-Fi which is available to students at little or no costs. Many students now own laptops/net books and other mobile devices like iPads, blackberries, iphones and other smart phones through which they access social media sites like Facebook, twitter, You tube, Hi5, 2go etc on the internet. According to the Interneststats, about 15, 000, 000 Nigerians have Facebook accounts (as at November 15th 2015) with the majority of them being youths under the age of 30 years. The number of Nigerian youths signing up to Facebook and Twitter keep increasing at an astronomical rate daily. This may be attributable to the “herd instinct” nature of youths wanting “to belong” or “be current” with the latest trends.
The focus of this study therefore is to examine the effect of the use of social media on the voting behaviour of youths that are of voting age in Nassarawa Ward One in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State. The study attempted to examine if the social media can be a veritable tool of social control like the traditional mass media.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The Nigerian census of 2006 shows that over 70% of Nigeria’s 150 million population are under the age of 30 years (Kolapo, 2010). This makes the Nigerian populace a young one. However, youths’ participation in the country’s electoral process is not commensurate with the numbers. Nigerian youths are generally y uninterested in electoral matters resulting in low voters’ turnout at elections. The former head of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Attahiru Jega made this known at a workshop in Abuja sometimes in 2011 after the 2011 general elections. He stated: “There exists voters’ apathy in Nigeria and this is no longer contentious. Voters turnout in the just concluded general elections hand provided a scientific and empirical evidence of the existence of voter apathy and nonchalance of sections of the electorate in elections” (Abonyi, 2011).
This youth apathy towards election obviously does not augur well for sustenance of democracy in the country, hence the sensitization and mobilization drive by the federal government to encourage youths of eligible age to participate in the electoral process by registering and also voting for candidates of their choices. Apart from the traditional media, the social media is another medium through which the government and especially the presidential candidates reached out to mobilize the youth in the last 2015 general elections. This study is to examine the use of social media as a veritable mobilization tool for electioneering campaigns in general elections with a focus on south eastern Nigeria. The study will x-ray how the use of social media had influenced the voting behaviour of the youth with regard to the 2015 presidential elections.
1.3 Objectives of Study
The main objective of this study is to carry out an examination on political campaigns targeting voters via social network site and how it affects voters’ preference.
The specific objectives of this study are as follows:
1. To determine the extent to which youths (in south east Nigeria) utilize social media
2. To determine the extent of the influence social media usage on youths participation in the 2015 electoral process.
3. To ascertain the correlation between social media influence and youths’ voting preference(s).
4. To determine the level of credibility youths attach to social media messages.
1.4 Research Questions
1. To what extent did youths in Nassarawa Ward One in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State utilize Social media in the voting during the 2015 Presidential election?
2. To what extent did social media influence youths participation in the 2015 presidential electoral process?
3. To what extent did social media usage influence youths’ voting preference(s) in the 2015 presidential election?
4. To what degree do youths regard social media messages as credible?
1.5 Significance of Study
The findings of this study will add more knowledge to the existing literature on media effect theories. It will also serve as a reference for future researchers that may want to undertake a research on a similar study.
Government agencies/parastatals/departments will find the result of this study useful, especially those that are in the business of disseminating public service announcements and national orientation messages. More often than not most of such messages are targeted toward the youths in particular e.g. “Voter Registration”. “Cool 2 Vote”, “Anti cultism”, Anti-abortion, HIV/AIDS prevention etc. The result of this study would be of interest to all political parties that want to sell their parties, manifestos, candidates, ideas to the youths in order to secure their votes. Political parties in the 21st century cannot afford to be technologically bankrupt in this information age.
The findings of this study will contribute to the sustainable development of democracy in Nigeria. The youth are the future and drivers of any country, therefore conducting researches/studies into their political, social behaviour is of paramount importance.
1.6 Scope of the Study
This study aims to examine the influence of the use of social media as a political/mobilization tool on the voting behaviour of Nigerian youths. Even though social media encompasses a lot of internet-based applications this study shall however be limited primarily to just Facebook and Twitter being the two most popular social media amongst Nigerian youths.
Only Nigerian youths resident in Nassarawa Ward One in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State from the voting age of 18 years through 35 years that have Facebook and/or Twitter accounts shall be polled.
This study will examine the effect of social media on voting behaviour of the aforementioned youths in Nassarawa Ward One in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
1.7 Definition of Terms
Social Media: Social media includes the various online technology tools that enable people to communicate easily via the internet to share information and resources. It can include text, audio, video, images, podcasts, and other multimedia communications. (www.About.com). Some popular example of social media are: Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Hi5, Skype, 2go, You tube, Linked in etc. Social media is simply “the set of web-based broadcast technologies that enable the democratization of content giving people the ability to emerge from consumers to publishers.
Youth: The period or time when someone is young especially the period when someone is a teenager (Longman dictionary). For the purpose of this study youths shall be persons from the voting age of 18 years through to 35 years only.
Voting behaviour: This has to do with youth response towards voting. There could be low voters turnout, average of large voters’ turnout.
Twitter: An online social networking site located on www.twitter.com
Facebook: An online social networking site located on www.facebook.com
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