Isa Amaro Varas ’23 awarded distinguished Watson Fellowship
As voters prepare to either go to the polls in person or vote in unprecedented numbers by mail during a global pandemic, more and more voters are relying on social media to obtain accurate information about how to participate in the political process safely. Assistant Professor of Government Mara Suttmann-Lea wants to make sure those voters can get what they need.
To help Suttmann-Lea collect data about how state and local elections officials throughout the country use their departments’ Facebook and Twitter accounts to convey critical details about the electoral process, the Social Science Research Council has awarded her a $34,829 Social Data Research Fellowship to examine social media activity during the 2020 election cycle.
This type of research, which Suttmann-Lea is conducting with the assistance of several Conn students, hasn’t been done before, especially on such a large scale, with data collection in all 50 states. Most previous research about social media’s impact on elections has focused predominantly on how individual political campaigns and party organizations use the platforms as mobilization and voter persuasion tools, as opposed to enhancing nonpartisan education on the voting process.
“Receiving this fellowship has a layered meaning for me,” Suttmann-Lea said. “It is, of course, highly rewarding to be recognized for one’s ideas and to have my research supported. On a much deeper level, however, I am exceedingly grateful there is motivation by organizations like the Social Science Research Council to support this kind of work at a time when so much is at stake in American democracy.
“I am fortunate and humbled to have the opportunity to continue to advance research that supports a better understanding of what enhances democratic engagement and the health of American democracy,” she added.