Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Disalvo, Daniel / Stonecash, Jeffrey

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 0.500
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.623

CiteScore 2018: 0.83

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.595
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.631

See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 14, Issue 4


Algorithmic Opportunity: Digital Advertising and Inequality in Political Involvement

Young Mie Kim
Published Online: 2017-02-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2016-0034


Contemporary digital advertising operates through algorithms – a data-driven logic created by the constant loop between a voter’s voluntary choices and campaigns’ strategic feedback on these choices. By paying attention to the logic of digital advertising, I discuss how digital advertising algorithms adjudicate consequential decisions that broadly affect political involvement. I argue digital advertising limits algorithmic opportunity to access and acquire political information. Voters are strategically defined, and information inequality is created between the arbitrarily defined “strategically important” and “strategically unimportant.” Discriminately defined by campaigns, different voters receive different information, thereby engaging differently in politics. To illuminate main points, an exploratory analysis of empirical data that “reverse engineered” the algorithms of digital advertising is presented. I conclude that contemporary digital advertising perhaps propels inequality of political involvement and polarizes the electorate.


  • Ballard, Andrew O., D. Sunshine Hillygus, and Tobias Konitzer. 2016. “Campaigning Online: Web Display Ads in the 2012 Presidential Campaign.” PS. July 2016: 414–419.Google Scholar

  • Datta, Amitt, Michael Carl Tschantz, and Anupam Datta. 2015. “Automated Experiments on Ad Privacy Settings: A Tale of Opacity, Choice, and Discrimination.” Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies 2015 (1): 92–112.Google Scholar

  • Delli Carpini, Michael X., and Scott Keeter. 1996. What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar

  • Green, Joshua, and Sasha Issenberg. 2016. “Inside the Trump Bunker with Days to Go.” Bloomberg, October 27 2016. Accessed December 13, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-27/inside-the-trump-bunker-with-12-days-to-go.

  • Hamilton, Kevin, Karrie Karahalios, Christian Sandvig, and Motahhare Eslami. 2014. “A Path to Understanding the Effects of Algorithm Awareness.” CHI Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (alt.CHI). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 631–642.Google Scholar

  • Hersch, Eitan D. 2015. Hacking the Electorate: How Campaigns Perceive Voters. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Hillygus, D. Sunshine and Todd G. Shields. 2008. The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

  • Iyengar, Shanto, and K. S. Hahn. 2009. “Red Media, Blue Media: Evidence of Ideological Selectivity in Media Use.” Journal of Communication 59: 19–39. doi:.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Lau, R. Richard, David J. Andersen, Tessa M. Ditonto, Mona S. Kleinberg, and David P. Redlawsk. 2016. “Effect of Media Environment Diversity and Advertising Tone on Information Search, Selective Exposure and Affective Polarization.” Political Behavior. doi:.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Luskin, Robert C. 1990. “Explaining Political Sophistication.” Political Behavior 12 (4): 331–361. http://www.jstor.org/stable/586188.

  • Prior, Markus. 2007. Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Smith, Eric R. A. N. 1989. The Unchanging American Voter. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar

  • Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

About the article

Young Mie Kim

Young Mie Kim (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is an Associate Professor of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and faculty affiliate of the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kim’s research centers on the role digital media play in citizen competence and participation.

Published Online: 2017-02-22

Published in Print: 2016-12-01

Citation Information: The Forum, Volume 14, Issue 4, Pages 471–484, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2016-0034.

Export Citation

©2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.Get Permission

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Matthew M Young, Justin B Bullock, and Jesse D Lecy
Perspectives on Public Management and Governance, 2019
Young Mie Kim, Jordan Hsu, David Neiman, Colin Kou, Levi Bankston, Soo Yun Kim, Richard Heinrich, Robyn Baragwanath, and Garvesh Raskutti
Political Communication, 2018, Page 1

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in