Year of Publication


Competition Category

Social Sciences


Arts and Sciences


Political Science


The rising popularity of social media has affected the communication methods of political candidates within the United States. Given the online presence of candidates in recent years, this paper argues that it’s time to consider internet memes – one of the many facets most commonly found on social media – as political rhetoric. This paper seeks to discern which components of an internet meme are most effective in persuading a young voter, using a visually rhetorical approach to understand which characteristics make it most effective. The study also seeks to find which demographics are most likely to be influenced, using Cambridge Analytica’s belief that voter personalities matter. Using Limor Shifman’s three memetic dimensions – content, form, and stance – the author created three pairs of memes about a fictional political candidate, Jonathan Bell, and then distributed the memes as a Canvas survey for 159 college students. The effectiveness of the meme was measured by its ability to influence a young voter to share it, like the candidate it references, and evaluate their knowledge of the candidate referenced as reliable. Using STATA contingency tables and ordered probit analyses, all four of the significant findings of the study were determined as not influenced by the characteristics of the memes, but rather the characteristics of their recipients. Prior exposure and interaction with internet memes, gender, race, and grade point average were the determining factors for a young voter’s susceptibility to the rhetoric contained within the memes in the survey. This paper offers empirical results to anyone with an interest in memetics, the young electorate, or political communication. It suggests that if internet memes want to be treated as a form of communicative media, scholars first need to understand to whom memes communicate and why.


Sierra Hatfield won the second place in the Social Sciences category. The downloadable document was her thesis to fulfill departmental honors for Political Science.