Blogging in Norwegian political campaigns

By Odd Sevje I dare say that blogging as a political campaign tool was more or less non-existant in the Norwegian political campaign in 2005. However, I'm quite certain that this is going to change in 2007 because recently, the popularity of blogging has exploded in Norway.

The state of blogging in Norway In the wake of the Muhammed-drawings/caricatures several bloggers decided to publish them on their blogs when mainstream newspapers refused to. This move was started by VamPus, who had recently won the first ever “Golden Blog,” an award set up by Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. She was anonymous up until this point, but decided to drop the veil of anonomity and announced to the blogosphere that her name was Heidi Nordby Lunde when she became the first blogger to publish them. She encouraged others to do the same, and kept a list of those who did on her blog.This generated an enormous amount of publicity for her blog, and for blogs in general in the more mainstream media, greatly increasing the general level of blog acitivity in Norway.

As of yet blogging has not really been picked up by any of the established political figures. The Minister of Finance (aka Secretary of the Treasury or Chancellor of the Exchequer), Kristin Halvorsen of The Socialist Left Party made a rather unspectacular attempt some time ago. It was quickly aborted when she (or possibly even worse, one of her advisors) never had the time to post new entries. Notable exceptions are Audun Lysbakken, vice chairman of the Socialist Left Party and perhaps not so notably Heikki Holmås (his updates are quite infrequent), MP of the same party.

A somewhat interesting trait in the Norwegian blogsphere is that of the bloggers with clear party affiliations, most of whom are divided between representatives from the youth parties of the Socialist Left Party or the Conservative Party. Together they pulled only 22.9 % of the votes in the 2005 parliamentary elections, yet they clearly dominate the political landscape in the blogosphere. It is probably these two parties who will use blogs as an efficient part of their political campaigns in 2007, at least if the politicos of the Socialist Left and Conservatives recognize the potential of blogs. These bloggers have a distinct advantage in their experience, know-how and technical expertise over their seemingly technologically impaired brethren in the two dominating parties in Norwegian politics, the Labour Party and the Progress Party. Neither is well represented in the blogsphere at all, not even by representatives of their youth parties. This is surprising since they pulled 54,8% of the 2005 election, and a more or less proportional part of the coveted “youth vote”. Certain candidates for Labour did a lackluster effort, but in truth those could at best be considered poorly updated online diaries, most of which have not been updated at all since they were elected...

Blogcampaigning – The Candidates How will blogs be used in the upcoming Norwegian political campaign? To begin with, they will certainly not be used in the same way as in American campaigns.

The nomination process in Norwegian politics pretty much excludes blogs from being used as an efficient tool. Also the nature of campaign funding and the pure number of bloggers (not to mention their relative lack of wealth due to their young age) will prohibit them from making much of an economic difference.

So then the question arises, how can blogs be used efficiently in the 2007 campaign?

Firstly, one should clearly distinguish between candidate blogs and the already established blogs.

A candidate’s blog will probably only have a marginal impact. The upcoming election is a municipal one. There are 435 districts and normally seven or more different parties competing in each district, with each district electing a two-digit number of representatives (the numbers vary with the general size of the population in each district). In other words, it makes for a potentially stunning number of blogs. Still, I believe that candidates stand to lose very little and have a bit to gain by starting their own blogs. They stand to lose valuable time that could be spent on more effective campaigning. A foolish candidate will spend too much time writing posts and answering replies to those. Intelligent use of a candidate blog would be:

To research how you generate traffic

To write about local issues

To effectively communicate with local journalists.

To effectively communicate with local interest groups.

To respond to those who leave comments on the blog.

To keep it simple.

An example would be to write about the candidates' views on, say, the localization of a new shooting range. One should notify journalists, the local guns and ammo club, and others that might have an interest that they can read a bit about it on the blog. The candidate should also ensure that they are writing a simple, short blogpost, not a book. People must be bothered to read what a candidate has to say. Candidates should not fool themselves into thinking that they will attract many, if indeed any at all, regular readers in the short span of a campaign. The blogs that do attract readers, and can be helpful in getting people to read a candidate-blog are not built for campaign-specific reasons, but are likely to be of the most help. Not only by directing traffic your way, but most of all by affecting the campaign in general.

Blog-campaigning - The Blogosphere There are, as mentioned earlier, plenty of blogs whose authors quite clearly belong to a specific political party, even though they blog about things besides politics. These bloggers already know the basics of attracting traffic, so a discussion of how to do so will not be done here. Naturally during a campaign the frequency of political posts will increase, and they will do their own background checks on what their political “adversaries” propose. In general they will go into “campaign mode”. However, there is not much reason to think that this in itself will have a great deal of impact. The bloggers need to be organized in their effort to such a degree that they dominate the blogosphere if they wish to win new voters for their party. Cooperation between bloggers and campaign headquarters needs to be established. This way blogs can be used to help push specific issues, investigate attacks by political opponents and do damage control. Not least blogs that aren’t too clearly affiliated with the party can also help with negative campaigning, since negative campaigns with a specific party as the source of criticism are less effective. However, nor is this likely to be of much impact.

In my opinion any impact large enough to shift around more than a few voters here and there will only occur if what the blogs communicate spills over to the mainstream media (indeed I believe this to be more or less the only way blogs have a major impact in any campaign, one should remember that Dean ultimately failed as a candidate quite early on, and it still remains to be seen if Lamont will be elected).

There are a few different ways this can happen: Blog for a newspaper by invitation. I’m quite convinced that in 2007 a few bloggers will be invited to blog for newspapers about the campaigns (cheap labour after all…). The political parties need to treat these almost like ordinary journalists. Their party preference will often be clearer and their style of writing will reflect this, therefore the party needs to think more clearly about what and how they communicate, and not least to whom. Blog for a newspaper by domain Several newspapers allow people to establish blogs directly under their domain. This can simply be a mirror of the original blog. Some newspapers pick out blog-posts that are displayed on their main webpage, thereby attracting a generous number of readers compared to an average post. As a source for a journalist This function can be twofold. 1) As a source for a journalist, by actively seeking the journalist out to point out something that has been discussed on the blog out or being sought out on the basis of having written something. 2) Writing about something that a journalist normally wouldn’t write about due to a total lack of sources (i.e loose rumours), thereby allowing the journalist to write about it anyway simply by referring to someone else. Being first with a story This is somewhat connected to number 2 above, but it’s not quite the same. A blogger that is well-connected and does good research could very well be the first to do a story (that otherwise wouldn’t be done) that has real political impact when it spills over into mainstream media. Pushing issues into the mainstream There could very well be political issues that the mainstream media know about, but pay little attention to. If a large numbers of bloggers keep focus on these, especially over time, then they could eventually start seeping into the mainstream, and even end up being an important campaign issue for all the competing parties.

Blog-campaigning - The other stuff Let us not forget that blogs can also affect campaigns in ways that are in many ways just as important, if not more so, than thorugh those listed above. They can act as an important source of feedback for politicians, politicos and campaign managers. Testing issues on party loyal bloggers, reading their comments on performances in debates, seeing what issues the bloggers debate and are passionate about could be very useful if the bloggers are representative of the potential electorate.

A big “if” mind you.

Then there are those bloggers who have a large amount of traffic, but who aren’t political. Those who generate the most traffic are celebrities, not “blog-celebrities” but celebrities who blog. People who visit their blogs regularly look up to them (or are there to troll), and if some of these could be convinced to once or twice during a campaign simply tell their readers to “vote for this party because then stuff’ll be better and I’ll be glad” it’s likely to have a bigger impact then the most articulate and insightful article at a blog with few readers.

Should parties bother with a focused effort on blogging as a campaign tool? Using resources on blogging means allocating resources away from something else something that might be more efficient. However, I’d argue that there are good reasons for spending at least some human resources on doing so. The cumulative effect of an efficient and operative network of blogs might not be much at all, particularly if they don’t manage to spill over into the mainstream press. On the other hand 2007 might just be the year that they make an actual impact, and if they do then the parties who are dislocated from the blogosphere stand the most to lose.

Finally: Even if 2007, or the next election for that matter, isn’t the coming of age of blogs as an effective political campaign tool it’s going to happen. And every election that a party and party affiliated bloggers use them they’ll (probably) learn how to use them more effectively next time. So even if you don’t know which election the resources put into blogs will pay off, the parties can be certain they will at some point. And then you can be at the forefront and profit, or act like most organizations that fail: Desperatly try to emulate since you are unable to innovate.