BlogCampaigning 2008

Well we're finally back from our unannounced vacation here at BlogCampaigning. We hope you missed us. In the new year, we'll have lots of great stuff coming up! Espen will continue to be difficult to track down whenever I'm trying to get him to write a post, but hopefully he'll give us an insider's look at the European world of PR as he starts his new job. Jens will be brewing up his own unique brand of thought as he gives us insight about the world of video games and social media in European politics. And last but not least, Toronto's own Jess Bennett will share her insightful musings about Public Relations and social media as she heads into her second semester of school.

Thanks for checking back in!


Will Social Networks Impact The Election?

Todd Zeigler and the Bivings Report led me to an interesting post by Sanford Dickert on his Political Gastronomica site about "the seeming lack of impact social networks have truly had on the 2008 elections so far" (as Zeigler puts it).Discussing the question: Will social networks impact the 2008 presidential election, Dickert writes:

I was asked this question last year by my friend from Wired, after I finished with another campaign, and I can STILL heartily say - even with techpresident's MySpace, Facebook and YouTube counters - I believe that social networks will still NOT impact the coming 2008 election. "Wha?", I hear my poli-tech friends gasp. "Didn't you read the study that shows Facebook numbers are an indicator of relative success of drawing voters?" "Weren't you at the Facebook Political Summit ?" "Aren't you impressed by / using the new Facebook tools?" "Aren't you impressed by the incredible reach of all of the candidates and their supporters through MySpace, facebook, flickr, YouTube?". No. And why not? I think they are missing an essential ingredient: simple, human contact.

Dickert finally concludes:

When I go to the local mall, county fair, outdoor market - I can often see the ardent supporters of candidates "tabling" in the flow of traffic - holding their campaign literature, sign at the edge of the table, looking for eyes that are ready to learn more about the person running for State Senate, Congress or even President. You and your friends are there, giving each other moral support as the throngs of people walk by - nary paying attention to you, until a person walks up and says, "So....tell me about Senator X."Where are the Virtual Tablers?This is where the campaigns can use their volunteers and give them the power to reach across their own networks and chat up people when they are interested in learning more about the candidate. But, it is not easy to go and "speak" to someone in Facebook since all of the communications are not interrupt-driven (as a face-to-face might be), they are addressed whenever the receiver wants to. How do you get people to accept the interrupts? Usually, that is the sense of presence - of human contact. Once that magic ingredient is "captured" and enabled, then I could see social networks truly engaging people.

Dickert might make a relevant point, to a certain extent, but we still feel that this is not the last word.

Our point is that claiming social networks will NOT impact the coming 2008 election because they do not have the ability to – as Dickert puts it – "chat up" people limits many factors about these networks that really might have the ability to impact the election.

Take a site like "One Million Against Hillary Clinton" (Facebook), that encourages people to go viral and recruit friends and neighbours to join them in the fight to stop Hillary Clinton. A sight like this might not have a direct impact on people's voting behaviour. But when it makes CNN because of its viral marketing ability, it has certainly had an impact on the new agenda.

Also, take the "Vote Different" video on YouTube that attacks Hillary Clinton. This video has been viewed by over 3.8 million people. Saying that this video has not had an impact on the election is like saying that ads in general have no impact on elections.

Other notable examples for communities that have the potential to exercise influence on the voting process: moveon.org or getup.org.au. Both caused quite some stir in the political establishments of the respective countries they are active in.

It also seems that Sanford somehow equates human contact with an invasion of privacy and can't seem to accept the fact that people are now able to escape the mall stands and make their own informed choices. This eventually gives the impression that he has an outdated model of the voter respectively of campaigning which sees the voter as somehow without agency. In the internet now this invasion of privacy just isn't possible anymore (except for spam) but the voters are the ones in charge. And we better get used to it – if we need to resort to interrupting peoples' lives as a major way to attract voters then we should really worry about our other campaigning techniques and what went wrong with them.

Also on a more basic level the question is: How do we measure impact? Larry M. Bartels (1993, p. 267), once said that the state of research in the "media effects" area is "one of the most notable embarrassments of modern social science". Over time theorists have gone from claiming that the media have had a strong, almost hypodermic effect that can shape opinions and beliefs, to suggesting that the media have only a minimal effect on citizens because they can not deliver political messages with any predictable effect.

On the other hand theories about agenda setting testify to the power media can have over the community. But then again: Social networks can set their own agendas and influence political discourses.

Eventually we don't think that we have come to a stage where we in the "social network effects" area can exclude a hypothesis stating that social networks CAN or WILL impact the coming 2008 election. The reason: We ultimately do not yet have a clear enough understanding of how we can measure the impact of social networks.

Berelson (in Diamond & Bates 1984, p. 347) once said, musing about his own findings in the "media effects" area over the years, that: "some kinds of communication on some kinds of issues, brought to the attention of some kinds of people under some kinds of conditions, have some kinds of effects" (in Diamond & Bates 1984, p. 347).

So, in Berelson's words, our understanding for now is: that social networks on some kind of issues, brought to attention of some kinds of people under some kinds of conditions, may have some kinds of effects – also on the coming 2008 election.

Espen & Jens

Avoid Missing Vicious Volley For Presidency

Newsgames are the new black: After the NY Times now CNN enters the field of games commenting on the political landscape by releasing Presidential Pong. Return the verbal ball in a vicious rhetoric duel with your opponent, answer his attacks and sweep him off the political stage. While the game itself might have lost some of its appeal to the avid gamer after 35 years, it's still a good example how games can take an editorial stand by adding special superpowers based on the candidate's perceived strengths.John Edward's Two America's Power Up for example allows him to break the ball in two, both because he has said he sees America as divided, and because of the formidable asset of his wife. This allowed me to beat Mitt Romney but the Republicans had their revenge when Guiliani's Name Recognition Power Up drew the ball to his podium, just as his name and fame as "America's Mayor" draws attention. Hillary Clinton's special strength – The Clinton Family Power Up – gives her two podiums, one for her, the other for her husband, the ex-president while McCain Military Veteran Power Up makes the movement of the ball unpredictable on the opponent's side of the field. It's a simple but clever, satirical commentary game. One of my complaints though is that the candidates don't posses different special powers when presidential hopefuls of same party play against each other, e.g. Clinton having an advantage through the huge donations her campaign was able to secure while Obama's enjoys better support by bloggers. (And yes, it could be a tiny little bit more entertaining but then again the simple, iconic mechanics can probably reach the broadest audience possible – before your grandma discovered the Wii there was Pong!)

Blog Campaigning: Introduction


“We’re entering a different era of political communication, and no one is an expert at it yet. The velocity of change is extraordinary. Everyone is experimenting online, because we don’t know yet what will work” (Rosenberg in Mussenden 2007)

The landscape of political communication is changing rapidly. “Technology has changed the way people interact with one another” (Simmons 2005, p. 1) and “the creation of an electronic media has revolutionized the way information is gathered and transmitted” (Simmons 2005, p. 1). Since 2004, the world has experienced an enormous growth in online political activity. The emergence of social media and social networking sites has given room for a new political era. People can now engage in political activities via a computer as long as they have access to the Internet. This new form of political engagement has created a new and attractive market of voters for politicians to target. In an effort to optimize their reach to this new segment of voters, a growing number of politicians have started embracing some of the technologies that have emerged from the social media scene, including them in their overall political strategy. One of the latest and fastest growing technological developments to emerge from the social media scene that has been adapted by political parties and candidates in their overall communication strategy is the weblog – more often referred to as the blog. In the 2004 U.S. presidential election blogs were for the first time added by political candidates to their bag of campaign tricks (Lawson-Border & Kirk 2005, p. 1, Trammell 2005, p. 2). Few claimed then that the tool had a significant impact on the election. Three years later, facing the 2008 U.S. presidential election, “political bloggers say that their trade is becoming more influential than standard election techniques” (The University Daily Kansan News 14 February 2007). Even experts claim blogs play a larger part in the political campaigning process than traditional ways of informing the public. According to new-media expert Sean Mussenden (2007) of Media General News Service, this election’s (the 2008 U.S. presidential election) candidates are helping redefine online politics:

“Candidates are speaking directly to voters through text and video blogs displayed on their increasingly sophisticated Web pages. They also are lobbying influential political bloggers for endorsements -- and in some cases putting them on the payroll” (Mussenden 2007).

But just how effective has this new online communication instrument become as a campaign tool? Julie Barko Germany, deputy director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, claimed recently that: “The race to the White House in 2008 will be all about how candidates talk to people online” (in Havenstein 2007). Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004 and was the most profiled of the online-oriented campaign managers during the campaign, told Agence France-Presse that:

“The Web will be playing a bigger role than ever in the 2008 campaign, so much so that for the first time, it will actually change the outcome of the election” (in Zablit 2007).

Trippi’s statement might be sensational, even simplistic. But it raises an interesting question: What impact does an online communication tool like a blog have on the democratic election process? In an effort to reach a better understanding of this issue, this paper will analyse the following research questions:

• How do political parties and candidates use blogs? • Does electioneering via blogs influence political campaigns? • How do we measure the impact blogs have on the outcome of an election?

To answer these questions the paper will examine how political parties and candidates have used blogs as a campaigning instrument in elections to date, locate situations where blogs might have helped a campaign produce an upset election outcome, and debate how we can measure a blog’s ability to affect voting decisions.

More on the impact of the web on the 2008 election

“Whether announcing their candidacy online or rueing the release of revealing video clips, no contender for the White House in 2008 can ignore the power of the internet”, writes, Laura Smith-Spark of BBC. “Barely a week goes by without a political story breaking on a blog or social networking site like YouTube and MySpace”.

We know this by now, but here comes the interesting claim:

“...according to conservative bloggers who met at the Washington Times last week, the battle is already as good as won - and not by them.

The battle of the Internet, that is.

A bit early to make that claim I would say. No need to be too negative early in the campaign. But I want to continue quoting Laura Smith-Spark, because she is really asking some interesting questions in her article…. Unfortunately without providing good answers. But hey, at least she is trying. They are some fairly complex questions to answer in 500 words.

Conservative bloggers claim, according to Smith-Spark, that:

…their rivals on the left of the political spectrum - and the Democrats they are backing - have the edge in organisation, message and clout. And that, they say, that could cost the Republicans dear in 2008. So has the left really won the battle of the web? And if so, what influence - if any - will that have on the outcome of the presidential race?

So…what’s her answer to this?

Observers explain the gap by arguing that bloggers on the left are united in one aim - getting a Democrat into the White House in 2008 - whereas the right is more fragmented. The left has also rallied to the cause of ending the war in Iraq. In addition, blogging emerged at a time when the Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House - and was embraced by the left as the ideal platform for grassroots, bottom-up activism. On the other hand conservatives, who have traditionally dominated talk radio with high-profile presenters like Rush Limbaugh, have tended to use their blogs for commentary and to pass on the top-down party message, observers say. Now, with many liberal bloggers collaborating to push the Democratic agenda - so giving the news they promote greater prominence and attracting more mainstream media attention - the more fragmented right risks losing influence.

Jon Henke, new media director for the Republican Communication Office and contributor of the QuandO blog, argues that blogs are not directly responsible for deciding elections. What they do is shape the media coverage, writes Smith-Spark.

Well, they do more than that, and I know that Henke knows that too, because I am quoting him on this in my thesis dealing exactly with the questions asked by Smith-Spark.

Trying to answer her well-formulated questions, Smith-Spark uses Jeff Jarvis, a media professor who blogs at Prezvid.com to balance the answer of her article. Jarvis claims that:

"The Democrats are doing better, but slightly - the truth is, they are all behind," he told the BBC News website.

And then he says something unsurprising, but still very interesting:

What I am seeing is the poorer the candidate, the smarter their use of the internet. Others are relying on big money, thinking it's still going to be fought on television.

Jarvis also claims that:

He would like to see all the contenders - Democrat and Republican - treat the internet as another way to get "face-to-face" with potential voters, by going online to answer questions and posting responses on blogs that criticise them.

I guess the reason why I find this article so interesting is that I am handing in my Masters Thesis dealing exactly with the questions asked in the BBC article. I plan to release the thesis in it’s full on the blog. So if you are in for a more detailed answer of the questions discussed throughout this post, check in on the site again next Monday – And we will provide you more insight…exclusively.


More news on this: Democrats Have an Early Lead ... in the Web 2.0 Race

- Espen

Jonathan Rick: Which Candidates Are Holding Conference Calls with Bloggers?

Jonathan Rick of No Straw Men is examining Which Candidates (Presidential) Are Holding Conference Calls with Bloggers?. His project (compiling a chart of which presidential candidates are holding conference calls with bloggers) is under development and is a collaborative process. If you happen to know anything about this, head to Rick’s blog and help him out! And while you are there, check out Rick’s chart of the Presidential candidates YouTube subscribers! Not surprisingly, it is Obama that has the most subscribers.

Footnote: Obama is again the candidate that has the most MySpace friends (71,759) according to TechPresident’s ‘MySpace Friends chart’.  

- Espen

Presidential Candidates' Attitudes Towards Digital Games

So we have seen that digital games would be an ideal vehicle to convey political messages and explain policies. But what do the presidential candidates think about a medium that is already shaping the imagination of a generation? A lame start with Barack Obama: As much as he’s campaigning in all the of virtual spaces that the intertubeweb has to offer, gamewise he’s stuck in the early 90s.

Obama’s Austin appearance was part of a campaign swing across the country to raise money for his two-week old candidacy and build his reputation nationally…

Obama told the Austin crowd that they should try to recruit their friends to support his campaign. “I want you to tell them, ‘It’s time for you to turn off the TV and stop playing GameBoy,’” Obama said. “We’ve got work to do.”

Not even the slightest hint of moral panic? C’mon, Obama. We all know that you can do better than that! In fact we don’t have to look further than Obama’s closest contestant Hillary Clinton. Her basic message: Digital games are as dangerous as cigarettes, that’s why they must taxed accordingly – while the ESRB is not to be trusted. Instead she introduced her own Family Entertainment Protection Act, which would impose fines of $1000 dollars or 100 hours of community service for a first time offense of selling a "Mature" or "Adult-Only" rated video game to a minor, and $5000 or 500 hours for each subsequent offense. A stand she’s not particularly shy about (quite frankly: coming from a country whose record on the freedom of speech is somewhat… so so and which is trying hard to tie in with old times by planing to completely ban violent games I have to say: things could be worse America! Cold comfort, I know). While it’s all quite on the McCain and Guiliani front the antipathy towards the new media folk devils makes some Republican backbencher candidates even overcome political camps. Take Sam Brownback for example, who, with Clinton and others, is co-sponsor of the Children & Media Research Advancement Act (CAMRA). Brownback also supports the Truth in Video Game Rating Act, which would require the ESRB to review all playable content before doling out those M, T or E ratings. Fair enough you might say, maybe after playing the game for 50 hours+ all of a sudden all avatars are naked. But how would you be able to rate games which basically don’t have an end – like MMORPGs? Do have the people responsible for the ratings have to reach level 60 before they can give a verdict? And what about the inappropriate language and obscene gestures of other players? Let’s have the republican contender Mitt Romney the last word on the issue. Addressing a conservative Christian audience at Regent University in Virginia Romney said:

Pornography and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games. The Virginia Tech shooter, like the Columbine shooters before him, had drunk from this cesspool.

Ah, finally: ungrounded, hysterical moral panic at its best!


Obama’s MySpace handling – How to control a voter-generated campaign

Many of you should by now be familiar with the problems Barack Obama has experienced in regards to his MySpace profile. If not, here's the short version - The full version can be read over at TechPresident, Mydd, or MTV, or you can watch Anthony speak about the incident in person via phone here:

In November 2004, Joe Anthony started an unofficial fan page for the then newly elected Senator Barack Obama on MySpace holding the valuable URL of myspace.com/barackobama. When Obama launched his campaign in January the site had already attracted more that 30,000 friends. The site has continued to attract friends as the camapign has commenced, generating plenty of headlines about Obama winning the “MySpace Primary”. April 30, the site counted 160,000 friends. Over the night that changed. The site has now only about 25,000 friends. The reason: As attention to MySpace grew over the campaign the Obama team wanted control over the URL and forced Joe Anthony to give up the control of the profile. -Not the best move fromTeam Obama...

In regards to the incident TechPresident’s Micha Sifry asks:

Is it true that once a voter-generated site gets major traction, the campaign affected has to control it? Can a front-running presidential campaign–even one as devoted to empowering supporters to take their own initiatives and connect to each other through social network tools as the Obama campaign–afford a major site run by a campaign volunteer outside their control? Is such control even possible?

The Bivings Report’s Todd Zeigler answers the question:

To me this is a really simple issue. The Obama campaign has to have ultimate control over www.myspace.com/barackobama. Period.

Having ventured into the MySpace wilderness looking for candidate profiles, it is almost impossible to tell the real profiles from the fakes ones. Users can be easily mislead into friending the wrong person. By owning the most common profile name and maintaining an official presence, the campaign provides clarity to users, most of whom are looking for the endorsed version of the profile. I’m all for supporters creating their own groups and conducting their own activities, I just see value in having an official presence in addition to the voter-generated ones.

I agree with Zeigler.

However, reading a post by Zephyr Teachout, former Director of Internet Organizing for Howard Dean's presidential campaign, comparing the dilemma faced by Obama over his MySpace profile to the many dilemmas Teachout and her team experienced during the 2004 Dean campaign I realized just how complicated this question is.

I would encourage anyone that plans to work on or with an internet related campaign to read Teachout’s piece discussing the strategies related to the degree of control a campaign should have over grassroots generated campaigns. I personally learned a lot from the piece.

Here’s Teachout’s conclusion and solution to the issue, for those of you that don’t have time to read the whole piece:

In relation to grassroots relationships campaigns should:

…for each relationship, choose whether it is one of absolute control, or no control. In those with no control, you can still communicate, but don't command. In the long run, clear roles won't confuse the press and the thousands of people writing in--at first, perhaps, and on the margins, but they will learn. When in doubt, no control is better, just as it is in friendships--your friends will do everything they can to represent you well and be your supporter, until you start telling them what to say about you.

When you have read Teachout's piece you should further pay Mydd a visit and read what Jerome Armstrong has to say about Team Obama's handling of the incident.

Then you should off course go to Obama's official blog and read how the official campaign experienced the incident.

...And then... when you have read every link in this piece you can go to The Bivings Report's unofficial poll and cast a vote: Should candidates maintain official profiles on MySpace? - Just for fun...

You'll probably not have time to do all the serious stuff you were supposed to do today if you do take my advise, but what the .... You'll always have time for that later.


Joe Anthony's response to the Obama team's handling of the incident can be found here.

- Espen

Young Bloggers on the Front Line of Presidential Campaigns

MTV.com, yes, you got that right, MTV, as in the useless music channel, features an interesting interview with, Stephen Smith, Director of online communications for the Romney campaign, and Sam Graham-Felsen, Blogger for the Obama campaign, this week. In the interview Smith and Graham-Felsen are sharing some of their experiences with the campaigns so far and they both have a lot  of interesting stuff to tell. It is definitely worth a read if you want to learn more about what is going on inside a campaign.


More people base their voter decision on what they read on the Internet

I just located another study confirming the growing impact that the Internet has on voter decisions. A Performic survey released in February found that 42 percent of Americans say the Internet will pay an important role in deciding who they will vote for in the upcoming presidential election.

In a press release revealing the results of the survey, Performic states:

“As the 2008 presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, we were curious to find out how Americans plan to learn about their choices for our next president. We suspected that as the public continues to rely on the Internet as an important information source, people will seek political information via search engines in a manner similar to the way that they already search for information regarding consumer purchases, meaning that after they first hear about a candidate or issue, they will conduct broad searches to gather information and then narrow down the candidates and issues until they ultimately reach a decision,” said Stuart Frankel, president of Performics.

“With 42 percent of Americans saying the Internet will play an important role in deciding who to vote for in the 2008 election, there is a large opportunity to leverage search engine marketing and optimization as a strategy for political campaigning.”

The study found that of those who visit a candidate’s website, 72 percent say they are primarily looking for the candidate’s stance on specific issues, 16 percent say they are looking for the candidate’s voting record, 6 percent say they are looking for what others say about the candidate and 4 percent say they are looking for which organizations have endorsed the candidate.

Not surprisingly the survey confirms that television news, talk shows, local and national newspapers, and news radio are still the primary means for political information for people researching campaigns and candidates.

Performic based their findings on a telephone survey conducted among a random sample of 1,014 adults.

(The survey was found via Blog the Campaign in 08)


Silly rumours?

Rumours about the ‘First Blog Scandal of the 2008 presidential campaign are circulating.

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, who this week accepted a job as "blogmaster" to the presidential campaign of Democrat John Edwards (part of her job is to write  the campaign blog) is the centre of attention according to the man behind the rumours, Danny Glover of the Beltway Blogroll.

This is the scandalous storyline according to Glover’s post:

Like all bloggers, Marcotte is fast and loose with her opinions, and her opinion of the infamous rape allegations against lacrosse players at Duke University didn't sit well with some folks. When Marcotte started catching flak for that opinion, she apparently deleted itand started altering other comments at Pandagon.

However, not everyone seems to agree to the fact that this is a big scale scandal. Judging by most of the post’s commentsand Micha L. Sifry’s commentover at PDF it seems like this is a case that will be forgotten by the end of the week.


More on the Marcotte-Edwards Non-Scandale - Danny Glover and Micha L. Sifry are discussing the matter over at PDF.

The Hill: DCCC reaches out to Netroots

With an eye to 2008, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is off to an early start in fostering its relationship with Netroots, The Hill reports.

According to The Hill, DCCC chairman, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), has committed to participating in a monthly conference call with bloggers and has talked to several on an individual basis since taking the post earlier this month. Also DCCC’s executive director, Brian Wolff, has close ties to Netroots activists. Chris Bowers of Mydd is positive to the close ties and suggest that the relationship is already paying off. “I think we already see it paying off as there are now strong Netroots and grassroots requirements for frontline candidates,” Bowers told The Hill.