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.

Blog Campaigning: 4.2 The potential impact of blogs

4.2 The potential impact of blogs Most scholars see the introduction of blogs to the political sphere as a major asset for political campaigns. Nigel Jackson (2006), for instance, argues that there are several aspects about blogs that might impact elections. First of all, bloggers present “a potential alternative to traditional media as gatekeepers of information and news” (Jackson 2006, p. 295). Bloggers have on several occasions proved that they can break major news stories (Jackson 2006, p. 295). For instance, it was bloggers that created the storm of protest that led to the resignation of Senate majority leader Trent Lott for comments he made on Senator Storm Thurmond’s 100th birthday party in December 2002, supporting Thurmond’s segregationist stance in the presidential election in 1948 (Jackson 2006, p. 295). The event was broadcast and reported in the mainstream press, but while bloggers denounced the remarks vigorously, it took the mainstream media almost a week to devote significant coverage to Lott’s comments (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 3). Bloggers were also credited for creating the media storm that lead to CBS reporter Dan Rather’s resignation in 2004 (Jackson 2006, p. 295) after he presented false documents critical of President George W Bush's service in the United States National Guard during a 60 Minutes report in the lead up to the election (Eberhart 2005). Blogs questioned the authenticity of the documents within hours and the content soon spread to the mass media (Eberhart 2005, Pein 2005). Jackson (2006, p. 295) claims, therefore, that: “the impact of weblogs appears to be helping to set the political or news agenda”. Similar, Sroka (2007, p. 9) reports that the vast majority of the academic literature “has pinned the blogosphere’s potential for influence on its ability to sway, guide, and, generally, shape the way the media sees and frames political events”. Furthermore, Jackson (2006, p. 296), supported by Drezner and Farrell (2004), argues that it appears blogs have the capability of ‘influencing the influencers’. “The impact of political blogs is not so much who is producing them, rather it is whether they attract influential visitors”, claims Jackson (2006, p. 296). Studies have found that a high percentage of visitors to political blogs are opinion makers: political reporters, politicians and policy makers (Bloom in Jackson 2006, p. 296, Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 4), and because certain opinion-makers take blogs seriously, the medium can have a wide impact on the political agenda (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 22). However, blogs also have a potential to influence voters that goes beyond their ability to occasionally set the news agenda (Jackson 2006, p. 296). What also strikes Jackson (2006, p. 296) is that bloggers are ‘techno-activists’ (coined by Kahn & Keller in Jackson 2006, p. 296), “so that their community is often ‘political’ in nature”. This, he claims, opens up the possibility of mobilizing this community. But what is even more important, is that blogs are unique in the way that they enable political actors to communicate at two different levels at the same time:

“First, they can narrowcast to a very small number of key opinion formers to influence the political agenda. Second, they can broadcast to as many people as possible to try and influence their individual opinion. Potentially, political parties and candidates can reach a range of voters who visit the blogosphere” (Jackson 2006, p. 296).

Abold and Heltsche (2006, p. 1) argue that blogs can make a successful contribution to political campaigns because they combine two main elements of political communication, namely openness and interactivity. Blogs consequently meet the growing demand for authentic and personal communication expected by the post-modern voter as they not only provide valuable information, but also enforce political discussions with citizens (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 1). A more technical feature that makes blogs a potentially effective campaigning tool is, according to Abold and Heltsche (2006, p. 2), the high rank of blog articles in Internet search engines. Blog articles rank high in search engines because of their linking system. Most of the search engines’ algorithms work in the way that they rank pages higher if the sites that link to that page use a consistent anchor text (Wikipedia 2007b) – “the text a user clicks when clicking a link on a web page” (Wikipedia 2007c). However, several recent sources claim that search engines, in particular Google, are working hard to change their algorithm after bloggers in the election battles of 2004 and 2006 organised so called ‘Google Bombing campaigns’ (see Easter 2007, Cutts 2007, Wikipedia 2007b) - attempts to intentionally influence the ranking of pages and articles in order to drive as many voters as possible toward the most damning, non-partisan article written on a candidate (Bowers 2006a).

Nonetheless, it is one thing to discuss the potential influence blogs may have on political campaigns, but looking at how political parties and candidates actually use the medium might give a different perspective of the mediums’ capabilities as an electioneering tool.

Blog Campaigning: 4.4 The impact of blogs

4.4 The impact of blogs Lawson-Border and Kirk (2005, p. 548) claim that blogging did not have a significant impact on the outcome of the 2004 U.S. presidential election. They do, however, argue that the effectiveness of blogs was demonstrated in the election campaign, and that an emerging application of the tool paved the way for future campaign communication. But it was political commentator blogs, not campaign blogs that achieved this:

“Freed from the economic pressures, bloggers opened doors and created pockets of public opinion that pressured the mainstream into assessing the validity of stories the dominant parties and candidates might be tempted to suppress” (Lawson-Border & Kirk 2005, p. 550).

The problem with many of the campaigns was that they, as with the introduction of any new media, used the tool without knowing what specific communication function it could serve (Lawson-Border & Kirk 2005, p. 557).

“Some campaigns used them because it is considered hip, whereas others used them strategically or not at all” (Lawson-Border & Kirk 2005, p. 557).

Rice (2004, p. 4), on the other hand, claims that the Internet and emerging technologies made a “profound impact” on the presidential campaign.

“Online campaigning has revolutionized political communication, grassroots activism, supporter outreach, and fundraising. Ten years ago, the Internet was barely used in politics; today it is an innovative, informative, interactive, and a creative tool that transformed Presidential campaigning” (Rice 2004, p. 4).

Gill (2004, p. 4) claims that given the fact that people during the election were increasingly using the Internet to retrieve political content, it was no surprise most of the candidates included blogs on their website. A Pew Internet and American Life Project survey of the 2004 Internet users found that “40 percent of those online sought material related to the election” (in Williams et al. 2005, pp. 177-178). Even more interestingly the survey found that Internet users were not using the Internet merely to reinforce political opinion, “rather, Internet users who seek political material are more aware of arguments in support and opposition to their preferred candidates” (Williams et al. 2005, p. 178). Should we therefore assume that blogs at least have the capability to influence the decisions of some of these potential voters?

In an effort to assess the impact of campaign blogs in the 2006 U.S. senatorial election Erin Teeling (2006b) of The Bivings Group compared the number of winning and losing candidates who included a blog in their campaign. It turned out that of the 26 candidates including a campaign blog, 13 ended up winning and 13 ended up losing the race in which they competed (Teeling 2006b). Teeling, clearly assuming that the effect of blogs can be measured by a simple quantification of a winning-losing dichotomy, stated that: “This factor surprised me because I expected the Internet would play a more effectual role in this cycle's elections” (Teeling 2006b). In a commentary to the report she further stated:

“At any rate, Democratic candidate blogs, which tend to be a bit more well-developed than their republican counterparts, fared slightly better in this year's elections than Republican candidate blogs. Democratic candidates with blogs had a record of 11-5, while Republicans were 3-8. In the six races where both Republican and Democratic candidates had blogs (VA, PA, CT, WA, NV, UT), Republicans won 2 races and Democrats won 2 races, and Joe Lieberman, an independent, won the race in Connecticut. Overall, the average margin of victory or loss by candidates with blogs was 20%. This figure was significantly smaller in 2-blog races, where the margin of victory/loss was just 5%. I believe that these results indicate that there are many factors that contribute to a campaign victory. The presence of a campaign blog or aggressive campaign Web strategy may contribute to the outcome of the election, but will not be the deciding factor” (Teeling 2006b).

During the German general election in 2005, Abold and Heltsche looked at the attention of voters toward campaign blogs as an indicator for success of blog based campaigning. They conducted a two-wave survey among users of online campaign sources, recruiting respondents by posting a link to the survey in political oriented Internet forums (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 13). Their findings suggest that political party blogs lacked originality and did therefore not manage to strike the right tone to inspire voters (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 18). Only 17 percent of the respondents agreed to the statement: “Weblogs have an effect on public opinion”. 20 percent of the respondents believed that blogs were important within political campaigns (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 18). Not surprisingly, active blog users – users that regularly read and comment in all kinds of political blogs – rated the importance of blogs significantly higher than all the other respondents (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 18). In conclusion, Abold and Heltsche (2006, p. 18) stated that “voters perceive weblogs not as an effective way to influence the outcome of an election”.

Similar, a study of the use of blogs in the British general election in 2005 found that the impact of blogs was fairly limited. The study suggested, however, that some blogs might have had a PR value, helping candidates raise their profile during the campaign (Jackson 2006, p. 300). Some of the smaller parties claimed that their blog helped them put the Party higher up on search engines on a range of issues, which again helped make the parties more visible on the web (Jackson 2006, p. 300).

In conclusion the previous literature reveals that there is still a huge gap in the research focusing on how blogs impact the outcome of an election. So far little has been said about the immediate or direct effects of blogging on a particular campaign race or the outcome of an election. Less has been said about how we can actually measure this relationship. In an effort to generate a better understanding of this relationship, the paper will further present new data that views the subject from a blogger’s perspective.

The impact of blogs on the Irish election has piece about the impact of the Internet and blogs on the Irish election.

From the

FOR those on the outside looking in, dismissing as minuscule the impact of the internet and blogs in particular on the election is the easy option.

This, after all, was to be the campaign when blogging was to make a real push towards the mainstream, and when Irish politics embraced the internet to energise interest.

Yet, at first glance, it is difficult to argue that either happened.

Instead, the generally held view of bloggers being political anoraks or, worse, cranks, peddling their particular party line or trying to bulldoze you into submission with a raft of obscure 'facts' and ideology has possibly taken even firmer root.

And any attempt by the political parties to use the internet to their advantage tended to be in the form of YouTube videos that were largely only viewed for their 'cringe' factor.

But for those on the inside looking out, the picture is somewhat different.

"One of the reasons it's very hard to gauge the effect of the blogosphere is because the biggest consumers are journalists and they are also the ones least likely to acknowledge the fact that they use it, day in, day out," Mark Fealty from the political site Slugger O'Toole claimed yesterday.

On sites such as, party insiders and political junkies vie to prove their greater knowledge of the Irish political scene, their greater grasp of political ideology and their possession of more and juicier gossip.

But journalists and other commentators - their identities often masked by obscure user names - are increasingly using these sites and blogs as a generous resource, trawling for opinion and more offbeat stories.

"Of late I think that a lot of stuff that is discussed in blogs or found on the net and first discussed in blogs is finding its way into the newspapers," Damien Mulley of agreed yesterday.

"It's influencing the influencers if you like - political journalists are keeping a close eye on the area.

It clearly seems to be a consensus about the fact that bloggers are influencing the influencers.

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 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

The web's impact on the French election

I have been meaning to write about this since the election was over, but I just haven’t had time to do it. I can at least present some links that can help you gain a better understanding of the impact the web had on the election. Here they are:

From TechPresident: Le Internet Campaign

From e.politics: French Election Shows the Limits of User-Generated Content

From Dessine Moi Le Web 2.0: How web 2.0 impacted the french presidential campaign and helped Sarkozy enter Elysees 1.0?

Inconclusive - yeah! The more exciting it is!

- Espen

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)


Electioneering via Internet = increase in votes

Politicians who miss net boat could miss vote reads the headline of Silicon Republican, Ireland’s Technology News Service today.

“Irish politicians who fail to embrace new media such as the internet, email, blogging and even social networking sites like YouTube are in danger of losing out on a vast number of younger people in their twenties and thirties who feel passionate about core issues but are stuck in traffic or too hard at work to be listened to.” Reports Silicon Republic.

“The election year 2007 will be remembered as the year that electioneers took to the internet as a serious platform to reach Ireland’s missing electorate. Some have taken to blogging while others have taken awkwardly to putting videos up on YouTube, creating much mirth in the Irish media.”

Though we can not yet put our finger on how, and to what degree, online campaigning affects voting behavior, I believe there has to be some merit in the constant buzz about the influence of blogs on campaigns and voting behavior. And I think we can all agree with Alan Rosenblatt's statement on Personal Democracy Forum in a comment about technology’s role in the U.S Senate election 2006:

“…David Winston, Republican pollster once said… there will come a time when we no longer talk about online strategies and offline strategies, but rather strategies with online and offline components. I suggest that that day has arrived, maybe not universally, but certainly noticeably”.