The medium that is revolutionising political campaigning
New technologies started to change the nature of political campaigns already in the 1960s, when computers for the first time were used to assist candidates with database management (Stockwell 2005, p. 231). “Computers now power most of the political technologies in use today” (Stockwell 2005, p. 62), assisting campaigns “automate fund-raising, control campaign finances, manage the phone system for opinion polling then analyse the results, produce direct mail, ensure most effective bookings for advertising, organise volunteers, carry out research on opponents and their policies and even provide assistance in telephone marketing to key voters” (Shannon in Stockwell 2005, p. 62). The creation of the Internet in the early 1990s brought a whole new paradigm to the technological advantages of the computer (Stockwell 2005, p. 231) allowing campaigns to interact with voters in a way never before experienced: “the first major technological advance since the telephone to allow real reciprocity in a two-way flow of information” (Stockwell 2005, p. 231).
Margolis (in Gibson & McAllister 2005, p. 3) claims that the Internet was first used for campaign purposes in the 1992 U.S. presidential race, but it was not until the 1996 election that voters experienced concerted cyber-campaigning with Bob Dole and Bill Clinton both running high profile websites. The 1996 election therefore marked the start of a new era for cyber-campaigning. More and more campaigns started investing time and money on online technologies, and it did not take long before websites became a standard part of every political campaign’s communication strategy. However, as with every technological invention, it took time to understand how the website could optimise a campaign’s message management. Overall, the early web campaigns were accused of recycling offline content to an online environment, not taking advantage of the interactive capabilities that the web presented (Stone in Gibson & McAllister 2005, p. 4).
“Sites typically comprised a photograph, some biographical information, a policy or position statement and contact details that sometimes incorporated an email address” (Gibson & McAllister 2005, p. 4).
The first indication of the medium’s power to influence an election outcome came with the surprise victory of independent candidate Jesse Ventura in the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial race (Gibson & McAllister 2005, p. 4).
“Ventura’s use of the web and email was widely credited with enlarging his support base, particularly among younger voters and thereby delivering him the crucial extra votes needed to win office” (Fineman in Gibson & McAllister 2005, p. 4).
John McCain’s success in raising money from online donations through his website in the Republican presidential primaries of 2000 gave him widespread coverage in mainstream media, and provided a further boost for Internet campaigning (Gibson & McAllister 2005, p. 4). But for most commentators it was the emergence of Howard Dean in 2003 and his innovative use of social networking sites, in particular the blog, that really signalled the coming age of the Internet campaign (Hindman 2005, Wolf 2004, Williams and Weinburg 2004 in Gibson & McAllister 2005, p. 5).
This chapter will further look at how blogs have merged into the landscape of political communication and identify some aspects necessary to comprehend to understand the medium’s role in the modern election campaign. The chapter will answer questions such as: What is a blog? How did blogs enter the political arena? Why can a blog serve as a useful communication instrument for political campaigns? And how can blogs influence politics?