Blog Campaigning: 4.3 The uses of blogs in political campaigns

4.3 The uses of blogs in political campaigns

“One of the key questions that should concern any study of the potential affect of blogs on politics and policy development are how politicians themselves are utilizing the new communications technologies” (Sroka 2007, p. 22).

Academic literature examining uses of blogs in political campaigns has mainly focused on the 2004 U.S. presidential election as this was the first campaign ever to see a political candidate use a blog as an integral part of a campaign (Rice 2004, p. 1, Williams et al. 2005, p. 178).

The candidate leading the technological revolution was Howard Dean (Trammell 2005, p. 2). Dean and his campaign team were especially open to new strategies. In planning the campaign, the team looked at previous Internet successes to create a new model of online communication that was genuine in its ability to reach out to supporters (Rice 2004, p. 6). Dean therefore created an official campaign blog, Blog for America, developed a massive email list of supporters and embraced online forums and tools as means to organize events and rallies (Rice 2004, pp. 5-6). The idea behind his strategy was to allow for volunteers to take a key role in the development and processes of the campaign (Rice 2004, pp. 5-6). Nonetheless, Dean never achieved his final goal of becoming the 44th president to govern the United States. Whether his campaign was successful or not has therefore been the topic of numerous debates. Yet, some scholars argue that Dean’s online campaign strategies in many ways made him a successful candidate. Rice (2004, p. 6), for instance, argues that Dean’s success can be measured by his ability to use the web to raise more funds than any other Democratic candidate, recruit more than 500 000 supporters and propel him to frontrunner status. Several scholars also argue that Dean’s online presence made a significant impact on the political agenda (see Rice 2004, Trammell 2005, Williams et al. 2005).

“[…] the media noticed Dean’s Internet success and wrote extensively about his use of technology, creating even a bigger buzz and generating plenty of earned media that none of the other Democratic candidates were receiving” (Rice 2004, p. 6).

In fact, Trammell (2005, pp. 2-3) argues, the buzz became so loud that the other candidates followed suit and integrated a blog to their campaign toolkit. As a result, more than half of the primary candidates ended up operating a campaign blog during the 2004 election (Williams et al. 2005, p. 180).

However, as many would have expected when a technological innovation suddenly becomes a central part of a campaign’s message management machinery without the campaign getting the chance to explore the innovation’s usability, audiences experienced a huge variation in the way candidates expressed themselves through their blogs. Bloom and Kerbel argue that candidates mainly used their blog for three functions during the campaign: “diffusing information to internal audiences; building up a volunteer base; agenda setting of the mainstream media” (in Jackson 2006, p. 196). Blogs were either “written by the candidate himself or herself, ghostwritten for the candidate, or authored and identified by another member of the campaign staff” (Trammell in Conners 2005, p. 5). Only some of the campaigns invited voters to comment on their blog. Most often the blogs were only used for one-way communication purposes, spreading information from the campaign to prospective voters (see Rice 2004). In general this is to say that most blogs did not present any new features that were not already presented on their campaign website.

Not surprisingly many studies argue that the candidate that made the most of his blog was the only candidate that was properly prepared for a campaign that focused on Internet outreach, namely Howard Dean. Williams et al. (2005, p. 180) found that Dean used his blog more actively than any of the other candidates when it came to voter outreach. He included more features on his blog than any other candidate “by letting visitors comment on blog posts and subscribe to the blog through syndication (RSS, XML). He also categorized the blogposts by subject and posted ‘‘trackback’’ data showing the context and links to other (noncampaign-related) discussions of particular blog posts” (Williams et at. 2005, p. 180). Additionally, Dean embraced unofficial campaign blogs by creating a blogroll linking to numerous unofficial supporter blogs (Rice 2004, p. 13). Dean used his blog to transmit a stream of information concerning the campaign, including “information of upcoming events, review of events, campaign updates, volunteer activities, open-thread dialog, fundraising goals and returns, reviews of debates and press coverage, and pictures”, argues Rice (2004, pp. 12-13). Readers were constantly encouraged to post their own comments and promote entries and links to other blogs that referenced the campaign (Rice 2004, pp. 12-13). These findings were also supported by Kerbel and Bloom (2005, p. 1), which by analysing the content of 3,066 unique posts encompassing every entry in the Dean blog from March 15, 2003 through January 27, 2004, found that the campaign used the blog to encourage its audience to discuss media coverage of the campaign and “facilitate discourse about Dean’s positions on issues and public policy in general”. Kerbel and Bloom (2005, p. 11) also found that Dean’s team used the blog’s interactive capabilities to engage bloggers in tactical exercises such as: “writing letters to undecided voters, canvassing, and organizing campaign events”, and that the blog played a significant role in the campaign’s largely successful fundraising effort (Dean raised over 40 million dollars for his campaign) (Kerbel & Bloom 2005, pp. 11-14).

“Giving money became a cathartic experience for bloggers who felt attached to the Dean campaign through their membership in the virtual community that the blog created. […] Campaign officials encouraged this giving by playing up goals and benchmarks” (Kerbel & Bloom 2005, p. 14).

In conclusion, the previous literature argues that through his blog, Dean, more than any other candidate, invited supporters and volunteers to play a key role in the campaign process. Perhaps his efforts are best summed up in a Slate article published November 2003:

“The metaphor of choice for Howard Dean's Internet-fueled campaign is "open-source politics": a two-way campaign in which the supporters openly collaborate with the campaign to improve it, and in which the contributions of the "group mind" prove smarter than that of any lone individual” (Suellentrop 2003).

Most of the other candidates running for presidency in 2004 chose not to make their blog as active and open as Dean did. Wesley Clark’s blog offered a fairly high degree of interactivity: “thanks to his hiring of a well-known blogger, Cameron Barrett, early in his campaign”, argues Conners (2005, p. 5). Otherwise, Rice (2004) found that the other campaign blogs were used more as conventional news wires and websites than blogs. For example: neither of the selected candidates, Bush and Kerry, used their blog as a major opportunity for fundraising (Williams et al. 2005, p. 181). Bush did not allow his readers to submit comments on his blog (Rice 2004, pp. 21-22), while Kerry experienced huge problems with spam posting and had to close down his comment section for parts of the campaign (Rice 2004, p. 18).

Although more limited in numbers, a few studies have been conducted on politicians’ use of campaign blogs after the 2004 presidential election. A paper by Joan Conners (2005, p. 7) discussing technological developments within the U.S. Senate campaign websites in 2004, found that only 26.3 percent of the candidates included a blog in their campaign toolkit during the senatorial race. Conners found that:

“Some blogs appeared to be little more than campaign calendars of events, or abbreviated press releases, while others summarized campaign events or attempted to motivate voters to take action (donate, register to vote, attend events, etc.). Many provided links to news coverage of the campaign or one’s opponents” (Conners 2005, p. 8).

A study conducted by The Bivings Group in an effort to assess the role of the Internet in the 2006 U.S. senatorial election found that in the beginning of the campaign only 23 percent (of the 77 candidates explored by the report) included a blog in their campaign repertoire (Internet’s Role in Political Campaigns 2006). However, after revisiting the data from the study after the campaign was over, The Bivings Group found that more candidates had added blogs to their campaign toolkit during the campaign.

“In our original study, 23% of the candidates had blogs on their websites. After the shrinking of the candidate pool (many candidates dropped out after losing their primaries) and the addition of a few new blogs, this number has increased to 41%. 31% of incumbents now have blogs and 50% of challengers offer blogs on their sites” (Telling 2006a).

Representing The Bivings Group, Erin Telling stated on the company’s official blog, The Bivings Report, that the report found that most campaigns used their blog to present the same top-down material found in press releases and candidate websites (Telling 2006a).

“A few […] blogs stand out from the political norm: Ned Lamont’s blog is particularly robust, and actually resembles a “real” blog. The quality of Lamont’s blog has been largely credited with his defeat of incumbent Joe Lieberman in Connecticut’s primary. Jean Hay Bright’s blog appears to be sincere in content, but it lacks comments, links, and a blogroll. John Spencer’s blog has the opposite problem: it allows comments and offers Web 2.0 features, but the content is nothing more than candidate press releases. Of these new blogs, those of Mark Kennedy, and Joe Lieberman are probably the worst, as they don’t publish comments and lack personal content. The remaining blogs, (Cantwell, Casey, Ensign, McGavick, Menendez, and Stabenow) followed this vein, and while not terrible, are really nothing to speak of. In my opinion, bad and phony blogging looks worse than choosing not to blog. With this in mind, my advice to candidates would be to only pursue a campaign blog if they have the time and good intentions to offer constituents unique and interesting material. A blog full of press releases and opponent attacks is not going to impress anyone” (Telling 2006a).

The uses of blogs in election campaigns have also been the subject of studies outside the U.S. And while it must be pointed out that a cross country comparison might prove difficult because of the variations among the different political systems, it can still be useful to explore how parties and candidates outside the U.S. have embraced the new trend.

The general election in Germany 2005 was the first of its kind to see party organisations and political candidates use blogs to establish contact with voters (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 1). Abold and Heltsche (2005, pp. 7-8) found that during the election over 100 blogs were run by politicians and parties at a state or federal level. However, many of these were short lived. The vast majority of the blogs lacked interconnectedness and interactivity (Adamic & Glance in Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 13). As a consequence they “missed the opportunity to develop a cross-blog dialogue” (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 13). A similar study of the British general election in 2005 showed that party blogs were “essentially used as one-way communication channels which added colour to party web sites” (Jackson 2006, p. 292).

On a final note, before moving on to discuss how the candidates’ use of blogs might have impacted voter decisions, it could be useful to briefly delve into a very recent and unique study looking at how candidates themselves perceive the usefulness and effects of the blog as a communication tool. The study, conducted by Sroka (2007), found that:

“[…] offices on Capitol Hill are less optimistic about a congressional blogs’ effectiveness in reaching the media than its potential to communicate with the blogosphere-at-large or even political opponents” (Sroka 2007, p. 25).

Explaining the findings, Sroka (2007, p. 25) argues that this might suggest that “Congressional offices feel they already have other effective means to communicate with the media and thus do not need blogs to do so”. Sroka (2007, p. 25) also suggests that the findings might mean that offices are trying to utilize blogs and have found them useful as a tool to reach out to bloggers or voters in general.

This section has looked at how political candidates and parties have utilized blogs in political campaigns. Judged by the literature discussing the subject it looks as if few parties or candidates have managed to fully embrace the features that make the blog a useful and successful campaigning instrument. The paper will therefore further explore what, if any, impact the previous literature argues that the tool have had on specific campaigns or elections from 2004 to 2007.

Blog Campaigning: 5.1 Blogs’ impact on Election 2006

5.1 Blogs’ impact on Election 2006

When Erin Telling (2006b) of The Bivings Group, as mentioned in the previous chapter, attempted to assess the impact of blogs on the 2006 U.S. senatorial election by comparing the number of candidates operating an official campaign blog (26) that won (13) and lost (13) their respective races, she clearly chose an easy approach to an extremely complex and debatable subject.

Data retrieved by the current study finds that there is a huge variety in opinions regarding what impact, and degree of impact, blogs had on the 2006 election. An interesting finding to emerge from the study, however, is that most of the statements discussing whether blogs had, or did not have, a role either in changing the direction of a campaign or the outcome of an election was concentrated around: one specific incident that took place during the campaign; two particular races; and the role of a new activist group that engaged with campaigns via blogs. The following section will in turn analyse these occurrences and present the data that discusses how blogs affected them.

5.1.1 The moment: ‘Macaca’ - One word that changed political campaigning The study finds that when identifying a specific incident where blogs, during the 2006 U.S. senatorial race, played a crucial part in changing the direction of a campaign and maybe even the outcome of the election, most bloggers, online communication experts and political commentators point to the incident where Virginia Republican Senator George Allen was captured on film, twice referring to a volunteer with his Democratic Senate challenger Jim Webb, as ‘macaca’ during a campaign speech (Larvatus Prodeo 24 August 2006, Media Matters 16 August 2006) [View the film here]. ‘Macaca’ is, according to most news publications reporting on the incident, a racially derogatory word used as a slang term for blacks (Craig & Shear 2006, see also Rainie 2007, p. 16, Media Matters 16 August 2006), dating back to the “[f]lemish approximation of the Bantu word for monkey” (Media Matters 16 August 2006). The campaign worker Allen referred to was of Indian descent (Craig & Shear 2006). But Allan has, according to reports, claimed that he had no knowledge about the word’s real meaning and that no racial slur was intended (Media Matters, 16 August 2006, Craig & Shear 2006). What Allen claims he really meant to say was “mohawk”, referring to the campaign worker’s haircut (Craig & Shear 2006).

However, regardless of what Allen intended to say, the incident resulted in a gigantic public relations disaster for his campaign. The video was put up on the popular video-sharing network YouTube and received massive attention from mainstream media (Delany 2006a). Not long after the news had reached the general public, Allen had his poll lead cut from 20 points to 3 over his resurgent Democratic challenger Webb (Larvatus Prodeo 24 August 2006). Webb eventually won the race with fewer than 9,000 votes out of the 2.37 million ballot casts (Barakat 2006).

Many political commentators, journalists and bloggers have claimed that it was bloggers that made ‘macaca’ into the scandal that helped sink George Allen (see Bacon Jr. et al. 2006, Delany 2006a). Mark Matthews wrote in an ABC7News article August 22, 2006, that:

“- If you're just getting up to speed on blogging, get ready because blogging has gone visual, and it's reshaping the political landscape. Political candidates beware. Every misstep on the campaign trail can now be recorded and played out to the entire world, by anyone […] And when it comes to political video clips, YouTube is having a big impact. Senator George Allen of Virginia knows all about YouTube, but too late” (Matthews 2006).

In a recent comment to a blog post discussing technologies that will impact the 2008 election, prominent blogger and Senior Vice President of the Bivings Group, a Washington, DC-based Internet communications firm, Todd Zeigler (2007), even claimed that YouTube in 2006 had cost the Republicans the Senate. When asked by the author of the current study why and how YouTube cost the Republicans the Senate, Zeigler replied:

“George Allen lost his race in VA by around 10,000 votes. He was well ahead before the infamous macaca video starting spreading on YouTube. Conrad Burns also lost a close race in part due to comments he made that were posted to YouTube…Saying YouTube cost the Republicans the Senate is a bit simplistic, sure. But there is some truth there …” (Zeigler 2007),

Montana Senator Conrad Burns, which Zeigler are referring to, was also captured on video, “dozing off during Senate business was viewed and widely debated by his constituents” (Rainie 2007, p. 16) [View the film here]. So was also Republican Sue Kelly of New York, “fleeing reporters rather than answer their questions about her views on Mark Foley’s activities with congressional pages” (Rainie 2007, p. 16). All of the three candidates lost their races (Rainie 2007, p. 16). But it was the incident of Senator Allen referring to ‘macaca’ that received the most attention from the national media.

Clearly taking the same stance as Zeigler, Jon Henke, new media director for the Republican Communication Office in the Senate and contributor to the QandO blog, states:

“Make no mistake, without the netroots [term used for the liberal blogosphere], Webb would not have won. He may not even have been close. It was a long-cultivated activism/outreach/media-hounding New Media campaign that brought Webb to the attention of the institutional Democrats, sold him to the activists and shaped the narratives of both Webb and Allen for the media” (Henke 2006).

More moderate in his claim, Personal Democracy Forum blogger and Executive Director of the Internet Advocacy Centre, Alan Rosenblatt, states that while it is simplistic to say that YouTube caused Allen’s and Burns’ defeat, it is clear that it caused the sparks that “set a fire in the offline press that burned away enough voter support from these Senators to shift the outcome in favor of their Democratic opponents” (in Personal Democracy Forum 8 November 2006).

Looking into the Webb campaign’s handling of the incident, we might find that even Rosenblatt’s statement is a little simplistic and not that clear after all. Jessica Vanden Berg, Webb’s campaign manager, argues that ‘macaca’ had an impact because the Webb campaign made it one through well planned and executed strategies stressing both the necessity of blogger outreach and media management (Delany 2006a). Webb’s team published the ‘macaca’ video on YouTube and contacted bloggers only after they had pitched the story to a Washington Post reporter (Delany 2006a), and they never published the clip on Webb’s official campaign blog,

“According to Vanden Berg, they [the Webb team] chose to post the video on YouTube because it was free (simple enough). But before they tossed it out to the public to see, they’d already pitched the story to a Washington Post reporter, who wrote it online on Monday [the video was captured on a Friday]. Only after the Post story appeared and the issue had been properly framed did the Webb folks send an email to their supporter list and to friendly bloggers. The fact that the video was on YouTube made it particularly easy to distribute, since bloggers could insert it directly into their pages, but it was the campaign’s promotional work that spread the word. And as the story developed, they constantly worked reporters and bloggers behind the scenes to shape the public discussion” (Delany 2006a).

Vanden Berg claims that the video had its most significant effect when the mainstream media picked it up, and that the polls did not shift as a direct result of the ‘macaca’ moment (Delaney 2006a). Rather, ‘macaca’ “did contribute to an overall impression of George Allen as a boor and possibly a racist”, and “opened the door to other stories that portrayed him in a bad light” (Delany 2006a).

Based on Vanden Berg’s statement it might be reasonable to draw a similar conclusion about the role blogs and YouTube played in Senator Allen’s defeat to what Drezner and Farrell (2004, p. 3) stated in regards to Trent Lott’s resignation as Senate Majority leader in 2003:

“Most political analysts credited “bloggers” with converting Lott’s gaffe into a full-blown scandal. In the language of social science, weblogs – also called blogs – were not a causal variable in explaining Lott’s downfall, but they were an important intervening variable” (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 3)

There is little doubt that it was a smart move to publish the ‘macaca’ video in an accessible and (thanks to YouTube) easily-spread medium (see Delaney 2006a). Blogs might have contributed to keep the momentum in the online conversation about ‘macaca’ going. They might also have helped spread the video virally and even draw further attention from mainstream media. But it was the hard work that Webb’s team put in to making the story go viral that essentially sparked what now is political history.

5.1.2 Lamont and the netroots – The importance of blogger outreach The study further finds that a remarkably low number of blog posts and news articles explicitly discussed how official campaign blogs affected the direction of the campaign or the outcome of the election in the research period. The limited data that actually discusses this topic supports what has been concluded in previous studies: that the candidates with the best developed blog have a better chance of receiving positive attention from the blog community in general than candidates operating a poorly developed blog or not having a blog at all (see Rice 2004, Williams et al. 2005). This can most clearly be seen in a comparison of some strategic choices made by Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004 (see Rice 2004, pp. 5-6, Kerbel & Bloom 2005) and Ned Lamont’s campaign in 2006. Following Dean’s example from the 2004 presidential race, Lamont developed a thorough online strategy in cooperation with highly experienced bloggers that would help him reach out to a large base of energetic blog-activists across the country, often referred to as the netroots (Lehmann 2006). Lamont was found in a study conducted by the The Bivings Group of the 2006 contestants’ blog performances to have the best developed campaign blog of the senatorial candidates (see Telling 2006a), and became the most famous candidate in the blogosphere throughout the campaign (Melber 2006a, Bacon Jr. et al. 2006).

Lamont became a success among Democratic voters and defeated his Democratic challenger, Joe Lieberman, in the primary election. After the election Tom Swan, Lamont’s campaign manager, argued that bloggers had helped introduce Lamont to a broader audience. They had also “helped established a narrative within the campaign and assisted in generating volunteers and a large number of small donors” (Swan in Lehmann 2006). Richard Edelman (2006), President and CEO of the global PR firm Edelman, correspondingly wrote on his personal blog that the blogosphere had been a key asset for Lamont’s campaign “discussing his views, magnifying the impact of his ad campaign and speeches”. He also argues that liberal blogs like Daily Kos had helped push stories about the campaign into the mainstream media (Edelman 2006).

However, running as an independent candidate in the general election, Lieberman defeated Lamont. In a comment about the result, one of the Lieberman campaign’s senior advisors, former Clinton White House counsel Lenny Davis, claimed that the victory “proved the blogosphere is all wind and very little sail” (in Melber 2006a). For two reasons this is a fairly unconsidered claim to make. (1) The outcome of a single race would explain little about the blogosphere’s influence on the 2006 election in general. (2) The two elections to which Davis is referring, the primary and general elections in Connecticut, have entirely different electorates and therefore different approaches are required. The primary election was a close race among two Democratic contestants. Lamont received 52 percent of the votes, Lieberman 48 percent (Klein 2006). The general election was an unusual three-way race, which Lieberman won because he received a large amount of the Republican votes. The Republicans ran a soft candidate, Alan Schlesinger, and it is therefore plausible to assume that many of the Republican registered voters supported Lieberman to avoid Lamont getting elected. Exit polls from the general election reveal that 70 percent of the registered Republicans voted for Lieberman; 8 percent voted for Lamont and 21 percent voted for Schlesinger. Of the registered Democrats 33 percent voted Lieberman, 65 percent voted Lamont and two percent voted Schlesinger (MSNBC 12 November 2006). Overall Lieberman received 50 percent of the votes, Lamont 40 percent and Schlesinger 10 percent ( n.d.). It is therefore plausible to assume that the progressive blogosphere might have had more impact on the outcome of the primary election than on the general election in Connecticut 2006.

Other non-quantifiable factors should also be taken into consideration when assessing the impact of blogs on the 2006 election. Blogger Joel Silberman brings this to light in his writings in the liberal blog, FireDogLake, November 7, 2006:

“While Ned Lamont may have lost his race to be the Senator from Connecticut all Democrats who are winning tonight owe him a debt of gratitude for being the first candidate to make Iraq the center of this electoral season. And it was the blogosphere that fueled that conversation turning it into a referendum on accountability and the need for checks and balances on a President run amok” (Silberman 2006).

Ari Melber (2006b) clearly agrees with Silberman and argues in an article in The Huffington Post November 8, 2006, that the impact of blogs and bloggers went far beyond wins and losses. Melber (2006b) further argues that the impact of bloggers should be more generally assessed by the netroots’ effort to provide “crucial, early support” for many of the Democratic candidates who were elected to Congress. More importantly, he argues, the netroots provided crucial support for many of the Democratic candidates not supported by the Beltway establishment. In a blog post published in the online version of The Nation the same day, Melber writes:

“Many of the bloggers’ picks were aggressive Democrats in long-shot districts who were neglected by the Beltway establishment. There is no doubt that bloggers leveraged money and political buzz to make races more competitive and put Republicans on the defensive, but it was simply not the decisive factor in the elections” (Melber 2006a).

MyDD blogger Chris Bowers, often quoted as an unofficial spokesperson for the netroots movement, seems to have an even stronger belief in the impact bloggers had on the outcome of the 2006 election. Bowers had this to say about the liberal blogosphere’s effort to restore a Democratic Congress not long after the victory had been claimed:

“When the nation woke up today, it was told that the balance of the Senate rested in two key races: Montana and Virginia […] Both campaigns were driven heavily by small donors, blogs, and volunteer activism for nearly an entire year. Given this, it should be obvious who put Democrats over the top in the Senate: the netroots and the progressive movement […] We brought in the message that the war in Iraq was not a good idea […] We brought in the hundreds of thousands of new activists for campaigns and we took over tens of thousands of vacated party offices and precinct captainships around the nation. We looked for a candidate to run in every single race in the entire region” (Bowers 2006b). claims that of the 19 Democratic candidates handpicked by the netroots, eight won their race (Bacon Jr. et al. 2006). According to Bacon Jr. et al. (2006) “This improves on the blogs' record from 2004, when Daily Kos picked out 16 campaigns to strongly support and raise money for, all of which lost”. It should be noted that ActBlue, [update: for a definition of ActBlue, see the comment section], only presents 17 candidates on its list over the 2005-2006 netroots candidates. Seven of these won their race. However, what is important to remember is the fact that the netroots’ candidates competed in hard to win seats and yet they won five House and two Senate seats and took a further seven into the marginal category (see Bowers 2006c). Chris Bowers (2006c) of MyDD claims that:

There isn't a single one of these races that was top tier when we picked them. We were trying to expand the battlefield. Even when we didn't win, we left a strong, local netroots scene in place for future challenges. The netroots page was an astounding success, and it will be significantly responsible for our new majorities” (Bowers 2006c).

Yet, none of the 20 Republican candidates that were supported by the netroots’ counterpart the rightroots won their race (Bowers 2006c).

It should briefly be mentioned that the high voter turnout and the unusually high interest in the election 2006 among Democrat listed voters, have been used as variables to explain the impact of blogging on the 2006 election. “Democrats wooed more voters than GOP for the first time in the midterm since the ’90, reported MSNBC November, 7, 2006. Bowers (2006d) claims that data from Pew Internet and American Life Project that measures voter enthusiasm by partisan identification, proves that the netroots can do more than just communicate to a group of bloggers: they can actually achieve the swing.

“Consider one of the great complaints lodged against the netroots and the blogosphere: we preach to the choir instead of trying to reach the swing. Well, when looking at voter enthusiasm this election cycle, it doesn't appear that preaching to the choir, and getting the choir excited, appears to be all that bad of an idea” (Bowers 2006d).

These are the figures in which Bowers (2006d) bases his claim on (from November Turnout May Be High 2006):


Given a lot of thought to [the] election: 2006: Dems 59%, Reps 48% 2002: Dems 46%, Reps 47% 1998: Dems 40%, Reps 50% 1994: Dems 40%, Reps 50%

More enthusiastic about voting than previous cycles: 2006: Dems 51%, Reps 33% 2002: Dems 40%, Reps 44% 1998: Dems 38%, Reps 42% 1994: Dems 30%, Reps 45%

The figures clearly show that there is a much higher enthusiasm among Democrats than Republican voters, and that the divide has increased in recent years.

In regards to these numbers, Bowers argues:

“It does not at all strike me as coincidental that the increase in Democratic voter enthusiasm took place concurrently with the rise of progressive media. I'd like to see someone try to explain how Democratic leaders have done a much better job firing up the base in 2005-2006 than they did in previous election cycles, especially since we have been frequently told by many in the Democratic leadership that we have to target swing voters instead of the base [...] The difference in Democratic excitement is not because of anything the leadership has done, but rather is the result of the rapid rise of progressive media. At the heart of progressive media, with the largest audience and the widest reach, is the progressive blogosphere. No one has been accused of needlessly preaching to the choir more than the blogosphere, but considering the vastly different levels of excitement among our base, I guess it wasn't such a bad idea to finally have someone doing that after all” (Bowers 2006d)

Bowers’s (2006d) explanation to how the progressive blogosphere has been able to reach the swing is by expanding the playing field. However, there are one important variable that Bowers (2006d) is not taking into consideration when he reviews the numbers presented by Pew Internet and American Life Project (November Turnout May Be High 2006); the anger and resentment against the Bush administration among Democratic voters.

Pew Internet and American Life Project states it the summary of their report that:

“Two clear factors underlie Democratic engagement this year: anger about the current political leadership and optimism about the party's chances. Across every question about politics and government, Democrats express high levels of dissatisfaction, especially with President Bush. Fully 77% of Democratic voters very strongly disapprove of the job Bush is doing as president, and nearly two-thirds (63%) say they consider their vote this fall as a vote against Bush” (November Turnout May Be High 2006).

“…when asked whether they are "angry," "frustrated," or "basically content" with government these days, 28% of Democratic voters say they are angry. This is up from 20% in 2004 and just 11% in 2000. More important, in 2000 there was no partisan divide in feelings of anger toward government, while today four times as many Democrats as Republicans say they are angry at government” (November Turnout May Be High 2006).

Explaining the impact of blogs directly by the increase in voter turnout or the high interest in the election, might overstate the impact of blogs on the election outcome. Still, the netroots might have helped fuel the resentment against the Bush administration and therefore acted as an intervening variable to the high voter turnout.

The case of Lamont vs. Lieberman and the role of the liberal blogosphere during the 2006 election clearly points out the complexity of the topic that we are dealing with. Though few bloggers, communication experts, and even political commentators claim that blogs or the netroots did not have an impact on the 2006 election, there is no obvious conclusion about what degree of impact blogs did have on this race. We need to have in mind that the war in Iraq most likely would have become a major issue in the campaign even without the blogosphere’s effort to make it so. There are other medium in which people channelled their arguments in regards to this issue. Attempting to locate other aspects where blogs may have influenced the campaign, the paper will therefore look further at more general opinions dealing with the question of what impact blogs had on the 2006 election.

5.1.3 Statements and opinions In a series of blog entries published not long after the election, focusing on how technology and the Internet is changing democracy in America, Personal Democracy Forum asked a distinguished group of technologists, politicians, bloggers and journalists to respond to the following questions: “Was the role of technology in politics different in 2006 than in 2004? How did new technology most affect Election 2006, and do you see any lessons for 2008?” (Personal Democracy Forum 8 November 2006). In regards to what impact blogs had on the election, some of the respondents argue that blog communities helped shape the overall discussion among candidates during the campaign. This corresponds both to what was said in regards to the Lamont vs. Lieberman race and what has been found in previous studies on the subject.

Previous Internet advisor to the Howard Dean campaign, Dave Weinberger, points to the fact that while it was groundbreaking for candidates to have blogs in 2004, it was in 2006 seen as a normal thing (in Personal Democracy Forum 8 November 2006). This might indicate the growing influence blogs have on the political arena in general. Todd Zeigler argues, however, that the candidates’ use of blogs during the election could overall be rated as ‘poor’, and that politicians have yet to realize the medium’s full potential (in Personal Democracy Forum 8 November 2006).

“The real sea change will occur when the candidates themselves realize that the web is about building a community of supporters, having a conversation with them and giving them the tools they need to advocate on your behalf. Some realized that in 2006. Many more will in 2008 and beyond” (Zeigler in Personal Democracy Forum 8 November 2006).

Danah Boyd, social media researcher with Yahoo, on the other hand, argues that other than creating an echo chamber, “discussing the ins and outs of the different candidates and issues”, bloggers had little, if any, impact on the election (in Personal Democracy Forum 8 November 2006). Boyd believes that the only thing blogs demonstrated during the election was that they can discuss the less newsworthy news and only in a few incidents turn this news into “properly newsworthy news” (in Personal Democracy Forum 8 November 2006). She doubts this had any impact on the election other than creating some scandals.

When asked by PBS mid September 2006: “What effect, if any, will blogs have on the mid-term elections?”, Arianna Huffington, founder of the popular news blog The Huffington Post, replied:

“They’re already having an effect – bloggers played a large role in Ned Lamont’s primary victory over Joe Lieberman, building buzz, shifting the conventional wisdom, and doing some great research and reporting. Bloggers were also a key element in George Allen’s “Macaca” comment being spread far and wide, which has led to challenger Jim Webb now running neck and neck with him. And we also see that Hilary has hired a blog adviser. There’s no more mainstream than Hilary Clinton, so the fact that she’s done this is indicative of the influence blogs now have” (Huffington in PBS 15 September 2006).

In response to the same question, Andrew Sullivan, founder of the popular commentator blog, The Daily Fish , replied: “Not that much, I think. We can help frame the debate, but we’re not ground-operators, nor, in my mind, should we be” (in PBS 15 September 2006).

Colin Delany of e.politics supports what many before him has recognised: that blogs do influence elections because they have the capability of influencing the influencers, or as he puts it: “it’s the wider firestorm of attention through the mainstream media, particularly television, radio and newspapers, that shifts the course of campaigns, but blogs and online video can provide the initial spark of information” (Delany 2006b). This was indeed the lesson from the 2006 election, Delaney (2006b) argues. Jon Henke (2006) of The QndO blog correspondingly argues that one of the greatest lessons from the 2006 election is that blogs were an effective component of what he refers to as the Triangle - A term coined by Peter Daou, Hilary Clinton’s current blog advisor, stating that: “without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots (blogs) alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom” (Daou 2005) - Daou’s definition of influence.

“The New Media is but one constituent aspect of the new political landscape - their efforts are best seen as a vital, but not sufficient, component of successful campaigns. Direct mail, GOTV efforts and campaign ads are vital to any serious national campaign, and they can be individually effective, whether or not the campaign is ultimately successful. The same is true of blogs and new media outreach. In an opportunity cost sense, the Leftosphere was very effective in this election cycle (2006). They didn't win every race, but they made significant contributions to individual races (Webb in Virginia, Tester in Montana), to the national anti-Republican mood, and to the media climate. Most of their successes won't be readily apparent to the general public (that was certainly true in my own campaign experience), while other successes are subtle and loosely connected — e.g., the media is frequently captured by narratives established in the blogs (Henke 2006).

Ari Melber (2006c) additionally claims that: “Unlike in 2004 Democratic Party leaders now say they listen to the netroots”, supporting Henke’s claim that bloggers were an effective component of what Daou (2006) refers to as the Triangle. Melber made the claim after bloggers from MyDD, FireDogLake, AmericaBlog and Daily Kos met with former president Bill Clinton during the 2006 campaign to talk politics and strategy (Melber 2006c).

Yet, despite what seems to be a widely held belief in the ability of political blogs to impact elections, it seems that very few, especially bloggers, believe political candidates do a good job on their official campaign blogs. Senior Vice President of The Bivings Group, Todd Zeigler (2006a), commented in the company’s blog during the 2006 campaign that he found most campaigns’ blogs to be “horrible”, and that operating a campaign blog that is poorly developed serves against its purpose.

“Ultimately, it’s better to have no blog than a really bad one. People see through this stuff […] A blog strategy isn’t going to be successful if it operates in a vacuum. The blogosphere is interconnected, and you are going to be most successful if you engage fully in the greater world. Its also important to remember that you can have a blog outreach strategy without having your own blog […] In summary, I think a blog is only going to be truly successful if a campaign is willing to invest the time needed to create a good strategy that leads to compelling content and smart outreach to the blogosphere. And is willing to give up a bit of control. If they can’t do that, it is probably best to not create a blog and focus on other tactics” (Zeigler 2006a).

After taking part in an panel debate at the Dole Institute of Politics discussing the impact blogging has made and will make on politics, founder of MyDD, Jerome Armstrong (2007b), correspondingly concluded that one thing that became evident during the debate was that none of the participants expected much from the 2008 presidential candidates in regards to either their campaign blogs or their blogging.

“There is an expectation of blogger outreach, and interacting with the existing blog communities, but a campaign is just not going to be able to compete with community blogs that have been longer standing and represent a more authentic interaction. Dean’s Blog for America was the first successful campaign blog, and maybe the last […] I just don’t see interesting blogging happening within a campaign […]” (Armstrong 2007b).

Armstrong’s point is that blogging on behalf of a candidate is not compelling for an audience: “If a candidate wants to use this medium to reach people, they are going to have to figure out how to do it themselves” (Armstrong 2007b).

The data discussed in this section clearly shows that many regard blogs to be most effective when used as strategic interventions to affect the agenda in the mainstream media. Especially Henke (2006), referring to Daou’s Triangle theory, makes a relevant claim when he states that blogs alone might not have the power to generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom. Blogs are most effective when they can establish narratives that are captured by the mainstream media and the political establishment. Blogs did not win every race in the 2006 election. They did, however, as Henke (2006) claims, make “significant contributions to individual races, […] to the national anti-Republican mood, and to the media climate”. But, as relevant as these statements might be, we are still left speculating about how campaign blogs are affecting voter decisions directly as they are used today. The subsequent section will therefore look at how voters use blogs and the Internet in general and discuss what this can teach us about how the medium is influencing their decisions at the ballot box.