Blog Campaigning Thesis - More Extras: Who Really broke the ‘macaca’ story?

(Wikipedia privdes a brief summary of the 'macaca' controversy for those not familiar with the incident. Click this link. The video can be viewed here.)

In my Blog Campaigning thesis I base my conclusion about the role bloggers played in sinking Senator George Allen in the 2006 Virginia Senatorial race on statements spoken by Jessica Vanden Berg, Jim Webb’s campaign manager. You can read what I write about this here

In regards to how the Webb team strategically used the ‘macaca’ video to target media and bloggers, Vander Berg argues, according to e.politics' Colin Delany:  

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.  

However, this not the story as Lowell Feld, Webb’s Netroots Coordinator knows it.  

When I recently sent my thesis to Lowell, offering him the opportunity to share his take on how the incident went down, he replied:  

Espen: [...] With regard to the "macaca" incident, I don't fully agree with the assertion that the campaign sold the story to the Washington Post before it told the bloggers.  At least, it wasn't that neat and clean in reality.  If you go back and look at how the story first broke, on the Not Larry Sabato blog, you'll see that it leaked on August 13 (Sunday), a day before the story was published in the Washington Post. You'll also notice that there was a huge frenzy over at Not Larry Sabato. Would the Washington Post have jumped on the story if there had NOT been a blog-induced frenzy already in progress, plus a YouTube video?  I don't know for sure, but my guess is that it would have been less likely and less effective…

Here is the link to the Not Larry Sabato post that broke the story which clearly states that the story was leaked from inside the Webb campaign (See also how the NLS blog first spelled ‘macaca’: Mukakkah! And check out Jeffrey Feldman’s research on the word's meaning – Great stuff!).   

Going over the comments in the NLS post you will really see that the post started a huge frenzy, just as Lowell claims! The post received a storm of comments - 477 to be accurate. The question is: Would the Post have pushed the story without this post starting a huge frenzy? Yes, it probably would. They had the video! But I would still argue that it was a wise choice to leak the story to a blog.

I don’t think Lowell ’s point changes my conclusion in regards to the role bloggers played in sinking Allen. If anything, it supports my claim that bloggers were an important intervening variable in the scenario that turned the campaign on its head - And it definitely supports Henke’s claim: that blogs can establish narratives that the media pick up on. In addition, it really proved that the Webb team did play the ‘macaca’ incident very nicely!    

Note: Lowell Feld blogs for Raising Kaine. He is currently writing a book about the incident – where he promises to tell the entire story! Can’t wait to read it!

- Espen

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.

Blog Campaigning: 6. Conclusion


This study set out to broaden our understanding of the potential influence and role blogs can play in contemporary election campaigns. Questioning whether blogs can have an impact on the political election process, the paper has tried to locate different aspects about the medium that can influence a political campaign or people’s voter decisions more directly. Simultaneously, the paper has worked to locate specific incidents or situations where blogs have helped change the direction of a political campaign or helped swing voters to produce an upset outcome of an election. The data presented in the study reflects only what we can learn form the specific incidents that have been discussed throughout this paper. No generalisations or future predictions can be drawn from the data other than the surveys located as a part of the research.

Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s former campaign manager, told Agence France-Presse earlier this year 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 implies that the Internet has gained a stronger position in the political campaign as a growing number of Americans are becoming part of online communities and that moments like ‘Macaca’ are bound to spring up again in the 2008 presidential race (Zablit 2007). As the current study has found, these are relevant claims to make. However, in saying that the web will change the outcome of the election for the first time, Trippi indirectly implies that the Internet to date not has had a profound impact on the outcome of a major election.

Data retrieved by the current study strongly suggests that it has already been demonstrated that a campaign, in some cases, can successfully exploit the presence of the web and community blogs, and in doing so, even impact the outcome of a specific election race. The race between Senator George Allen vs. Jim Webb in the 2006 U.S. senatorial election stands as a great example of this. Data to emerge from the current study shows that Webb’s campaign cleverly utilized the strategic advantages that the Internet and blogs present and effectively managed to create a negative impression of Senator George Allen that drove away enough voter support to cause the incumbent Senator’s defeat. But we can not claim that the Internet or blogs directly caused Allen’s defeat. As the data discussing the ‘Macaca’ incident shows, the Internet can at best serve as an important intervening variable in a campaign’s electoral success. To turn the web into a tool that can optimize a campaign’s electioneering effort, a campaign has to actively involve itself with online communities and develop message management strategies that combine online and offline strategies. The campaign, argues Stockwell, “cannot afford to just put up a website (or a blog for that matter) and hope for the best”. To build strong relationships with constituencies, campaigns have to take advantage of the speed and mass interactivity that the web offers (Stockwell 2005, p. 132). Interestingly, but not unexpectedly, the study confirms what previous studies have concluded: that most campaigns are failing to realize this. While most bloggers are engaging in a vibrant conversation within the overall universe of blogs, the average campaign utilizing a blog for electioneering purposes seems to be operating within a vacuum, using the medium as a traditional one-way, top-down communication channel. Bloggers therefore regard campaigns’ blogs and blogging as a poor effort.

Several recent surveys located by the current study show, however, that voters in general rely more on what they read on the Internet in relation to politicians and elections than ever before (see Gomez Inc. 2007, Performics 2007, Rainie 2007, Burst Media 2007). This clearly indicates that there is a growing potential for politicians to reach voters via blogs, and that the message communicated via blogs might have a stronger effect on voter decisions than so far expected. Bloggers are expecting candidates to reach out to the blog community (Armstrong 2007b). Politicians deciding not to develop a blogger outreach strategy, or not including a blog in their overall campaign strategy, will therefore miss out on a prime opportunity to put a positive and personal spin on the message that a growing number of voters access online.

Previous research has found that: “campaigns that use opinion research to understand the citizenry’s frame of mind and employ the campaign machinery to conduct a two-way discussion with the citizenry that strives for even-handedness and an equality of power can have a remarkable and on-going effect” (Stockwell 2005, p. 17). This might explain why we have such high expectations about the usefulness and effect of blogs in political campaigns. The blog clearly breathes a fresh breath into the political arena, as its nature fosters a process of deliberative democracy, a process that is “acknowledging the power inherent in the citizen’s active engagement in the political process” (Cohen in Stockwell 2005, p. 16). Perhaps many see the blog to be a channel that can guarantee more people free speech and the potential to participate in a process of deliberative democracy that for so many years now has occurred primarily in the mass media giants (Stockwell 2005, p. 17), where participation is limited to the political and financial elite (Stockwell 2005, p. 18). It is therefore important that we continue to explore the effectiveness of the medium, especially compared to traditional mainstream media.

Future studies clearly need to learn more about how many of the people that read, link to or interact with a candidate’s blog, actually go on to vote for that specific candidate. They need to learn more about how voters value the information they retrieve on blogs in comparison to the information they retrieve from other media: Which medium’s information do they find most appealing, which do they find most trustworthy, and which medium’s content has the most effect on their decision at the ballot box. But more importantly, future studies need to learn more about the persuasive elements that make the blog successful. Which elements of the blog make a person want to act or react to vote? Is it the fact that a blog allows readers to participate in a deliberative process? Is it the experience of taking part in something, helping a candidate or a party reach a goal via their blog? Is it the pleasure of freely lashing out against the parties or candidates you do not like, trashing their blogs with spam? Or is it the experience of being positioned on the political spectrum by someone else, other bloggers that share your view or regard you as an opponent? These are the aspects that will not only teach us more about the effectiveness of blogs when used as a campaign tool, they will also help us learn more about how citizens can decentralize the (political) “power that arises from the centralised role of broadcast media in mass society” (Stockwell 2005, pp. 17-18) and create a more deliberative democratic process.