Blog Campaigning: Abstract


A growing number of political parties and candidates contesting in contemporary campaigns are including a blog in their overall campaign strategy. As the number of blogs has skyrocketed and the political grassroots movements have taken to the Internet, political parties and candidates have shown their interest in the new medium by slowly reaching out to the new segment of voters that make up the blogosphere. The question is: Can campaigning via blogs help politicians shape public opinion and impact voting behaviour?

This paper examines how political parties and candidates use the blog as an electioneering instrument in political campaigns and considers how the use of blogs can affect the outcome of an election. By evaluating existing literature on the topic and actively engaging with political blog communities, the author questions whether a blog can play an integral role in securing a party’s or candidate’s victory in an election, and reviews ways to measure the impact of blogs on an election outcome.

Data retrieved by the current study strongly suggests 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 study supports findings by existing scholars that there are aspects of blogging that can help politicians improve their campaign, influence the political agenda and affect the direction of a particular election race. However, so far few campaigns have embraced the full potential of blogs.

The paper argues that current literature has not yet managed to develop proper methods to measure and identify how electioneering via blogs impacts voter decisions directly. Further research therefore needs to thoroughly explore the aspects that make blogs a useful electioneering tool, test the medium’s ability to swing voters and systematically test how audiences value the information they retrieve from the medium compared to the information they retrieve from traditional mainstream media.

Blog Campaigning: 3.1 What is a blog?

3.1 What is a blog? A blog, short for weblog, is: “a user-generated website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order” (Wikipedia 2007a, see also Stanyer 2006, p. 1, Blood in Williams et at. 2005, p. 2, Schiano et al. 2004, p. 1, Gill 2004, p. 1). Most blogs represent the personality of the author and are “intended for general public consumption” (Bytowninternet 2007). A blog is not necessarily text based. We also find examples of photo-blogs, video-blogs and audio-blogs. Common to them all is that they tend to provide commentaries or news on particular subjects (Wikipedia 2007a).

There are several reasons why the medium has become an interesting communication tool for politicians. First, blogs, contrary to mainstream media, “offer an unmanaged space for attitude expression that is not controlled by gatekeepers of various kinds” (Stanyer 2006, p. 405). Second, blogs are interactive. Most blogs allow visitors to respond to the author’s message (Stanyer 2006, p. 405). Blogs can therefore be used as vehicles for two-way communication where the author can create a dialogue with readers internally on the blog (Simmons 2005, pp. 2-3). Third, blogs connect with other blogs through so-called hyperlinks forming an overall universe of blogs, often referred to as the ‘blogosphere’ (Stanyer 2006, p. 406). Sroka (2007, p. 7) claims that linking is what renders blogs and the connection amongst them into what essentially is a very large conversation, turning the blogosphere into something more than a bunch of individuals ranting into cyberspace. This conversation occurs because most bloggers maintain a “blogroll” on their site – “a list of blogs that they frequently read or especially admire, with clickable links to the general URLs (web addresses) of those blogs” (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 7) - and because bloggers deliberately link to each other through entries or so-called blog posts (this is a blog post) discussing whatever topics interest them (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 7). Posts commenting on posts are a key form of information exchange in the blogosphere (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 7).

The conversations and the public sphere created by this linking system present a new arena where politicians target messages, spread information, receive feedback and actively engage with potential supporters. Consequently, understanding the nature and structures within the blogosphere becomes a necessity for anyone intending to understand how blogs may impact politics or how politicians may influence blog audiences.

Blog Campaigning: 3.2 The blogosphere

3.2 The blogosphere Simmons (2005, p. 4) argues that the dynamics of the blogosphere can best be understood through “an estimation of the number of blogs as well as an analysis of the factors that influence a blog’s popularity and interactions between blogs”. This chapter will therefore present a brief history of the creation and expansion of blogs, and review the internal structures that define power relations within the blogosphere. Drezner and Farrell (2004, p. 5) are far from exaggerating when they claim that “the blogosphere has grown at an astronomical rate”. When Jorn Barger in 1997 coined the term ‘blog’ on his Robot Wisdom website only a handful of the kind were known to exist (Blood 2000). One and a half years later, in the beginning of 1999, only 23 blogs were known to be in existence (Blood 2000). A few months later the numbers started increasing rapidly.

“This rapid growth continued steadily until July 1999 when Pitas, the first free build-your-own-weblog tool launched, and suddenly there were hundreds. In August, Pyra released Blogger, and Groksoup launched, and with the ease that these web-based tools provided, the bandwagon-jumping turned into an explosion” (Blood 2000).

A heavy growth has continued ever since.

The medium’s popularity today can be reflected in Technorati’s latest state of blogging report. Technorati is according to Simmons (2005, p. 4) “the self-proclaimed ‘authority on what’s going on in the world of weblogs’”. The report, released in October 2006, states that the number of blogs had increased from less than 200,000 in March 2003 to over 57 million by October 2006 (Sifry 2006). Technorati’s founder and CEO David Sifry (in Johnson 2006) reported the same month that 175,000 blogs were created every single day - “about two every second of every day”. Three months later, by January 2, 2007, Technorati pegged the number of active blogs at around 63.2 million (Dalton 2007). The numbers had again grown to approximately 70 million by April 2007 (Sifry 2007) when the current study was about to be completed.

“Technorati is now tracking over 70 million weblogs, and we're seeing about 120,000 new weblogs being created worldwide each day. That's about 1.4 blogs created every second of every day” (Sifry 2007).

So what do these numbers tell us about the impact blogs have on politics and the possibility politicians have to influence bloggers?

Lawson-Border and Kirk (2005, p. 549) argue that the sheer number of blog sites is a measurement of the blogosphere’s importance. The current study on the other hand argues that this is not necessarily so. With the size of the blogosphere it is obvious that all blogs are not equally active nor are they equally valued as authorities. Weighing up the blogosphere’s importance in light of its scale might therefore portray a misleading image of its effective size. A survey conducted by the Perseus Development Company in 2003 found that 2.72 million blogs, 66.0 percent of all 4.12 million surveyed blogs, had not been updated in two months and were therefore considered “abandoned” (Henning 2003). Of these 2.72 million abandoned blogs, 1.09 million had been posted on only once and had not been touched since (Henning 2003). Similar, a study by Gartner Inc “calculated the total number of abandoned blogs at more than 200 million” (Dalton 2007) by the end of 2006. It might therefore be plausible to assume that the number of dying blogs will continue to grow in the future. Gartner Inc forecasted in their study that “the total number of active blogs would peak at 100 million in 2007 before dropping back and levelling off at around 30 million” (Dalton 2007). How then do we know which of the active blogs are perceived to have an influence on other blogs and the political environment outside the blogosphere?

An obvious approach to the question would be to examine how different directories and search engines rank blog authority – by authority meaning influence and popularity. Some sites measure authority by traffic, like, “which monitors the hit rate of all blogs that subscribe to it” (Stanyer 2006, p. 409). Other sites count the number of blogs that link back to a specific blog. There are two ways of doing this; one, used by sites like Technorati, is to count the number of any incoming links that a blog receives from other blogs (Gill 2004, Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 8); another is to count only links from blogs that are constant - links that do not appear in an entry, but are constantly viewable on a blogroll. Some would argue that constant links are more important than links found within daily entries “as they may lead to a quite significant increase in readership” (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 8). However, there are several complications with all the measurement methods. Erin Simmons (2005, p. 5) points out some of these complications in her Senior Honour thesis:

“Measuring the daily traffic of a blog offers one measure of its popularity but alone may be too crude to understand the dynamics of the system. Additionally, measures of traffic do not distinguish users so one user may visit the same site ten times or ten users might visit the site once and the effect would appear the same. If we measure the number of unique inbound links to a particular blog, we may be able to ascertain the popularity of the blog relative to other blogs. More inbound links implies greater popularity in the blogosphere. But this measure is also imperfect as it implies that all links are equal when they are clearly not. For example, if I have a weblog and and my next-door neighbor both link to my weblog, it would be wrong to assume that both links are equally important. Links from more popular sites will bring more traffic to my blog” (Simmons 2005, p. 5).

Simmons (2005, p. 5) therefore argues that a blog’s authority can best be measured through a combination of the different methods.

However, despite the complications surrounding the different measuring methods, studies have found that in general the blogosphere can be seen as “an iceberg”, where a small group of blogs receive the vast amount of readership and incoming links (Drezner & Farrell 2004, Gill 2004, Herring et al. 2004). “The skewed distribution of weblog influence makes it easy for observers to extract information or analysis from blogs”, claim Drezner and Farrell (2004, p. 4), but it also makes it hard for newly established blogs to achieve authority on a topic or within a community where other blogs already have established a hierarchy: “Political parties, therefore, are competing to dominate in their narrow sphere of blog interest” argues Jackson (2006, p. 295). This might limit their political influence and potential outreach.

In summation, the paper has so far explored the key characteristics that make a blog an interesting tool for political parties and candidates to utilize for electioneering purposes, reviewed the structures of the medium that make up the universe of blogs that political parties and candidates now strived to reach, and identified power relations within the blogosphere. Before moving on to discuss how politicians actually use blogs and the effects they have on campaigns and elections, the paper will take a brief halt to look at how blogs attracted the attention of political campaign strategists, how bloggers have changed campaign communication, and what types of blogs we find in a political campaign today.