4.4 The impact of blogs
Lawson-Border and Kirk (2005, p. 548) claim that blogging did not have a significant impact on the outcome of the 2004 U.S. presidential election. They do, however, argue that the effectiveness of blogs was demonstrated in the election campaign, and that an emerging application of the tool paved the way for future campaign communication. But it was political commentator blogs, not campaign blogs that achieved this:
“Freed from the economic pressures, bloggers opened doors and created pockets of public opinion that pressured the mainstream into assessing the validity of stories the dominant parties and candidates might be tempted to suppress” (Lawson-Border & Kirk 2005, p. 550).
The problem with many of the campaigns was that they, as with the introduction of any new media, used the tool without knowing what specific communication function it could serve (Lawson-Border & Kirk 2005, p. 557).
“Some campaigns used them because it is considered hip, whereas others used them strategically or not at all” (Lawson-Border & Kirk 2005, p. 557).
Rice (2004, p. 4), on the other hand, claims that the Internet and emerging technologies made a “profound impact” on the presidential campaign.
“Online campaigning has revolutionized political communication, grassroots activism, supporter outreach, and fundraising. Ten years ago, the Internet was barely used in politics; today it is an innovative, informative, interactive, and a creative tool that transformed Presidential campaigning” (Rice 2004, p. 4).
Gill (2004, p. 4) claims that given the fact that people during the election were increasingly using the Internet to retrieve political content, it was no surprise most of the candidates included blogs on their website. A Pew Internet and American Life Project survey of the 2004 Internet users found that “40 percent of those online sought material related to the election” (in Williams et al. 2005, pp. 177-178). Even more interestingly the survey found that Internet users were not using the Internet merely to reinforce political opinion, “rather, Internet users who seek political material are more aware of arguments in support and opposition to their preferred candidates” (Williams et al. 2005, p. 178). Should we therefore assume that blogs at least have the capability to influence the decisions of some of these potential voters?
In an effort to assess the impact of campaign blogs in the 2006 U.S. senatorial election Erin Teeling (2006b) of The Bivings Group compared the number of winning and losing candidates who included a blog in their campaign. It turned out that of the 26 candidates including a campaign blog, 13 ended up winning and 13 ended up losing the race in which they competed (Teeling 2006b). Teeling, clearly assuming that the effect of blogs can be measured by a simple quantification of a winning-losing dichotomy, stated that: “This factor surprised me because I expected the Internet would play a more effectual role in this cycle's elections” (Teeling 2006b). In a commentary to the report she further stated:
“At any rate, Democratic candidate blogs, which tend to be a bit more well-developed than their republican counterparts, fared slightly better in this year's elections than Republican candidate blogs. Democratic candidates with blogs had a record of 11-5, while Republicans were 3-8. In the six races where both Republican and Democratic candidates had blogs (VA, PA, CT, WA, NV, UT), Republicans won 2 races and Democrats won 2 races, and Joe Lieberman, an independent, won the race in Connecticut. Overall, the average margin of victory or loss by candidates with blogs was 20%. This figure was significantly smaller in 2-blog races, where the margin of victory/loss was just 5%. I believe that these results indicate that there are many factors that contribute to a campaign victory. The presence of a campaign blog or aggressive campaign Web strategy may contribute to the outcome of the election, but will not be the deciding factor” (Teeling 2006b).
During the German general election in 2005, Abold and Heltsche looked at the attention of voters toward campaign blogs as an indicator for success of blog based campaigning. They conducted a two-wave survey among users of online campaign sources, recruiting respondents by posting a link to the survey in political oriented Internet forums (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 13). Their findings suggest that political party blogs lacked originality and did therefore not manage to strike the right tone to inspire voters (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 18). Only 17 percent of the respondents agreed to the statement: “Weblogs have an effect on public opinion”. 20 percent of the respondents believed that blogs were important within political campaigns (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 18). Not surprisingly, active blog users – users that regularly read and comment in all kinds of political blogs – rated the importance of blogs significantly higher than all the other respondents (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 18). In conclusion, Abold and Heltsche (2006, p. 18) stated that “voters perceive weblogs not as an effective way to influence the outcome of an election”.
Similar, a study of the use of blogs in the British general election in 2005 found that the impact of blogs was fairly limited. The study suggested, however, that some blogs might have had a PR value, helping candidates raise their profile during the campaign (Jackson 2006, p. 300). Some of the smaller parties claimed that their blog helped them put the Party higher up on search engines on a range of issues, which again helped make the parties more visible on the web (Jackson 2006, p. 300).
In conclusion the previous literature reveals that there is still a huge gap in the research focusing on how blogs impact the outcome of an election. So far little has been said about the immediate or direct effects of blogging on a particular campaign race or the outcome of an election. Less has been said about how we can actually measure this relationship. In an effort to generate a better understanding of this relationship, the paper will further present new data that views the subject from a blogger’s perspective.