Blog Campaigning: 4. Literature review

Literature Review

“There is no doubt that, increasingly, a perception exists that blogs are heavily involved in the political sphere, as participants in agenda setting, in launching critiques of public policies, in interfacing with election campaigns, in influencing political debate and events and in sparking activism” (Bahnisch in Bruns and Jacobs 2003, p. 139).

Whilst this paper will focus mainly on the use and impact of what here is defined as candidate blogs or party blogs, it is essential that we also know of the existence and role of the other types of campaign blogs as well. Supporter blogs and political commentator blogs serve as important contributors, resources and springboards for official campaign blogs, and not surprisingly, many of the bloggers that today are engaged by official campaigns have a background from either a supporter blog or a political commentary blog.

There are two ways of addressing the impact of campaign blogs on political campaigns; one is to examine how the nature of blogs and the structures within the blogosphere potentially present an opportunity for politicians to influence voter decisions; another is to locate specific circumstances where blogs helped a campaign swing voters and produce an upset election outcome. This chapter will analyse how scholars to date have addressed these approaches.

The chapter will be divided into four sections; the first reviewing previous attempts to measure how web based campaigns have affected voting behaviour; the second examining how previous literature perceives the potential impact of blogs on the election process; the third examining how campaigns have utilized the medium as an electioneering tool to date; and the fourth discussing if, and how, the uses of blogs have impacted the direction of a campaign or the outcome of an election.

Australian Polticians Utilising Myspace

The 51st state always lags behind a little bit. But now it has finally caught up. As The Age reports, various Australian Federal Government ministers and shadow ministers are to create MySpace profiles before the election in order to reach the alienated youth:

The site's director of safety and security, Rod Nockles, said the project would allow politicians to directly engage with younger voters, a "difficult to reach" but "important" age demographic. (…) Mr Nockles said an Australian version of MySpace Impact would be launched "within a couple of months", most likely via a launch party held in Canberra. He would not confirm specifically which individuals had been approached, but said only federal politicians were initially being targeted. "I can't confirm the individuals but I can confirm for you that we are planning to launch Impact in the near future and that we have quite a number of high profile ministers and shadow ministers from either side who will be participating," Mr Nockles said.

Soon to arrive: Australian politicians utilizing Facebook profiles and tools (and probably Second Life…uh...).That said, according to The Age, MySpace Australia has three million members, 50 per cent of which are over the age of 25, so definitely a huge potential there and a move into the right direction.


More on the impact of the web on the 2008 election

“Whether announcing their candidacy online or rueing the release of revealing video clips, no contender for the White House in 2008 can ignore the power of the internet”, writes, Laura Smith-Spark of BBC. “Barely a week goes by without a political story breaking on a blog or social networking site like YouTube and MySpace”.

We know this by now, but here comes the interesting claim:

“...according to conservative bloggers who met at the Washington Times last week, the battle is already as good as won - and not by them.

The battle of the Internet, that is.

A bit early to make that claim I would say. No need to be too negative early in the campaign. But I want to continue quoting Laura Smith-Spark, because she is really asking some interesting questions in her article…. Unfortunately without providing good answers. But hey, at least she is trying. They are some fairly complex questions to answer in 500 words.

Conservative bloggers claim, according to Smith-Spark, that:

…their rivals on the left of the political spectrum - and the Democrats they are backing - have the edge in organisation, message and clout. And that, they say, that could cost the Republicans dear in 2008. So has the left really won the battle of the web? And if so, what influence - if any - will that have on the outcome of the presidential race?

So…what’s her answer to this?

Observers explain the gap by arguing that bloggers on the left are united in one aim - getting a Democrat into the White House in 2008 - whereas the right is more fragmented. The left has also rallied to the cause of ending the war in Iraq. In addition, blogging emerged at a time when the Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House - and was embraced by the left as the ideal platform for grassroots, bottom-up activism. On the other hand conservatives, who have traditionally dominated talk radio with high-profile presenters like Rush Limbaugh, have tended to use their blogs for commentary and to pass on the top-down party message, observers say. Now, with many liberal bloggers collaborating to push the Democratic agenda - so giving the news they promote greater prominence and attracting more mainstream media attention - the more fragmented right risks losing influence.

Jon Henke, new media director for the Republican Communication Office and contributor of the QuandO blog, argues that blogs are not directly responsible for deciding elections. What they do is shape the media coverage, writes Smith-Spark.

Well, they do more than that, and I know that Henke knows that too, because I am quoting him on this in my thesis dealing exactly with the questions asked by Smith-Spark.

Trying to answer her well-formulated questions, Smith-Spark uses Jeff Jarvis, a media professor who blogs at to balance the answer of her article. Jarvis claims that:

"The Democrats are doing better, but slightly - the truth is, they are all behind," he told the BBC News website.

And then he says something unsurprising, but still very interesting:

What I am seeing is the poorer the candidate, the smarter their use of the internet. Others are relying on big money, thinking it's still going to be fought on television.

Jarvis also claims that:

He would like to see all the contenders - Democrat and Republican - treat the internet as another way to get "face-to-face" with potential voters, by going online to answer questions and posting responses on blogs that criticise them.

I guess the reason why I find this article so interesting is that I am handing in my Masters Thesis dealing exactly with the questions asked in the BBC article. I plan to release the thesis in it’s full on the blog. So if you are in for a more detailed answer of the questions discussed throughout this post, check in on the site again next Monday – And we will provide you more insight…exclusively.


More news on this: Democrats Have an Early Lead ... in the Web 2.0 Race

- Espen

Widgets: A natural tool for political outreach?

Colin Delany of e.politics asks a very interesting question: Why Aren't the Presidential Campaigns Using Widgets?

The major presidential campaigns have put tons of effort into creating websites, building their own social networks, creating online videos and reaching out to voters through Facebook and MySpace, but they're so far mostly ignoring a simple and effective tool to help their supporters find volunteers, raise money and spread messages: web widgets.

Widgets are little snippets of HTML code that you can drop into a page, a blog post or a blog template to add a rich feature. For instance, the ChipIn widget lets you embed a donations collection tool into your site to support your own custom fundraising campaign, and many online publishers offer widgets that display headlines of recent stories. Widgets have a social media component as well, in that they can often spread from one site to another via a "get this widget for your site" link.

Widgets would seem like a natural tool for political outreach, but so far the presidential campaigns aren't using them at all, with a couple of exceptions, writes Delany.

Rudy Giuliani is the only candidate going out of his way to offer widgets for supporters to download: the campaign site's "Rudy On Your Blog" page offers a couple of useful widgets, one for fundraising and one to display headlines, alongside the usual static image downloads.

So, what, according to Delany, would a political widget strategy look like?

Delany argues that widgets could serve two functions for a campaign:

  1. Spread a message
  2. Actively solicit support.

Message-spreading widgets could display just about any content that you can either fit into or reference in an RSS feed, including:

  • News headlines
  • Recent blog posts
  • Campaign photos, via a photo-sharing site or from a dedicated photo gallery
  • Campaign video clips (either embedded or as a link to a clip displayed on the main campaign site)
  • Upcoming events, geo-targeted by the blog/site owner during the widget setup or generic across all supporter sites
  • The supporter/volunteer of the day, with photo

Widgets that actively solicit support or user input could:

  • Raise money
  • Gather email addresses
  • Highlight volunteer opportunities
  • Gather opinions, polling-style

What a great lesson for us all. I am truly interested in finding out more about this, and will definitely look into this stuff when I go back to Norway in July to help run the web part of a local political campaign.

- Espen

I hear there’s something called “blogs…”

“I wonder what’s happening in Norwegian politics” is a question you haven’t been asking yourself lately. Even so, Espen here at Blog Campaigning wanted me to write something about it, and considering we’re in the run-up to the campaign season I figured I might as well take a look at how the internet is likely to be used in the campaign.

First of all, it seems that the guys and girls who work with communications at the different party offices have discovered there’s more to the internet than banners and websites.

No, not blogs. It seems that there’s still only a couple of members of parliament blogging, and other that that there’s only one or two who are in some kind of a position within their party who blog. My bet is that this will probably change as the campaign draws closer. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that Norway’s largest online newspaper, Verdens Gang (1,2 million online readers daily is quite impressive in a country of 4,5 million people) will offer all candidates in the forthcoming municipal elections their own blogs on the paper's website. Add to this the chance of actually making the (web) frontpage of Verdens Gang if you write something interesting enough, then that should be an incentive for a large number of candidates to sign up. This will of course also create a large number of unbelievably boring blogs which will be filled with pictures (indeed, pictures. high-tech, no?) of shoddy roads and endless rants about how we need to fill those potholes. And these blogs will of course be vastly more effective in generating attention than well-written ones that concern themselves with questions about the right of the majority to impose their will on the minority in a liberal democracy.

In Norway political advertising on TV is forbidden so online video has gained in popularity recently. Some of the youth parties have been using YouTube for a good while, but when Verdens Gang released their own video service, making videos available for a much wider audience (mainly because they put videos they deem interesting or newsworthy enough on their frontpage) it became genuinely worthwhile to use videos. First out was the Minister of International Development, Erik Solheim who released a video in which he talked about something. I just honestly can’t remember what because it was utterly boring. However it gave you a good idea of how most of these videos will look: camera aimed at someone talking for a couple of minutes. No cuts, no production, nothing. Especially the Labour Party has been effective at using videos. Lately the Conservative party has also gotten some attention around a few videos: Both done by talking directly at the camera.

Since I feel the need to honk my own horn I should point out that the Norwegian Young Conservatives have probably been the most efficient in using videos, both in terms of the number of videos that have been on the frontpage of Verdens Gang and how they look.

I’m also guessing that the Conservatives will get some attention if they only ever get around to using this one in an effective way. Videos will be important in the upcoming election I’m pretty certain.

Facebookmania is upon Norway . The media is involved in what seems to be an almost official competition about who can find the most creative way to do a story that involves Facebook (so far the award goes to the journalist who figured out that a famous attorney had friends). So far it remains to see how effectively it can be used in campaigns as a tool for organizing events, synchronizing messages etc, but for now it’s a very effective tool for getting attention from the media. Some have had to learn that being a member of a group that’s dedicated to hating a local phenomena is not a good way to get attention. Others have figured out that simply telling someone they’re running a campaign on Facebook is a way for the local newspaper to get to write about Facebook, for which they’re grateful. It remains to be seen if the hype will make it to the actual campaign period. I doubt it. But for now it’s a good way to get your name in the paper.

My guess is that these tools will be mostly used to get attention in the traditional media (including online news sources which should be considered traditional by now), not as independent campaign tools. In order for that to work they need something smart enough to go viral, and right now it certainly seems they’ll need outside help for that.

- Odd (yes, it is my real name!)

The Ethical Problems of Alternate Reality Gaming and Party Politics

This is Gaming 2.0 at its best:

World Without Oil is a month-long collaborative alternate reality project funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and ITVS. It’s the first alternate reality game to tackle a real-world problem: oil dependency.

World Without Oil imagines we are already living on the other side of the “peak oil” moment. The alternate reality game presents a “reality dashboard” that updates daily with gas prices, fuel shortages, and measures of chaos, suffering and economic impact for different parts of the country. Players are invited to document their own lives in this new reality, through blog posts, videos, photos, web comics, geocaches, audio messages, and any other means necessary!

“Play it before you live it”: I love the idea of this game and how it utilizes the resources of the web. The idea of utilizing a game to gather the wisdom of the masses (a medium most suited for this purpose) to deal with an issue we will have to face is enthralling (for more info on the game see this piece and this one). Though, as fascinating and educating as alternate reality gaming is, I think its applicability to political campaigns is somewhat limited, the main reason being its This Is Not A Game (TINAG) Aesthetic. This basically means that the game is not supposed to act like a game, e.g. phone numbers in the game should actually work: A recipe for ethical problems. Imagine the Republicans introducing an alternate reality game on the negative effects of the introduction of universal healthcare, including several fictitious institutions – all with their own websites, email-addresses and phone numbers. The risk of people mistaking the incompetent, fictitious “National Health Council”, solely created for the purpose of the game, with a real-world institution is high. Instead of receiving the medical advice they seek, people are confronted with ideologically biased information that has a potentially devastating effect – an easy target for the political opponent. Maybe this sort of gaming is more suited for policy making, e.g. bringing up solutions for a city that has to undergo budget cuts. Community members could get actively involved in issues and contribute content in a playful yet serious and engaging way. Still: The ethical problem of telling where the game ends and reality begins remains – and the ideologically charged roles of the puppet masters gain more weight. Since they are creating obstacles and providing resources for overcoming them in the course of telling the game's story, they control the rules, the ideological framework of the game. Achieving a neutral standpoint here is challenging, particularly since games are necessarily always a simplification and allow for very subtle bias.


Gaming on the campaign trail

The last video game I bought was Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter for the Xbox 360: It scored rave reviews and can be bought for a cheap price. The first warning sign should have been the feeling of embarrassment that was slowly creeping up when I took it home with me on the bus. It actually felt more like meeting a friend when you just bought a pile of toilet paper (so much for videogames being the new rock’n’roll – did that ever happen to you after got the new [insert band here]-album?).What followed was a technologically sophisticated tactical shooter coated in thick jingoistic paint and dressed up as the ultimate male fantasy. But what did I expect? Maybe an industry that is not as insecure about itself as the gaming scene, but even after 30 years innovation is little (though not completely absent). And then I came across Peacemaker, a game inspired by real events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It let’s you play as either the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President and the aim is to bring peace to the region. Now I have to admit that I didn’t play this game yet, the main reason being that my laptop needs to be fixed and I’m currently using a steam powered iMac. But I think these are the games the industry needs to mature. Says Ernest Adams:

PeaceMaker is fun – challenging, tense at times, and extremely well-presented. But it’s also an important game with the potential to enlighten people about one of the great issues of our time. That’s a noble goal and one to which I would like to see more designers aspire.

And video games seem very suited for enlightenment. They represent a fundamental paradigm shift in popular culture. They are the first simulational media for the masses. They not only represent an object on an audiovisual level, but also model its behaviour according to the user’s input and allow him to explore a dynamic system (though this always must be a necessary simplification of the system it’s based on). In short: They are a very powerful tool to convey political messages. Think about it: Why give long, complicated explanations of the situation in Iraq if you could let a game do the work? Or why not let potential voters play your planned tax reform with a game that can be downloaded from your campaigning website. The dangerous part here is that ideology can be disguised even better. Not only would you have to analyse different audiovisual representations but grasp the main conveyor of ideology in games: the rules. Peacemaker is explicitly addressing these issues by stating its design assumptions and explaining the underlying rationale: The two state solution is a desirable outcome; small concrete steps, not grandiose plans lead to success etc. Since every simulated system is a simplification of the system it’s based on, by just leaving out certain elements the message would be altered. The game about tax reform might not take the development of interest rates into account; a game about the situation in Iraq might solely rely on your military successes and not diplomacy. Also: There might be the issue that you are able to save the game at any given point. This would allow you to just start over again once your tactic failed, so you wouldn’t have to face the consequences of your action. So, what do you think? Will games be an integral part of official campaigning? And how could these games look like? A nice overview of the developments in the field can be found here.

- Jens "Schredd" Schroeder

Young Bloggers on the Front Line of Presidential Campaigns, yes, you got that right, MTV, as in the useless music channel, features an interesting interview with, Stephen Smith, Director of online communications for the Romney campaign, and Sam Graham-Felsen, Blogger for the Obama campaign, this week. In the interview Smith and Graham-Felsen are sharing some of their experiences with the campaigns so far and they both have a lot  of interesting stuff to tell. It is definitely worth a read if you want to learn more about what is going on inside a campaign.


More people base their voter decision on what they read on the Internet

I just located another study confirming the growing impact that the Internet has on voter decisions. A Performic survey released in February found that 42 percent of Americans say the Internet will pay an important role in deciding who they will vote for in the upcoming presidential election.

In a press release revealing the results of the survey, Performic states:

“As the 2008 presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, we were curious to find out how Americans plan to learn about their choices for our next president. We suspected that as the public continues to rely on the Internet as an important information source, people will seek political information via search engines in a manner similar to the way that they already search for information regarding consumer purchases, meaning that after they first hear about a candidate or issue, they will conduct broad searches to gather information and then narrow down the candidates and issues until they ultimately reach a decision,” said Stuart Frankel, president of Performics.

“With 42 percent of Americans saying the Internet will play an important role in deciding who to vote for in the 2008 election, there is a large opportunity to leverage search engine marketing and optimization as a strategy for political campaigning.”

The study found that of those who visit a candidate’s website, 72 percent say they are primarily looking for the candidate’s stance on specific issues, 16 percent say they are looking for the candidate’s voting record, 6 percent say they are looking for what others say about the candidate and 4 percent say they are looking for which organizations have endorsed the candidate.

Not surprisingly the survey confirms that television news, talk shows, local and national newspapers, and news radio are still the primary means for political information for people researching campaigns and candidates.

Performic based their findings on a telephone survey conducted among a random sample of 1,014 adults.

(The survey was found via Blog the Campaign in 08)


Electioneering via Internet = increase in votes

Politicians who miss net boat could miss vote reads the headline of Silicon Republican, Ireland’s Technology News Service today.

“Irish politicians who fail to embrace new media such as the internet, email, blogging and even social networking sites like YouTube are in danger of losing out on a vast number of younger people in their twenties and thirties who feel passionate about core issues but are stuck in traffic or too hard at work to be listened to.” Reports Silicon Republic.

“The election year 2007 will be remembered as the year that electioneers took to the internet as a serious platform to reach Ireland’s missing electorate. Some have taken to blogging while others have taken awkwardly to putting videos up on YouTube, creating much mirth in the Irish media.”

Though we can not yet put our finger on how, and to what degree, online campaigning affects voting behavior, I believe there has to be some merit in the constant buzz about the influence of blogs on campaigns and voting behavior. And I think we can all agree with Alan Rosenblatt's statement on Personal Democracy Forum in a comment about technology’s role in the U.S Senate election 2006:

“…David Winston, Republican pollster once said… there will come a time when we no longer talk about online strategies and offline strategies, but rather strategies with online and offline components. I suggest that that day has arrived, maybe not universally, but certainly noticeably”.

Technicity and Second Life

If all journalists canceled their Second Life subscription, the virtual swingerclub would be an even lonelier place than it already is… Maybe 3D browsing is the future and SL the first step. But for know I have to wonder why anyone could be bothered to have a presence yet alone to do campaign work in an environment that looks like the abortion of a late 90s video game.While I was having these thoughts I stumbled upon Dovey and Kenneddy‘s "Game Cultures. Computer Games as New Media". In their book they introduce the term technicity, which they define as

that aspect of identity expressed through the subject‘s relationship with technology. Particular tastes and their associated cultural networks have always been marked by particular technologies. However, our increasingly intimate relations with and through digital media and communications technologies intensify the identity/ technology interface. Technicities associated with the consumption and manipulation of digital technologies become key characteristics of the preferred subject of twenty-first century capitalism.

We would argue that this notion of technical virtuosity, of a particular easy adoption of and facility with technology, is a fundamental aspect of the contemporary ideal subject within the technosphere. We want to insist, that this historical moment produces technological competence as a key marker for success as a participant in the modern culture.

Aha! Ideal subject through the manipulation of digital technology! Politicians need the cultural capital of the early adaptors, the cultural cool of their interns with their iPods and Myspaces and Youtubes. They need to appear as successful participants in modern culture, just like all these hip guys in the technosphere of the web (and not like your [grand]parents). Didn't we somehow suspect that? Anyways, now you got the words to show off with!

Silly rumours?

Rumours about the ‘First Blog Scandal of the 2008 presidential campaign are circulating.

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, who this week accepted a job as "blogmaster" to the presidential campaign of Democrat John Edwards (part of her job is to write  the campaign blog) is the centre of attention according to the man behind the rumours, Danny Glover of the Beltway Blogroll.

This is the scandalous storyline according to Glover’s post:

Like all bloggers, Marcotte is fast and loose with her opinions, and her opinion of the infamous rape allegations against lacrosse players at Duke University didn't sit well with some folks. When Marcotte started catching flak for that opinion, she apparently deleted itand started altering other comments at Pandagon.

However, not everyone seems to agree to the fact that this is a big scale scandal. Judging by most of the post’s commentsand Micha L. Sifry’s commentover at PDF it seems like this is a case that will be forgotten by the end of the week.


More on the Marcotte-Edwards Non-Scandale - Danny Glover and Micha L. Sifry are discussing the matter over at PDF.

Video-sharing: A campaign strategy that works!

“The explosion of video-sharing on the Web poses major risks for presidential candidates: Gaffes and inconsistent statements witnessed by dozens can be e-mailed instantly to millions ...The impact of a negative video can be devastating — and undetectable.” L.A.Times.

The L.A.Times has an excellent article (Attack ads go online and underground) this week discussing how political candidates make use of web-videos as a campaign tactic. The same topic is also discussed in ABCnews article Blogging Going Wild: Open Government or Gotcha Politics. I would strongly recommend you to read the two articles, as both have an insightful take on a relevant topic!

Update: The NewYork Times article Link by Link - In Politics, the Camera Never Blinks (or Nods) is also discusses this.

and more: Technology Evangelist - The Internet's Effect on 2008 Presidential Campaign and Denver Post - Politics tuning TV out are also discussing the topic.