Stephen Ward’s Lecture – My notes

Stephen Ward’s Presentation – My Notes

  1. Research agenda
  2. Method and data problems
  3. Research evidence – some key findings
  4. Shaping online campaigns and conclusions

Party Competition: Increases pluralism, fringe and minor party candidates will be helped – it will level the playing field. 


Why is this?

  1. The Internet is an unmitigated communications field; unlike other media which is filtered.
  2. Low cost (in comparison with TV, billboards etc).
  3. Anarchic and favours fringe interests.
  4. The multiplier effect is in play; appearance of size and power can be created online.   

Participation:  There is a conflict about whether we are seeing mobilization or reinforcement.  What aspects of the Internet lead to increased participation:

  1. Efficiency and convergence.
  2. Increasingly the options for participation and channels through which it can occur.
  3. Increased information, which generate participation.
  4. Allows for the creation of new virtual networks.
  5. Increases depth and quality of participation. 

Post-modern electioneering (Norris, 2000; Farrell and Webb, 2001; Blumer & Kavanagh, 1999).  Norris sees three ages of political campaigning (essentially pre-television, television and new media) and holds a very technocentric view of the world.

The post-modern campaign has a number of aspects:

  1. Permanency of campaigning.
  2. Increased targeting – this is regarded as the magic bullet of politics; the ability to swing the voters who are able to win the election in key constituencies.
  3. Increased inactivity (the electorate move from being passive to active).
  4. Decentralisation of campaigning.  TV is regarded as a centralising power, whilst the Internet has decentralised it. 
  5. Americanisation / globalisation. 

Researching Elections Online

  1. The public face of online political campaigning – the websites themselves.  There is also some experimental work going on regarding hyperlink analysis. 
  2. The private face of online campaigning.  Interviews often used to understand it i.e. Newell, 2003.  However, as time has gone by parties have become far less likely to grant interviews to academic researchers.  Alternatively, we can turn to miner parties and MPs.  Internal surveys of party members are very hard to do, as parties are not hugely supportive (some example include Pederson & Saglie, 2005; Lusoli and Ward, 2004).  Log file analysis of BBC data from the day after the election in 2005. 
  3. The public response to online campaigning.  Lots of US work, limited study done of elsewhere. 

Party Competition: Research Evidence

Rhetoric.  Small parties are offered opportunities by the web, for example the far right and Greens.  Participatory culture is long existing in the Green Party.  The far right does not get attention in the mainstream media.
Content.  Major parties still dominate and have far greater level of content than smaller parties.
Organisational tools.  Great for small parties, or so argued the BNP, who are heavily reliant on email.  

It might be the case the Internet allows small parties to survive rather than prosper. 

The public response to online campaigns: 

  • Online campaigns in the UK have small audiences (in the UK in 2005, 3 per cent viewed a party website and 1 per cent went to a candidate). 
  • Generally it seems the Internet is preaching to the politically converted.  There might be a slight widening effect amongst the 18-24 yr old group. 
  • The “student” effect – one group who is very likely to engage online. 
  • Intensification of action amongst the engaged.  Are we seeing the birth of the 24/7 activist?  Will the Internet facilitate changes that turn the member into an activist?  Generally people who have joined parties online tend to become passive members. 
  • Different Internet tools have different effects – websites, email etc. 

A direct comparison with Coleman (2001) shows that lots of aspects of “Internet politics” did go up between 2001 and 2005. 

A Postmodern Election?

Web is a top-down tool.  Plays an informational role and offers a fund raising facility – most of all in the US, to some degree in the UK and not very much in Europe.
Low level of interactivity on political websites – widely perceived that the costs outweigh the benefits.
Interest in targeting swing voters.  Votervault has been very successful for the Republicans, but it didn’t really work for the Conservatives in the UK in 2005.
Decentralisation of elections argument doesn’t stand up.  National parties are still very strong, although often we see a “top down localism”.
Americanisation is not occurring.  Instead, tools are being adapted to fit the circumstances.   

Shaping Online Campaigns

Systematic factors.  Media environment (ownership rules, access etc).  Campaign environment.  Electoral law.  Candidate and party.  Organisational factors.  Resource and capacity.  F/T staff, culture and goals (i.e. whether parties are vote maximising or participatory). 

Sub-systematic.  The marginality of the constituency.  Whether an MP is an incumbent.  The profile of the candidate.


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