Friday, June 29, 2007

The new television

Hidden away on Family Security Matters [The National Security Resource for American Families] is a fascinating article by Walter Anderson on the role of the Internet for the 2008 US Presidential Election. It starts with the premise that "The Internet IS the new television as far as 21st century campaigning is concerned". The statement is underpinned by the fact that, while television is still a core toll of nomination hopeful's campaigns, the Internet is being used to a far greater extent and introducing a range of novel communication devices that would be impossible via other media.

Raising funds seems to be the key role of Internet communication. One example sited is from John Edwards' campaign, one that has exploited perhaps every device the Internet can offer. "His campaign sent out a request purporting to be from his Mother Bobbie asking for a $6.10 donation before his birthday (his birthday was June 10th) to raise $610,000.00 for the campaign. In turn, Bobbie would send her recipe for pecan pie as a reward to each donor."

The reason for the shift towards e-political communication is the fact that the Internet offers a low-cost communication solution. Using free outlets campaign communication can be posted, communities can be formed around a candidate and a momentum can be created around a campaign.

For Anderson, email is the killer application that can "get information and ideas passed to thousands and potentially millions of voters", though he accepts that it may be social networking tools that might have a more significant long-term impact, but he accepts them as a requiring email to pull voters towards other aspects of the campaign. If we accept that a momentum is forming around the contest generally, and that the Internet is acting as a tool of mobilising potential voters to engage cognitively with the campaign then he is perhaps right in his concluding claim that "we [voters] can look to the Internet for additional assistance with understanding campaign issues and deciding upon candidates between now and November 2008.
There is a slight query here, yes voters can look to the Internet to help with the voter choices, but will they? The elaboration likelihood model (above) talks of two routes for information processing, peripheral and central. Does an email act as a reminder that an individual is standing, or does receipt make the receiver want to go and find out more about that candidate? If the latter, and this equates to real engagement, will those who follow links to websites, or friend a candidate on Facebook, find that positive attitudes become stronger and negative associations weaken so achieving some form of behavioural change. Perhaps currently we can measure that in donations, but these will be existing supporters simply mobilised by e-political communication. Can these tools reach floating voters, weak supporters or supporters of opponents? That will be the test and, if it can be measured and quantitatively proven that the Internet has some impact on voter engagement and voter choice making, we will see political communication increasingly moving online. This could solve the current conundrum for political campaigners, now to communicate directly to voters without the noise of mediation. But will it? Is this a bandwagon that is creating its own momentum or is it the start of a revolution in political communication?

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