Campaigning in the Digital Age: An Analysis of State Party Websites
24 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 4 Jul 2014
Date Written: 2011
Like the political institutions that surround them, state parties are increasingly turning to the Internet for campaigning purposes. From the creation of YouTube channels, to personalized log-in features, to interactive calendars, state parties have been testing the waters of new digital technology. This paper investigates the conditions under which a state party is most likely to embrace social networking technology. Applying the outparty thesis (Karpf, 2009; Key 1949) to digital politics, this paper asks a key question: do minority parties in state legislatures try to connect with constituents and potential voters on their party‟s websites more often as compared to their majority party counterparts? Previous scholarship contends that the outparty, or minority party in the state legislature, must work harder to get attention (Karpf, 2009; Key, 1949). We apply this question to an Internet politics context, seeking to understand if this fact manifests itself in outparties increasing their digital presence and sophistication as a means of getting back into power. Further, this paper offers the first analysis of partisan trends in social networking on the state level. Examining Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and Delicious, we offer a new way for measuring online presence which can be extended beyond that of state parties.
This research is based on content analysis of the Democratic and Republican Party websites for all fifty states during the 2010 election cycle. We examine trends on the most popular social media websites and introduce an original and comprehensive measurement of online presence. This measure is unique because it allows scholars to combine candidates and parties use of multiple websites to reach voters into one determinant of online presence rather than examining each social networking site separately as we have been doing in our studies. In addition, the measure is easily modified for changes in Internet politics over time.
This study presents the most current and comprehensive analysis of what the Democratic and Republican state parties are doing online and deepens our understanding of how the Internet is used to further the reach of state parties. Examining variables such as political party and the balance of power in the state legislature, we explore the conditions under which state parties are most likely to turn to the Internet for political campaigning purposes. We also expand the notion of online presence to include Flickr and Delicious, powerful social media sites that scholars have yet to explore. The data reveal that the majority party, not the outparty, has greater online presence. We also find that state party organizational strength and expenditures are significant predictors of higher online presence. Finally, contrary to literature examining national party trends, state Republican parties outpace their Democratic counterparts. These results suggest that the Internet is a permanent instrument in the campaigning toolbox and we expect to see the most sophisticated parties and candidates use it to its full potential in future studies.
This paper proceeds as follows. First we review the literature on political parties‟ campaigning function and situate the state parties in the context of current Internet research. Next, we explain why we use Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and Delicious as determinants of online presence and how we conceptualize that idea. The third section reveals our independent variables and hypotheses which are positioned within the existing Internet politics and political parties literature. The fourth section presents the analysis and results. We conclude that state parties, entities that have been criticized for their lack of political engagement, are making strides in online politics.
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