Towards a non-hierarchical campaign? Testing for interactivity as a tool of election campaigning in France, the US, Germany and the UK.

This source preferred by Darren Lilleker

Authors: Lilleker, D., Jackson, N. and Schweitzer, E.

Start date: 19 July 2010

Interest in the Internet and its role within political communication and election campaigning has now an established body of theoretical and empirical history, with mixed predictions and findings. The bulk of the empirical research has been in single countries, and where there has been comparative research it has tended to use a range of methodologies conducted by different authors. Largely, empirical studies have agreed with the politics as usual thesis, that political communication online is of a similar if not identical style to offline: top-down, information heavy and designed to persuade rather than consult with voters. The mass take-up of web 2.0 tools and platforms challenges this approach, however. Internet users now have opportunities to interact with a range of individuals and organisations, and it is argued that such tools reduce societal hierarchies and allow for symmetrical relationships to build. Theoretically democratic politics is a fertile environment for exploring the opportunities potentiated by web 2.0, in particular the notion of interactivity between the campaign (candidate, party and staff) and their audiences (activists, members, supporters and potential voters). Conceptually, web 2.0 encourages co-production of content.

This research focuses on the extent to which interactivity is encouraged through the use of web 2.0 tools and platforms across a four year period focusing on four discrete national elections; determining take up and the link to national context as well as assessing lesson learning between nations. Using the Gibson and Ward coding scheme, though adapted to include web 2.0, we operationalise the models of interactivity proposed by McMillan (2002) and Ferber, Foltz and Pugiliese (2007). This methodology allows us to assess whether election campaigns are showing evidence of adopting co-created campaigns based around conversations with visitors to their websites or online presences, or whether websites remain packaged to persuade offering interactivity with site features (hyperlinks, web feeds, search engines) only. Indications are that the French election was largely politics as usual, however the Obama campaign took a clear step towards a more co-produced and interactive model. There may well be a clear Obama effect within the German and UK contests, or parties may adopt the look if not the practice of the US election. This paper will assess the extent to which an interactive model of campaigning is emerging as well as detailing a methodology which can capture and rate the levels and types of interactivity used across the Internet. Whilst specific political cultural and systematic factors will shape the use of Web technologies in each election, we suggest that an era of web 2.0 is gradually replacing that of Web 1.0. Within this era there is some evidence that campaigners learn from previous elections on how best to utilise the technology.

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