Broadcasting to the masses or building communities: Polish political parties’ online performance during 2011 elections in international perspective

This source preferred by Darren Lilleker

Authors: Lilleker, D. and Koc-Michalska, K.

Start date: 6 June 2012

This paper analyses within the context of election contests the extent to which parties use the range of Web 2.0 tools, in particular social networking sites, weblogs and microblogs, in order to build communities online; we contrast this with the more traditional political use of the online environment for broadcasting. Using the 2011 Polish general election as a case study, we analyse the use of the online environment by all political parties, categorising features as offering a range of functions to serve visitors, from informing to allowing interaction. We also assess how different groups of visitors are targeted through different features or platforms. The data from the content analysis thus provides a rich picture of the online strategy of each party and the extent to which the Internet was used in the campaign. These data are supplemented by web cartography analysis which identifies the interlinkages between the websites of political parties, official information sources and the media. The cartography allows us to analyse the direction of traffic flow within the electoral websphere, the extent to which parties create open platforms with high levels of linkage to one another or if they maintain enclosed communities linking only to supportive sites. Overall our paper will provide an understanding of party election strategies during elections allowing discussion regarding the impact this might have on parties, media actors and voters. In particular we demonstrate how parties can use the range of web features to build communities of specific groups of visitors, in particular those with issue specific interests, those leaning towards supporting a party, and existing partisan campaigners. The use of these tools, we argue, can increase loyalty and lead to the conversion of supporters to activists. The paper leads into a discussion of how social networking tools have the potential to enhance the link between parties, members and supporters but that this depends on how the party utilises the online environment.

Finally we aim to fit the Polish case study within a larger picture of political parties’ online performance during elections. Here we will compare our data on Poland with similar data which analysed the performance of parties in German 2009 general elections, parliamentary elections in Great Britain 2010 and French parliamentary election in 2012.

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