Seminar: Reconsidering the analysis of the uses of ICTs by political parties: an application to the Catalan case

Notes on the seminar at UOC’s Law and Political Science School Reconsidering the analysis of the uses of ICTs by political parties: an application to the Catalan case, presented by Albert Batlle, Rosa Borge, Ana Sofía Cardenal and Albert Padró-Solanet, after their homonimous communication at the 4th ECPR General Conference in Pisa.

Is there a crisis on political participation?

From 1950 to our days, participation in elections has notably decreased in most developed countries.

Same applies when we look both at the membership/voters ratio and the absolute membership volume.

Electoral volatility — voters changing the party they vote — also increases.

Why those changes?

Positive approach: changes in cleavages that explained vote intention and no longer can so clearly explain vote intention.

Normative approach: crisis of the institutions themselves, citizenship disaffection.

What’s the role of ICTs in this landscape? Regenerate institutions? Empower voters/members? Raise political parties’ accountability? Enhance participation?

Working hypotheses
  • Leveling the playing field: ICTs provide an comparative advantage to small parties, but after comes normalization: the bigger the party, the more resources can allocate
  • Depending on the typology of the political party, they tend to interact more or less, communicate with their voters.

It seems that the normalization hypotheses is the most concurrent, political parties do not use ICTs to increase communication, and it geographically happens quite homogeneously.

Theoretical approach

Political parties are led/influenced/build by an ideology, an organization and an electoral market (the really exogenous variable). This leads the party to implement a communication strategy that will determine the party’s ICT uses.

Then, test how different indicators (see also paper below) affect the dependent variable: ICT use on political parties.

  • Ideology: left parties associated with better participation scores?
  • Party organization: mass parties related to resource generation and provision of information?
  • Party organization: catch-all parties more related to campaining?
  • Electoral market: more preasure to win votes leads to campaining?
  • Electoral market: the more the resources and the expectations to obtain them, the more sophisticated the development of websites?
Findings

Normalization hypotheses seems confirmed: bigger/richer parties have better/richer websites… but smaller ones, do also well in their websites, to obtain support, funding… Thus, seems clear that the electoral market is a very important issue in the strategy of ICT use in political parties.

Nevertheless, it seems that ICTs in general — and, specifically, websites — are not a strategic priority of Catalan political parties.

Mass parties seem to be better connected, have better network than catch-all parties.

My questions/comments

Any research on how parties react to the quantity/quality of the communication — Fourth Estate — arena?

Political parties might not find any incentive to enter the conversation, taking into account the classical literature about how political parties behave. BUT, if there really is a Fifth Estate emerging thanks to web 2.0 technologies, wouldn’t it be a “menace” to the traditional way political parties communicate with voters and members? Wouldn’t it be an incentive — i.e. respond to the fifth power — to engage in more communication, participation?

Maybe we should not take political parties as “political parties” but as communication media: information deliverers and opinion generators. And analyze website strategies not as political strategies but communication strategies: look not at the origin — the political parties, their strategies — but at the destiny — the communication arena.

More info

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “Seminar: Reconsidering the analysis of the uses of ICTs by political parties: an application to the Catalan case” In ICTlogy, #50, November 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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