Citizen politics (II): E-Electoral Politics

Notes from the workshop Citizen Politics: Are the New Media Reshaping Political Engagement? held in Barcelona, Spain, on May 28-30th, 2009. More notes on this event: citizen_politics_2009.

Citizen-Campaigning, New Media and the Revitalisation of Politics?
Rachel K. Gibson

Some changes in politics: not only at the participatory level, but especially changes in the style politics are made. Normally, focus has been put on how new media can change everything that is outside of the sphere of conventional politics (parties, parliament, etc.). But the 2008 US Presidential election has shown that the system can also be changed.

Obama’s campaign integrated web 2.0 practices and tools within the main website, so that people could participate without going “outside” of the main/official website.

New structure for e-campaigning:

  • Hub: main website
  • Spokes: email, RSS feeds, instant messeging, SMS, campaign blog
  • Third party platforms: blogosphhere, social networking sites, photo/video sharing sites, etc.

Web 2.0 devolves power to the user, to the voter, and challenges traditional positions (Dalton’s) that ellites can lead campaigns and messages.

Caveats:

  • Who are the citizen-campaigners? are ICTs simply creating “hyperactivists”?

  • Is it truly decentralised? Or was it actually a case of better localising the central command?
  • How far was money and not “people power” the great driver?
  • How far can it work outside the US?

Some requisites:

  • Broadband: necessary but not sufficient
  • Democratic culture based on civic voluntarism
  • Party-strengths: candidate-centered systems more suited for a “shared-responsibility” model vs. stron party systems that allow no autonomy.
  • Role of money in campaigns: if raising money is no incentive, will there be incentives at all to engage in a conversation?
  • Rules on data protection

Cyberdemocracy: dividing or merging factor
Monica Poletti & Victor Sampedro

Research based on six groups divided by age (18-40; +40), ideology (right; left) and activism (traditional partisans; cyberpartisans) during Spanish Presidential & Parliament Election 2008.

Age

Generational divide still exists.

Similarities: political and media interests matter; importance of non-virtual contacts; negative evaluation of uses, that it, not intrinsic feature of ICTs.

Young people appear to have a less structured and more autonomous use of ICTs, with a more proactive attitude. They also are more optimists about the future of cyberdemocracy.

Ideology

Ideology cleavage blurs with more electoral use of ICTs. In general, right- and left-wing parties share the reasons that led them to develop cyberstrategies; the evolution in tools and organization; successes of party cyberstrategy; optimism on pro-democracy tone, etc.

Activism

Both groups (traditional activists and cyberactivists) are against electoral and party bureaucracy and traditional media. While cyberactivists see the good points of ICTs in political campaigning, traditionals also point at their weak points.

General findings

No difference technophiles/technophobes; virtual character of Internet; no strcitly technological determinism, as users determine evaluation. ICTs allow for more specialized groups, but the Net is used by similar typologies of users.

Internet as part of the world, not as a separate world; pro-democratic effect ascribed directly to ICT; Internet is merging differences and blurring barriers but possibilities of a cyberdemocracy are distorted; citizens might have a minor margin of manoeuvre while parties model techno-political applications.

Cyberactivism, campaigning and party change in the Catalan parties
Ana Sofía Cardenal, Albert Padró-Solanet, Rosa Borge and Albert Batlle

Research based on the demand-side, driven by the irruption of the Web 2.0 and the fact that parties are increasingly fortresses difficult to penetrate. The Spanish case has indeed shown that voters and activists are doing things outside of parties.

So, how are party activists using ICTs? Are there differences amongst parties? Why are doing it (determinants)?

In Catalonia, parties’ membership of major parties (PSC, PPC) is quite an aged one, centered in their fifties. And half of them have also been long-term members of the party.

The relationship between age and having a profile in Facebook is really strong, but it is not that strong for other ICT uses (writing on a word processor, generic Internet uses, etc.). Indeed, a factor analysis show that there are two main factors that group Internet activities: (1) taking part in social networking sites and (2) using the Internet for political activism (sending e-mails to the candidate, maintaining political blogs, using video/photo storage sites for political issues, etc.)

Every little helps. Cybercampaigning in the 2007 Irish General Election
Maria Laura Sudulich and Matthew Wall

In general, candidates’ perception of personal websites as a campaigning tool ranges lower than all other campaigning tools: personal flyers, campaign posters, office hours/clinics, etc. Same with how electors consult media to get political news: the Internet ranges way below newspapers, TV or radio; and, indeed, electors trust less the Internet than other media, though it is astonishingly high the rate of people that “do not know” whether they trust the Internet to get information on politics.

But things, have they changed? During the 2007 Irish election — the first one to use intensively ICTs for campaigning — some hypotheses were tested: candidates who engaged in cybercampaigning, got more votes; if control on campaign expenditure tightens, candidates with personalized websites should not receive a greater portion of votes; high levels of Internet penetration matter for the impact of cybercampaigning.

Evidence was found that personal websites provided more votes. Hypothesis on control for candidate expenses also proved right. Last, constituencies with above-media levels of Internet penetration show that personal websites have a higher impact (than compared with the aggregate population) and that in below-media consituencies personal website almost have no differences in the chance of getting votes.

Discussion

Q: In the Catalan case, it will be very hard for activists to democratize the party, as parties are oligarchic. Ana Sofía Cardenal: Not only members where eager to participate, but were also openly critical about how the party worked.

Q: If people find out that most online polls are fake, why are they still willing to participate in these polls? Why even still be a partisan? Monica Poletti & Victor Sampedro: not only will they not take the exit door, but use evidence to criticise the party from within, and try to change it. And, indeed, the more conservative parties’ members are more critical about the non-existence of democracy inside parties than progressive.

Rachel Gibson: Maybe it’s not exactly the website which matters, but the fact that candidates are more directly implied in the campaign, personally maintaining the website (e.g. their own blogs), etc.

Ana Sofía Cardenal: major parties are addressing with their websites neither the voters nor the partisans, but mainstream media.

Eva Anduiza: all this criticism, are they claiming more rights? a change in the structures? specific claims to be included in the political agenda? what? Monica Poletti & Victor Sampedro: most claims are to promote democratic procedures inside the party.

Citizen Politics workshop (2009)

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

Peña-López, I. (2009) “Citizen politics (II): E-Electoral Politics” In ICTlogy, #68, May 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=2243

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