IDP2013 (VI): Politics

Notes from the 9th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Big Data: Challenges and Opportunities, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 25-26 June 2013. More notes on this event: idp2013.

Moderator: Ana Sofía Cardenal. Lecturer, School of Law and Political Science (UOC).

Opening new windows: decision-making centralization and online interaction in CIU, ERC and PSC.
Marc Esteve Del Valle. Doctorando del Programa de Sociedad de la Información y el Conocimiento de la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) – Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3); Rosa Borge Bravo. Profesora Agregada de Ciencia Política de la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) – Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3)

What is the use of the Internet that parties do to “open” themselves and interact with the citizenry.

There are two approaches to ICTs and politics:

  • normalization: nothing is changing, parties will adopt ICTs for their traditional purposes, for their “politics as usual”. The citizenry nor adopts ICTs to participate more or whatever.
  • new mobilization: citizens can initiate their own campaigns thanks to several tools available online. These campaings, though, would be bound to parties, that is, it’s partisans that initiate campaigns to support parties. Networ party (Heidar & Saglie, 2003), cyberparty (Margetts, 2006), citizen initiate campaigns (Gibson, 2013), etc.

Reasons why parties would use ICTs: external context, inner characteristics of the party, position in the electoral market, contagion, etc.

H1: centralized and highly hierarchical parties have less interaction instruments in their websites (centralization index by K. Janda, 1980)
Data show that the three parties do not difer very much in centralization, and they do not difer either in matters of windows of interaction. Thus, evidence that centralization leads to more interaction is very weak.

H2: the degree of centralization does not seem to be related with the windows of interaction that PSC, CiU and ERC provide on their Facebook pages
Concerning the web 2.0, there neither are many differences. Indeed, the thesis of the contagion is very powerful, as there seems to be a pattern where a party initiates a certain activity and the rest copy it not long after.

Though parties showed different strategies and different levels of participation on Facebook, it cannot be stated that this was due to centralization differences. It is very likely, though, that is the state of political news or the political agenda that better shapes the strategies and interactions on Facebook.

To tweet or not to tweet? Social networking strategies in Catalan local governments
Joan Balcells, Lecturer, School of Law and Political Science (UOC); Albert Padró-Solanet, Lecturer, School of Law and Political Science (UOC); Iván Serrano, Researcher, IN3

How can be Twitter used in the context of e-Government? What are the factors of adoption of Twitter by local governments? How is Twitter used by local governments?

Logistic regression on the characteristics of the 947 municipalities in Catalonia was performed to tell the reasons for Twitter adoption. On the other hand, Twitter was mined to retrieve tweets by twitting municipalities and be able to tell the different usages of Twitter by them.

Problem: what (or which one) is the “official” Twitter account in a local government? The more representative one was chosen.

Assumption: if local governments are rationals, they will be on Twitter if the benefits are bigger than the costs of using Twitter.

Characteristics like size of the government, level of e-government, population, public employees expenditure per inhabitant, level of education of the municipality, socio-political mobilization or a change in government in the 2011 elections impact positively in probability of opening a Twitter account. The last issue, a change of party in office, is especially relevant, which stresses the point that in local governments leadership still plays an important role.

Concerning performance, measurements were tweets per week, RT per week, mentions, etc. Larger cities were the ones that performed better on Twitter.

A survey was addressed to Twitter managers asking what was Twitter for. There is major consensus on Twitter for informing citizens. But there is no consensus on interaction with citizens. Again, there is agreemen that Twitter is good for the local administration and for citizens, but there is some level of conflict when asked whether it is good or not for the public employee.

Accounts were grouped in three clusters according to the perception of conflict or not, and the use of Twitter for information or for engagement. And performance is related with perception: if one thinks Twitter is good, the account will do well.

A caveat is that having a Twitter account has consequences for the inner organization of the local government.

Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition
Ismael Peña-López. Lecturer, School of Law and Political Science (UOC).

9th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2013)

Internet, Politics, Policy (IV). Comparative Campaigning (I)

Notes from the Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment conference, organized by the Oxford Internet Institute, and held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, on September 16-17, 2010. More notes on this event: ipp2010.

Why Mobilize Support Online? The Paradox of Party Behavior Online
Ana Sofia Cardenal, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3)

There is an increasing number of Internet users, there have been some very interesting cases of political use of the Internet, and nevertheless, there still seems to be an underexploiting of the opportunities that the Internet offers for political mobilization.

The parties would use the Internet if benefits are higher than costs. Benefits would be increasing expectations of winning office and competition. Costs would be party cohesion (risk of losing control of message when using the Internet), party size (need for more resources and/or support cost of opportunity of allocating resources on online campaigns) and size and importance of extra-parliamentary organization (strategies of recruitment might interfere with online mobilization).

(H1) Large parties will have more incentives than smaller ones to use the net. (H2) Large parties that are in the opposition and compete for office have more incentives to be active online. (H3) Non ideological parties or conversel highly cohesive ideologicals are in better position to use the Internet in their own benefit. (H4) Parties with small extra-parliamentary organizations will also be in a better position than parties with large bureaucracies.

The research analyses the websites of 12 parties and the actions of +1300 online activists.

Findings show that large, non-cohesive, and parties with small bureaucracies have the best (the most interactive and participatory) websites and are the most successful in mobilizing their followers online. In particular, the Catalan nationalist party (CDC) is arguably the one that does best, as it has traditionally been a mobilization party.

Concerning supporters, while it seems that parties do not matter much in offline activism, cyberactivism is more successful in specific parties.

Summing up, party characteristics matter in explaining how parties behave online and what is their impact in cyberactivism.

Internet and Votes: The Impact of New ICTs on the 2008 Spanish Parliamentary Elections
Albert Padró-Solanet, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Goal: what is the role of the Internet in party competition: normalization or revolution? And what is the relevance of the context in all the matter?

The dependent variable is party vote or abstention (not participation) and as independent variables there are party vote intention at t-1, campaign exposure (offline, online, political information).

Findings show that online political information exposure differs from offline exposure: there not always is a reinforcement on party vote, and sometimes there is no impact or a negative one on major parties. In other words, e.g. people that stated at t-1 that they would be voting to the PSOE, have a decreasing probability of ending up doing so as their exposure to online political information increases. The probability of abstention, on the other hand, increases as the exposure to online political information also increases. Offline exposure, though, acts in the opposite way, reducing abstention and reinforcing your initial intentions to vote a specific party.

Reasons for this behaviour might be that, probably, online political information is more fragmented than offline political information, but it doesn’t lead to selective exposure (against normalization hypothesis but vs. a Balkanization hypothesis).

Lessons Learned from Obama? The Effect of Individual Use of Party Websites on Voting in the Elections to the European Parliament 2009 in Germany
Pablo Porten-Cheé, Ilmenau University of Technology, Germany

In Germany, parties still spend little on the Net, though they state the importance of web campaigning specially to inform the public, to mobilize young voters, to activate partisans, etc.

What is the impact of political informational (including use of party websites) and interpersonal political online communication on voting? The assumption is that there is a positive impact which leads to more votes.

Findings show that there was a highly significant effect in the green vote in the latest German elections.

Voter Targeting via the Web – A Comparative Structural Analysis of Austrian and German Party Websites
Uta Russmann, University of Innsbruck, Austria

How do parties target their audiences online? Classically, parties have segmented voters in combinations of age, gender, ethnicity, profession, education, ideology and lifestyle.

(H1) Catch-all parties address a more general audience on their website. (H2) Austrian parties address a more general audience on their website, zed features and techniques on their website to specific target groups.

Results show that catch-all parties do target specific groups and client parties address the general public and specific target groups evenly. The behaviour is similar in Germany and Austria. On the single website the general public is addressed more often. After the general public, party members and supporters are the most targeted audiences by political parties. There does not seem to be a clear strategy relating online targeting.

Discussion

Ute Russmann: is there a profile of citizen that only gets their political information online? Albert Padró-Solanet: people are very heterogeneous in how they find their political information.

Q: could targeting be made by tailoring different candidates within the same party, each candidate shaped according to the expectations of different segments? Ute Russmann: there does not seem to be such a practice. On the contrary, the image of all the candidates of a given party is very homogeneous.

Stephen Ward: could online negative campaigning have an impact in people being informed online voting less? Albert Padró-Solanet: doubtless there is an impact, but maybe is not that much that there is such a thing as negative campaigning, but that people online find much more information, positive and negative, about candidates and parties.

Stephen Ward: in targeting, wouldn’t it be a better channel using direct e-mail or social networking sites? Ute Russmann: they surely are now, but during the German elections in 2008 (which is the object of the research), political parties were not really using web 2.0 tools very intensivelly.

Papers

Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment (2010)

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (VII). Electoral strategies on the Internet

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session VII

Debate
Electoral strategies on the Internet

The experience of the 2008 Spanish General Elections.
José Rodríguez and Xavier Peytibí, political experts.

In the Spanish general elections (March 9th, 2008), the web has had more importance than ever, but it still far from being a mainstream communication media.

Main changes

  • Interactivity between the party and the citizenry, with an increase on blogs and nanoblogs (e.g. twitter) resulting in an increase of the reach of the political message.
  • New methods to outsource participation: not only members of the party and campaign volunteers, but also occasional supporters: from outsourcing to crowdsourcing. This has meant more reach and at a much lesser cost.
  • Change of formats: everything reusable and by anyone, being embedding the main practice.
  • Social Networking Sites: enable or ease that people that think alike support each other. Facebook arguably the star.
  • i-Campaigning: personal campaigning. With any kind of multimedia material, anyone can create their own campaign.

The blogosphere of a party is not really their blogosphere, controlled by the powers of the party, but a blurry cloud of people gathering around similar ideas/ideologies. This has been really significative in the case of the party in the opposition in Spain (the Popular Party, PP) after their defeat in 2004. This made of that blogosphere a strong and organized voice that faced the 2008 elections with a lot of strength. But, after the second defeat in 2008, this blogosphere in part split in several pieces and in part turned against its “own” party. So: the blogosphere is neither controlled, nor predictable.

An important thing to state about political blogospheres is that they are loudspeakers of the dissensions and problems that take place inside the party.

In the socialist party, the blogosphere as indeed succeeded in creating — not yet in having it accepted — amendment to the status of virtual volunteers. While the party wanted to treat them as a separate thing to the core of the party, them virtual volunteers and supporters want a status alike any other volunteer or supporter, with they right to vote and have delegates.

José Rodríguez, Albert Padró-Solanet, Xavier Peytibí
José Rodríguez, Albert Padró-Solanet, Xavier Peytibí

Presentation of the results from the Parties and ICT research project.
Albert Padró-Solanet, Professor of Political Science, UOC, and member of the GADE-IN3 research group. Comments and moderator: Rosa Borge, Professor of Political Science, UOC.

Research goals: why ICTs are so notorious in recent political campaigns? Is it due to sort of a cyberoptimism?

The intensive use in the US of Web 2.0 applications, the reporting on the TV of the performance of politics 2.0, and the self-perception of the political e-leaders themselves that the web rules have undoubtedly boosted the notoriety of Politics 2.0.

Opportunities: additional media, almost costless, enormous potential of reach, segmentation, quick response, links with individuals and groups that think alike and endorse their discourse, bigger support, can better control the diffusion of the information (as they cannot directly control mass media), potentially interactive.

Risks: cost of having information up-to-date, ambiguity is avoided and thus debate is not fostered, in the long run the control over the message is absolutely lost.

The research model tries to explain the web behaviour of the political party according to several independent variables:

  • Ideology: left-right, nationalism (Spanish-Catalan)
  • Organization: kind of party (catch-all, masses), centralization (centralized-decentralized), internal conflict visible (y/n)
  • Electoral market: government-opposition, regional-state wide, size (big-small), coalition (y/n)

The dependent variables are the ones by Gibson & Ward (2001) that measure the degree of development of a party’s website:

  • Informing
  • Campaigning
  • Participation
  • Fundraising
  • Networking

Conclusions

  • There’s an evident strategic use of the Web for political issues: no hype, no “because it’s cool” factor
  • Leadership, big size, in the political movement implies (pressure to achieve) leadership in the Internet
  • Smaller size requires more participation, to have more members and raise more funding
  • Mass parties reproduce offline structures to the online landscape
  • There is some rivalry between offline and online participation
  • Batlle, A., Borge, R., Cardenal, A. S. & Padró-Solanet, A. (2007). Reconsidering the analysis of the uses of ICTs by political parties: an application to the Catalan case. Communication presented at the 4th ECPR General Conference. Pisa: ECPR.

Q&A

Me: what’s the weight of the budget in Web 2.0 campaigning? JR & XP: It is important to kick off the campaign, but the sustainability in the long run and its growth it’s directly related to the ability to engage volunteers. Actually, Obama raises a lot of money on the web, i.e. it’s more an investment than a cost.

Helen Margets: is it the website a dependent variable or an independent one? Ever done the analysis the other way round? AP-S: There is a strong correlation between the structure of the party and the use of the web, so it makes sense thinking of it the other way round, but there’s no analysis yet with this approach.

An attendee: so, the way people participate has really changed? XP: Yes, it has. The possibility that supporters can rip-mix-burn the campaign materials is a crucial change in the whole concept of campaigning. JR: Indeed, an elite of high-class (intellectuals, scholars, etc.) supporters are subverting the whole system of the political party, implying that the basis of the party are left aside in benefit of latecomers that have high e-media impact. Thus, more people taking part into the internal debate of a specific party can indeed imply less internal democracy, as the structures are overridden by the high-class digerati elite latecomers.

Marc López: What’s the role of cybersupporters, to help diffuse the discourse of the powers of the party, or to debate them? Who are the cyberpartisans? JR: Dissension is tolerated while constructive, but if it turns to be destructive, bloggers become a problem. XP: We don’t know who the partisans are, but we do know that cyberpartisans and cybersupporters and birds of a different feather. XP-S: there’s another issue that makes it difficult to know who the cybersupporters are and it’s privacy.

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)

About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.