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)

Internet, Politics, Policy (III). Participation in Politics and Policy-making

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.

New ways for policy-makers to interact with citizens through open social network sites – a report on initial results
Matthew Addis, IT Innovation Centre, University of Southampton, UK

WeGov aims at using social networking sites (where the people is) to engage citizens in two-way dialogues as part of governance and policymaking processes.

Several issues are raised, though, concerning security, privacy, digital identity, hacking, masquerading, bugs and system malfunctions, etc.

So far, though, it seems that social networking sites do offer plenty of potentgial for improved interaction of plicy makers and community, and they are complementary to other models. Notwithstainding, care is needed on what’s legally acceptable, risks need being assessed. On the other hand, there is a high dependency on the major actors (Google, Facebook and other SNS operators). Last, many technical challenges have to be overcome before real dialogue can take place.

Discussion

Q: Should politicians and/or public servants take part in social networking sites? Are them an appropriate place where to engage in a conversation? A: These issues are taking into account in the project, though no results are available at this moment. Notwithstanding, SNS can be used to create only-politicians workgroups, so they can work amongst them in a new environment without “third parties” peeking in.

Q: Isn’t that a big brother approach to policy making? Are SNS only used for surveillance but not for listening? A: Of course it depends on the usage.

Analysing e-consultations with the help of Computer Assistance
Aude Bicquelet, London School of Economics (LSE)

Text mining is the process of extracting information in large corpora with the aim of identifying patterns and relationship in textual data. Can text mining methods help the analysis of large corpora such as e-consultations?

Alceste software was used to explore petitinons and comments from the citizens. After a first scan, cluster analysis was performed to try and isolate groups of terms and infer from them concepts/meanings.

Text mining methods help in categorization of data, reduction of information, visualization to help and disentangle complex and prolific data, high velocity of analysis.

On the other hand, there are some risks like points or issues missed by the algorithm, missing data, insensitivity to meaning and context, etical issues related to privacy or confidentiality, “dehumanization”, non-awareness of participants being a matter of research, etc.

Discussion

Ismael Peña-López: Though there might be a risk of decontextualization, text could also be mixed with other data (e.g. on the author of the text) and thus reintroduce context within the equation. Would that be possible? A: Yes, this is definitely an option.

Q: Text mining can be used for “sentiment mining”.

Q: How are these findings used? A: They feed back the whole participation process and they inform the people designing the systems so that they can improve them.

Surfing the Net: a pathway to political participation without motivation?
Rosa Borge and Ana Sofía Cardenal, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute IN3, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona

Goals of the research: To investigate the relationship between internet motivation and political participation, and to see whether the use of Internet changes the importance given to motivation.

The literature is not conclusive, and both positive and negative impacts have been found in Internet over political participation in the literature.

The main drivers of political participation are resources, psychological involvement and recruitment networks. Does the Internet reduce the importance of motivation (psychological involvement)? Does the Internet has any impact on it? When participation is not so costly (due to the Internet), maybe political interest is not so important, as participation is almost costless.

(H1) Use of the Internet will not cause the effect of motivation to disappear, but digital skills may actually be a barrier. (H2) Browsing aimlessly on the Internet and being contacted online will increase the probability of online participation.

First results show that political interest and political skills have a direct effect on online political participation. Specifically, having internet skills does have a direct effect in participation, though it will not make political interest disappear as a reason to participate.

There also is a relationship between browsing aimlessly on the Internet and being contacted online and an increase in online political participation.

[Own ramblings: Pippa Norris stated that citizens were increasingly engaged in “actions” rather than “ideologies”. Isn’t that the next step, where “action” is substituted by “casual politics”? Is there still a role for deliberation? We’re witnessing transition fr endorsement of ideas, to participation in actions to casual politics on the run. Seems like e-politics is less of the Habermassian e-agora and more about e-herding.]

Civil Society and ICTs: Creating Participatory Spaces for Democratizing ICT Policy and Governance in the Philippines
Ian Jayson Reyes Hecita, Florida State University

Goal of the research: analyse the state of Civil Society Organizations (CSO) in Philippines.

Context: failure of institutions, lack of capacity of government, democracy dominated by the elite.

Thus, CSOs are raising many relevant issues in Philippines related to ICTs and society.

But government receptiveness on CSOs can depend on leadership, on tapping government “champions”, the political attractiveness of the policy issue, and the effectiveness of engagement will be more viable at the executive level than at the legislative level. It will also depend on the openness/receptiveness/political will of government agencies to CSO participation, on the level of institutionalization of CSO participation, the resources of CSOs and capacity and skills to engage the government, the critical mass in their basis and policy audience, the need to develop consumerism, their capacity to carry on research and, of course, the legal and regulatory framework.

As a conclusion, CSOs may have a limited impact in terms of influencing policy outcomes, but they may have an important one in brining relevant topics on the table.

Papers:

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