Internet and Votes: The Impact of New ICTs in the 2008 Spanish Parliamentary Elections
Type of work: Working Paper
Categories:e-Democracy | Politics and Political Science
Early studies of the electoral uses of the new ICTs by political parties focused primarily on the contents of their websites and the reasons behind the adoption of the technology. In part due to the limited diffusion of these technologies among the electorate, the evaluations of the electoral impact of web campaigns on voters had been rather limited and inconclusive. This result can also be explained by the intrinsic characteristics of the new media. Although the use of Internet (and of the new ICTs in general) have an enormous potential in diffusing the electoral messages at a low cost (compared to traditional media), they also have their own drawbacks, which can be summarized generally by an increase in the transaction costs or a loss in the control of the electoral message. Only more recently, some studies that addressed this point have come up with a positive relation between cyber-campaigning and electoral performance. In this paper I will try to unravel this question in the 2008 Spanish general election. Beyond the enthusiasm towards the electoral usage of new ICTs shown during the electoral campaign by both politicians and traditional media, is it possible to find an independent and significant effect of the new ICTs on the vote? Certainly, it is worth answering this question in a political system traditionally dominated by mass media campaigning but that recently has experienced the potential disruptive power of the new ICTs.
To do this work I have take advantage of the 2008 general election panel survey study conducted by the governmental Spanish Centre of Sociological Studies (CIS). Due to the extraordinary circumstances of the previous 2004 general election and the alleged role played by the new ICTs in the mobilizations against the government (mis-)management of the information after the terrorist attacks, the post-electoral phase of the survey was very detailed in the questions related to the practice of and exposure to cybercampaigning. In order to capture the multi-party nature of the Spanish party system, I have estimated a multinomial logistic regression in which the dependent variable is the decision to vote for any of the main parties in the elections or to abstain. The results show that the cyber-campaign has a small but statistically significant impact on the vote decision probability, even when it is controlled by an objective measure of political information and by off-line political campaign exposure. As it could be expected, this impact differs according to each party alternative or electoral turnout. Against the ‘normalization’ hypothesis of the political impact of Internet, cyber-campaign exposure helped minor parties (the postcommunist IU and the regional parties) and, maybe surprisingly, increased abstention while decreasing the vote for major parties: the conservative PP and, mainly, the socialist PSOE. These results can be explained by the political and social context of the 2008 Spanish electoral campaign and are extremely interesting because they give insights of a deeper and nuanced understanding of the way the new ICTs can and are modifying our political systems.