Joan Balcells, Ana Sofía Cardenal: The influence of the Internet on voting behaviour

Notes from the research seminar The influence of the Internet on voting behaviour: tracking ERC’s massive vote loss in the 2010 Catalan Elections, organized by Joan Balcells and Ana Sofía Cardenal, Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 1 December 2011.

Joan Balcells, Ana Sofía Cardenal
The influence of the Internet on voting behaviour: tracking ERC’s massive vote loss in the 2010 Catalan Elections

(A former version of this seminar was presented as a communication at the 6th ECPR General Conference as The Internet’s Double Edge: Increasing Mobilisation and Fragmentation in the Catalan Pro-Independence Movement .)

Data from the Catalan elections in 2006 and 2010 show that there was an important shift of voters from the main Catalan political parties towards (a) other minor/new parties, (b) Convergència i Unió (CiU, the right wing nationalist party) and (b) abstention, with minor shifts from major parties towards other major parties (e.g. PSC towards PP).

Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, the main Catalan left-wing nationalist pro-independence party) is the one that loses more voters, losing them in benefit of many other parties: other nationalist parties, other left-wing parties, ERC spin-offs, and abstention.

What is the role of the Internet in this vote drain? General hypotheses:

  • Normalization hypothesis: the Internet is yet another communication media, where big parties have more resources and, thus, benefit more from the Internet.
  • Equalization hypothesis: the Internet is a different communication media and, thus, provides new opportunities to those who know how to manage the Internet to reach out.

Web analytics (Alexa) show that small parties did have lots of visits on their websites. Indeed, Solidaritat Catalana (one of ERC’s spin-offs) had more visits than ERC, and ERC had more than CiU. In many cases within small parties, only the website would provide full information about their policy proposals, implying that people would often visit the website to get what was behind a simple message (unlike major parties, whose messages were given fully by traditional media).

Working hypotheses:

  • Exposure to political information online will reduce the likelihood of voting again for ERC.
  • Greater exposure to political information online will have no effect on probability of abstaining.
  • Greater exposure to political information online will increase the likelihood of voting for small and fringe parties, while offline exposure to political information will increase the probability of voting for large parties (equalization vs. normalization).

Dependent variable: vote 2010. Independent variables: media environment (online and offline exposure), acceptance/resistance of new political messages (political interest and party identification), controls (support for independence, age).

Results

It does not seem that exposure to political information online reduced the likelihood of voting again for ERC, while greater exposure to political information online didn’t seem to have an effect on the probability of abstaining.

On the other hand, online exposure significantly increased the odds of voting for Solidaritat Catalana, as did identifying oneself with ERC and stating support for independence. That is, former self-identified ERC-voters with high online exposure were more likely to vote for Solidaritat Catalana. Indeed, the more the online exposure, the higher the likelihood of vote drain from ERC to Solidaritat Catalana. Thus, the Internet will be playing an equalizer role.

  • Online exposure plays no role in the probability of voting again for ERC.
  • Being exposed to online political information has no significant effect on the probability of abstaining.
  • Being exposed to offline political information does not increase the probability of voting for CiU.
  • Being exposed to online political information increases the probability of voting for Solidaritat Catalana.

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (VIII). Towards citizenship 2.0?

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

Round Table
Towards citizenship 2.0?

Eduard Aibar, Vice President, Research, UOC.

So, the landscape has changed… but have citizens? has the concept of citizenship so much shifted as, supposedly, has the Web?

Ana Sofía Cardenal, Professor of Political Science, UOC

We’re putting all our eggs in the Web 2.0 basket, but data seem to bring evidence that all the promises of the web do not seem to apply:

  • The demand for political information has not increased despite the supposition that it would be cheaper (in money, in time) to be informed on a digital socielty
  • The supposition that costs of information have decreased is at stake too
  • The participation does not seem to have changed either
  • Few sites collect most links: so information might be cheaper to diffuse… but only in specific sites

What’s the political blogosphere like in Spain? Hypotheses

  • Balcanization: atomization, decentralization
  • Few blogs get most audience, the rest remain invisible. But who are they? Are they influential?

David Osimo, e-Government researcher and activities coordinator, European Commission’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies

Web 2.0 is an opportunity, but it’s not taking up. So, where or what are the limits?

  • Limited take-up: how to reach the second wave of adopters (after the digerati)?
  • not so important
  • invisible because pervasive
  • not sustainable financially
  • no time for this
  • exclusion
  • social fragmentation
  • intellectual property rights
  • steered by vested interests
  • lack of trust
  • lack of accountability
  • etc.

Different kind of participation, of citizens’ involvement

  • Producing content (3%)
  • Providing ratings, reviews (10%)
  • Using user-generated content (40%)
  • Providing attention, taste data (100%)
  • … of all Internet users (50% of EU population)

It’s not about mass collaboration, it’s about involving specific users, the most relevant ones.

  • There’s a gap from what the Government expected from the Web 2.0 (mass collaboration) with the reality of it (qualitative, relevant collaboration)
  • It’s a new way of doing the traditional “find-contact-ask the expert”: it’s not representative, but highly qualitative
Eduard Aibar, Ana Sofía Cardenal, Joan Subirats, Helen Margetts, David Osimo
Eduard Aibar, Ana Sofía Cardenal, Joan Subirats, Helen Margetts, David Osimo

Helen Margetts, Director of Research, Professor of Society and the Internet, Oxford Internet Institute

Skepticism is about ignorance of the online world.

Evidence shows that people rely on the Internet to find all the information they do not want to force themselves to remember. And the shift towards this attitude has been huge. For instance, if we ask people for politicians’ names, they might not remember them, but this is not political disengage, but optimization of their (memory) resources.

Smallest actions just like using YouTube to upload presumably stupid political videos might not be a lot, but it definitely is something, and it was not there before the Web 2.0.

The Internet has the possibility to reconfigure the dynamics and logic of collective action: allows geographically disperse groups to gather; increases the visibility/exposure of free riders; etc.

Joan Subirats, Professor of Political Science, Autonomous University of Barcelona

Have we adopted a new concept of participation 2.0? Have the new tools or way of behaving?

More individualization, higher presence, constant flow of information that challenges the concept of representativeness. And, indeed, if the majority is more heterogenous, the minority can still represent that majority? And, with such an intense presence and changing scenarios, do the results of the elections (happened 3 or 4 years ago) still apply?

The Web 2.0 challenges the concept of a Government and an Administration designed as benevolent omniscient institutions, that know what’s better for the citizenry… but that now is informed and can have their voice heard.

On the other hand, voting is cheap in effort for the voter. It actually is the cheapest way of participation. So, do we want to increase the burden/costs on the voter? Does he want so?

The web 2.0 leaves plenty of room for autonomy, equality (being aware of the digital divide, of course) and diversity. Does poor in the reaching of consensus and the collective creation of a common, stable project.

Q&A

Me: Have we to redefine what participation is? is uploading a video to YouTube participation? is forwarding it to my contacts list participation? What’s the blogosphere? A blog? A blog aggregator? A blog + youtube + Flickr + Slideshare +… +…? Is the blogoshpere an unmeasurable hydra? Isn’t it as important as the aggregate the non-aggregate, personal approach of the emitter that can now send the message, more efficiently, with more efficacy. HM: Indeed, the reasons why people participate are many and very different. Thus, it is important to take into account any kind of participation, despite its aggregate impact, as it is a gate to participation itself and to political engagement.

Marc López: how can we use the Web 2.0 to operate smallest changes (e.g. to decide the menu of my children at their school with the other parents) without having to focus on big impacts? What’s the role of the Government in enabling and fostering this? DO: From Fix my Street to Fix my School. HM, JS: there’s plenty of room for policy making in these issues.

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)