Internet, Politics, Policy (V). Campaigning: UK2010 Election

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.

Online citizen-campaigning in the UK General Election of 2010: how did citizens use new technologies to get involved?
Rachel Gibson, Institute for Social Change, University of Manchester; Marta Cantijoch, University of Manchester; Stephen Ward, University of Salford

Previous elections have shown that the Internet is only for “politics junkies”, and that e-participation has just reinforcement effects.

In news, the Internet is presented initially as a game changer, to become lately a useless tool for candidates and parties.

During the UK 2010 election, there was more people online than during previous elections, and more people went online to look for political information, both at the official and the non-official sites.

4 factors of e-participation: e-communication (info seeking, e-discussion, online videos), e-targeted activities (e-contact, e-petition, e-donation), e-formal (register, party tools, join/start election related social networking site group) and e-informal (forward, post, embed unofficial political content).

Are people engaging/participation in these four factors differently?

Age, online skills and interest in politics are amongst the more important reasons that determine the kind of online participation that a citizen is more likely to engage in. Partisanship strength also has an impact in e-targeted activities and the e-formal factor.

In general, e-communication has an impact in increasing the probability of voting amongst people not interested in politics. Notwithstanding, there is a need to disaggregate e-participation, as not all e-participation is about the same thing, as it happens offline.

Campaigns and Communications: Is the Revolution in Digital Media Changing Political Organization? An Examination of the 2010 UK Elections
Mike Jensen, Institute for Governance and Public Policy, Autonomous University of Barcelona; Nick Anstead, London School of Economics (LSE)

The Network Society has turned upside-down the boundaries of some concepts like political and non-political, places and spaces of flows, etc. How does campaigning fit in this new context?

Facebook comments and twitter messages were analyzed to see the differences between the national campaign and the local level campaign (here the case of Birmingham). And we can see big differences in what happened in Facebook and Twitter between the national and local campaigns.

Concerning horizontal communication, we can see that for some candidates, at the local level there was much more decentralization than at the national level.

Elements of decentralization and localism can both be found at the UK 2010 election. Local candidates make relatively little reference to the national campaign while, at the same time, there is evidence of the existence of horizontal links at both the national and local level.

Towards a more participatory style of election campaigning? The impact of Web 2.0 on the UK 2010 General Election
Darren G. Lilleker, Centre for Public Communication Research, Bournemouth Media School, Bournemouth University

To what extent was interactivity permitted on party websites at the 2010 election? What type of interactivity was permitted? How has permitted interactivity evolved between peace time and previous elections?

Typologies of interactivity, depending on the level of receiver control (high, low) and direction (one-way, two-way, three-way) of the communication flow: Feedback, Mutual discourse, Public discourse, Monologue, Repsondive dialogue, Controlled responses.

We can see that individuals (candidates) are usually more popular in social networking sites than parties. Uploading played a key part on interactivity, sharing creates a network effect, adding info was offered by a minority.

Different parties used different types of interactivity, ranging from monologue to public discourse. In general, though, there was a lot of two-way communication. Surprisingly enough, three parties (Lab, LDem and Green) abandoned many of their interactive features in their websites, while the others, on the contrary, increased the interactivity, a trend that has been thus in the last years. Similarly, some parties are increasingly losing control over the message.

In the UK 2010 election the Internet was mainly used to sell the party/candidate and to manage relationships, but social networks were also used (besides branding) for interaction. Supporters were contacted horizontally and more co-building was created. Notwithstanding, many partisans would share their ideas with other partisans, but not willing to do it with the party.

In general, participation was low, and people would engage elsewhere but usually in trivial if engaging ways. Notwithstanding, very active communities triggered more participation, creating a virtuous circle of high participation.

Me too for web 2.0? Patterns of online campaigning among candidates in the 2010 UK general election
Maria Laura Sudulich, University of Amsterdam; Matthew Wall, Free University Amsterdam

What is the use of the web 2.0 by candidates? How do they use Facebook? What are the elements determining the uptake of online campaigning by candidates in the UK 2010 election? Is the rationale behind launching a campaign website different from the one explaining candidates’ presence on Facebook in the UK 2010 election?

the probability of having a website (or a facebook profile page, a fan page or a group page) was calculated depending on incumbency, marginality, party affiliation, bookmakers odds / implied chance of winning, and whether opponents had a website and the number of these opponents.

A striking finding is that there seems not to be a thorough political strategy to be on Facebook,and results are very inconsistent across different possible forms of Facebook campaign presence. Marginality, notwithstanding, is very significant for both having a website and being on Facebook, as party affiliation is. Implied chance is a significant predictor of candidates websites, but not for Facebook groups; on the contrary, the “me too” factor is not a significant predictor of candidates’ websites but it is for Facebook groups.

More information



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

Citizen politics (VII): Round Table

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.

Rachel Gibson

All politics is both personal and local… and national… and… Have to manage the way to connect the personal to the local.

Emergent e-campaign strategy: depends on infrastructure and the tools; and of the logic of networked communities, whether they are autonomous or not. A difference between building “real” communities, or populist platforms addressed to many in general (to the “herd”).

A major challenge: how to measure actions, people, quality, etc. A need to modelize “digital natives” and the way they interact between each other and through technology.

Main research approaches in Politics 2.0, all of them interrelated:

Foci, key factors /
Level of Analysis
Internal External
Elite (supply) Campaign change, tools, national/local power, adoption diffusion Inter-party comptetition, campaign site analysis
Mass (mass) Party membership, supporters, volunteers Electoral mobilization

Víctor Sampedro

We should not embrace the discourse and language of marketing or consultants, of populism, of counter-hegemonic collectives.

We have to assess the validity of our data, and collaborate both with the industry and the subjects of our studies.

We have to clarify what we understand by counter-power measures of ICTs and also, the concept of empowerment, and the concept of mobilization.

Is it a grassroots approach really a better system? Shouldn’t leaders lead? Is there still a role for leaders to “educate” the voter or to find “better” solutions and show them to the citizen?

Brian Krueger

Everything that’s great can be used against you: we should be thinking about Internet surveillance and monitoring. We know little about it and should be paying more attention to it. And this includes the sheer sensation of being monitored, as it has behavioural effects (e.g. self-censorship). Evidence shows that people feel monitored if they’d type “impeach Bush” or “assassinate Bush”. Open political criticism is tied to the feeling of being watched. And this sensation of being watched most probably changes your own behaviour, even if you’re not actually watched. And it’s likely to change how and how much you are participating.

Bruce Bimber

Motivation, attitudes, trust… the umbrella were to begin exploring participation. And then focus also on the changes that the new media are infringing to the landscape.

How would the landscape look like when “all” the people would have been socialized with these new media?

How different Web 2.0 tools differentiate one another? What different specific applications do they have?

We’re right to talk about choice, but we do still have not good models how to measure how choice happens and why.

More effort should be made in analysing how citizens can affect agenda-setting, on a decentralized and bottom-up communication scheme. And also how horizontal communication happens, how peer-to-peer can pass the message on.

Should focus more not on how people mobilize, but what the specific motivations and contexts are. What keeps people awake at night.

Andrew Chadwick

We need more appreciation of social network environments (i.e. tools), and balance technological determinism with social determinism, keeping in mind how technology did change some human behaviours.

How do we contextualize a campaign or social movement, specially when social movements increasingly look like parties and parties increasingly look like social movements, and borrow each one’s instruments and techniques.

Look at how citizens cognitively negotiate information overload in an age of information saturation (not scarcity).

Can we do politics in a space owned by the market and private interests? Can the citizens build their own forums, create their own network effects and avoid commoditized online spaces?

We do need to start looking in more sophisticated ways how people are exposed to online content, including accidental exposure.

There are many cross-section analyses, but few panel-data analysis, which are usually acknowledged to be more robust (though more difficult and expensive). And we should use more the “free range” data that people automatically create with their actions (e.g. logs) instead of “battery raised” surveys. And combine methods.

We should be aware of how mobile technologies might be changing the economy of attention and politics.


Bruce Bimber: mobility is more about time, more about “always on” rather than physical space or ubiquity (Chadwick fully agrees).

Rachel Gibson & Bruce Bimber: there are places where the local factor really matters and shapes how the institutions work or are built and managed.


Citizen Politics workshop (2009)

Rachel K. Gibson: 2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns?

Live notes at the research seminar 2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns? by Rachel Gibson. Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Castelldefels (Barcelona), Spain, May 21th, 2009.

2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns?
Rachel K. Gibson

  • What kind of contents? Impact of content on online campaigning and parties (supply-side)
  • Effects on voters attitudes and actual behaviour (demand-side)

Internal side of e-campaigning and factors of web campaign strategy

  • Web strategies: to what extent are parties following an organisational strategy in the use of the web
  • What’s driving this strategy?
  • What effect does web campaigning has? Are old practices being removed and being replaced by web campaigning? How do internal party power hierarchies being affected?
  • Digital divide: organisational resources (the capacity of the party) and individual characteristics (demographics, etc.)
  • Context: level of competition, Internet use in constituency, size of the electorate, professionalisation of legislature, etc.

Some general findings

  • Overall party status identified as most important factor in determining overall presence and quality of sites
  • Overtime this has been questioned, particularly since e-campaigning entered the Web 2.0 era. A participatory Web is a much different framework than setting up just a static website.
  • Suggests (a) that equalisation hypothesis gaining ground over normalisation ideas; (b) that there may be differentiation in use of web tactics
  • If party status (supply side) no longer dominant factor then what explains uptake and usage of technology?

Demand-side explanations of e-campaigns

  • Size of audience: how many Internet users (as a share of the population) and how many of these are visiting the canditates’ or the parties’ websites
  • Mobilisation potential: in general, e-campaigning has been seen to focus on partisans and “preach to converted”, leaving aside “pockets” of potential mobilisation

Organisational implications

  • Obama blended offline and online campaigning: no more “partial” approaches, but holistic crossmedia ones, and integrating old and new techniques
  • Obama’s campaign was based on grassroots and community based, challenging the established power structures and the “war room model”
  • In local campaigns, there’s evidence of an increase of new (online) methods trading-off with face to face traditional methods, and with an increase of the control in local operations

Research questions

  • Is there a difference across parties in the extent to which they adopt 2.0 strategies?
  • Do differences account for demand-side reasons?
  • Is web campaigning supplementing or displacing traditional methods?
  • Is web campaigning decentralizing or concentrating campaigning strategies?

Data from the Australian Candidate Study (ACS) and Australian Election Study (AES), both for 2004.

Australian e-politics timeline

  • 1994 ALP “first” party website.

  • 1996-2001 National parties move online but subnational presence is patchy. Experimental and cautious approach.
  • 2004- expectations heightened for Internet to lay a role
  • 2007 “the next election will be the one (Internet election)” feeling, though the 2007 election already credited for having being really present online and much relying from initiatives on YouTube, MySpace… A novelty in 2007 election was the non-partisan site/initiative GetUp! based on volunteers.

Now: The ALP, pioneer of the Internet, out of government for 11 years. What’s happened online?

  • The general landscape of candidates and parties online has not changed
  • But the ratio of candidates online in major parties has increased, while in minor parties has even decreased
  • Party pages (73% of parties got one) still are the main platforms for online campaigning. Personal sites, e-news and social networking sites follow (circa 40%), and rest of platforms (podcast, videodiary, blog…) have minoritary use.

Factor analysis to identify candidate’s use of web campaining showed three factors: web 2.0, web 1.0 and personal sites. Major parties focus on personal sites, and the Greens have a more 2.0 approach.

Concerning voters, their use of the Internet to get information during elections is steadily increasing. Indeed, mainstream media (radio, TV, newspapers) are losing followers while the Internet is both in absolute and in relative terms gaining weight and is by far the most used means where to get information. But, mainstream news are nevertheless the preferred option when surfing the web for elections information.

Factor analysis to identify voter’s use of the Internet showed twofactors: campaigning sites (parties’ and candidate’s, etc.) and web 2.0 (mainstream news and media websites, youtube, blogs, etc.). Internet usage does not seem to be different according to social background and socioeconomic status, but it is different according to web use: people intensively using/visiting web 2.0 applications/sites are more prone to vote Green or more progressive parties.

Traditional campaigning has been affected by online activities: less doorknocking, direct mailing or telephoning; same mainstream media appearances; less campaign workers. While web campaigning has grown over time: more effort on personal websites, considering Internet as important in the campaign, etc.

Personal website strategies are not trading-off with traditional campaign, but e-mailing is: the more e-mailing, the less traditional campaigning.

Local candidates are becoming more self-sufficient and it somehow seems that some degree of decentralization has been made possible through online campaigning.


  • The web 2.0 is leading to a differentiation among parties in how they engage in e-campaigning.
  • Candidates appear to share a commitment with web 1.0 approaches; minor parties are more likely to go 2.0; major parties favour personalized independent web sites.
  • Greens’ supporters are more likely to be users of the web 2.0; the demand seems to be driving different web strategies.
  • Not a displacement effect between traditional vs. online campaigning; the web enhances traditional techniques
  • e-Campaigning do not reduce the local level actors and increase a centralized national power; if any, just the contraty


Ismael Peña-López: Concerning uptake, usage, etc., is it a matter of party status or budget? The web 2.0 is way cheaper. Could this be the reason for more recent uptake? Gibson: we don’t have data about budgets but it looks like budgets would be a perfectly feasible aspect that could explain some issues. On the other hand, we should be seeing some normalization in this aspect (if the web 2.0 is cheaper, it’s cheaper for everyone), and still some differences between parties exist, and some of them within the web 2.0 arena.

Ramon Ribera: Minor parties don’t get as much coverage in mainstream media as major parties do. This should push them towards a major web 2.0 presence. Gibson: Yes, but we are also seeing that what major parties are doing is bring web 2.0 within their websites (e.g. embedding YouTube videos on their sites), so that these sites become hubs of web 2.0 content, where it is combined. So it might not exactly be a matter of shifting towards a more participatory web or a cheaper one.

Mike Jensen: Are candidates turning a necessity (budget) into a virtue (participation)? Gibson: This is definitely an option. But candidates and parties are also “spending time” that saves little money (and time is money, indeed). So there seems to be evidence that even if it might be true that they’re turning a necessity into a virtue, it is also true that there’s a political will to engage online and go ahead with new (e-)campaigning techniques.

Rosa Borge and Ana Sofía Cardenal: Spanish parties have broadly adopted Web 2.0 tools, being the major parties the ones seemingly the more committed with this approach. Nevertheless, partisans are by far the ones that more intensively use these tools to engage and mobilize.

Ismael Peña-López: in Spain, most parties are using web 2.0 tools, but more than using them they are pestering them, using them for unidirectionally broadcasting same as ever in different ways — this is not the case of partisans and some individual politicians.

Rachel K. Gibson: web 2.0 might find a better ground between elections, to maintain the movement, rather than during campaigns.