Harvard Political Review: A Presidential E-lection in ‘08 [14 May 2007]

Harvard Political Review: A Presidential E-lection in ‘08 As the Internet has revolutionized communication across the United States, one might think that the Washington, D.C. political network, often slow to accept broad institutional change, would remain a bastion for traditional modes of accessing and disseminating information. Nothing could be further from the truth. Several 2008 presidential candidates have already devoted significant time to developing their online presences quite early in the race. However, the Internet creates both advantages and disadvantages for candidates. While politicians can use their websites as powerful, self-promoting tools, the spreading practice of blogging serves as a counterbalance to this advantage by decentralizing media and candidate power in a way unknown to earlier presidential elections.

The Politics of the Net

Politicians are increasingly using the Internet to achieve a variety of campaign goals. Candidates can craft a particular image to present to the electorate with the appearance, content, and quality of their website. The bold, yet simple black and white color scheme of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) website conveys the “war hero” image he seeks to project, while Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.), often perceived as inconsistent on her war policy, prominently displays a plan for Iraq on her webpage. Other candidates have begun to tap into the popularity of online communities like Facebook and MySpace. Sen. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have attempted to connect their supporters through social-network offerings. These online profiles provide followers with opportunities to connect with other like-minded individuals, keep track of campaign events, and most importantly, donate money.
As money becomes a more important part of launching a major campaign, politicians are using the Internet to secure campaign funds. Fundraising tools are displayed prominently on all of the candidates’ sites as the size of a campaign’s war chest often determines how seriously voters view the candidacy. Former Senate candidate Ned Lamont relied heavily on the Internet for jumpstarting his campaign and told the HPR that he was quickly able to amass online “as many donors as a three term incumbent [opponent Joe Lieberman]” and that this quickly “gives you another level of credibility.” Raising such funds would be nearly impossible to organize without the help of the Internet, given the ease with which it allows individuals to donate.

But what about the blogs?

While candidates have full authority over the content on their personal sites, the rise of the blog marks a clear shift in the amount of power politicians have to control their images online. These online journals are a seemingly limitless forum for all to express opinions on a candidate or issue. As such, blogs have diluted the dominance of traditional sources of news and opinion and television, essentially opening the world of reporting and news analysis to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

Although often perceived as biased and partisan, blogs often play an important role in campaigns, such providing issue analysis and building the reputation of dark horse candidates. Mr. Lamont commented that at the beginning of his campaign he “couldn’t have [succeeded] without the blogs.” In addition to garnering broad recognition for new candidate, blogs have also created a new forum that campaigns must monitor for constituency sentiment and prominent new issues. Matt Stoller, progressive blogger for and the president of BlogPAC, told the HPR that in the 2008 election “I think [blogs are] going to deepen and enrich the conversation about issues.” But while blogs may enrich debate by allowing more voices to take part in the political discussion, the lack of accountability and clear standards in the blogging world also to make it a political liability, both for candidates who seek to control their representation in the media and for voters who obtain most of their political information from the sites.

The Internet has revolutionized nearly every aspect of American life, and electoral politics is no exception. The prominence of election web sites, the use of blogs to expand political discourse, and the importance of online fundraising have all ensured that candidates must be prepared to tackle the World Wide Web if they want to win elections. Sen. Clinton officially entered the 2008 presidential contest with a website video, saying, “I’m in to win.” The senator and her competitors appear to be online to win as well.
source: Harvard Political Review, 2007:

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