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					                                    Internet and the Presidency   pg. 1




The Rise of Internet Technology in Presidential Campaign Politics

                    By: Heather J. Kauffman

                      Gonzaga University
                                                        Internet and the Presidency     pg. 2


       As evidenced in the current 2008 Presidential Campaign all the campaigns are

utilizing new technologies to communicate information about their candidacy, build a

grassroots network of volunteers, and increase financial contributions. In particular

candidates are using such technology tools as blogs, video streaming, and social

networking to build an online community of support. This paper will discuss the

historical growth and influence of technologies on presidential campaign politics,

particularly the recent introduction of the Internet. I’ll also describe how these

technologies are currently being used and speak to their effectiveness as a campaign tool.

The purpose of this information will be to provide the reader with a greater understanding

as to the benefits and potential pitfalls of the use of the Web 2.0 technologies in

campaigns. What role are these new technologies likely to play in influencing a

campaign’s success, voter decision-making, and their overall potential impact on the

American democratic election system?

       Using a method to catch the voter’s attention and capture their vote at the polls is

nothing new. As Richard Brookhiser, Senior Editor for the National Review Online

points out, “Washington ran for the House of Burgesses in 1758 while still serving as a

colonel in the militia. He could not be at the polling place on Election Day, but he

delegated a friend, Lt. Charles Smith, to tend bar in his absence. We know from their

correspondence what the Washington campaign served: 28 gallons of rum, 50 gallons of

rum punch, 34 gallons of wine, 46 gallons of beer, two gallons of cider (probably hard),

for a total of 160 gallons of booze. There were 397 voters. Washington won. If you’re not

the candidate of Change, be the candidate of Have Another.” (2008) As the years passed

American presidential politics began utilizing the media to be able to reach a broader
                                                      Internet and the Presidency      pg. 3


audience starting with the penny press, the radio, and more recently television. Some

notable moments along the way included Franklin Delanor Roosevelt’s fireside chats or

the Kennedy-Nixon televised debate. Dr. Roderick Hart, a professor in the Department of

Communication Studies and acting Dean of the College of Communication at The

University of Texas at Austin, states in his book Seducing America: How Television

Charms the Modern Voter, “…the American public will figuratively lie in bed with the

candidates. They will enter people’s homes. And while people will assess them on their

records and their stances on important issues, they will also decide whether they simply

like them as people.” (University of Texas at Austin). In 1997 a group of Bay Area

software company executives started emailing friends to denounce the possible

impeachment of then President Bill Clinton. The campaign was so successful that over

time this small campaign evolved into other issues and today is one of the most powerful

political action committees in America, MoveOn.org. (eJournalUSA)

       The 2000 Presidential campaign really was the first time the Internet was utilized

by presidential campaigns. That year then Governor George W. Bush amassed an email

database of nearly 6 million supporters allowing the campaign to communicate and

organize instantly. (Brookings Institute) However, it wasn’t until 2003 that the use of

Internet tools created measurable success for a presidential campaign. In that year,

Howard Dean running for the democratic nomination, “used the Net to raise more money

than any other Democratic candidate. He also used it to organize thousands of volunteers

who went door-to-door, wrote personal letters to likely voters, hosted meetings, and

distributed flyers.” (Wired).
                                                      Internet and the Presidency     pg. 4


        Much has changed since the Dean campaign first alerted candidates to the power

of the Internet. In the 2008 Presidential campaign we have seen candidates increase their

media ad buys on the Internet by an estimated 83.9% compared with the 2006 mid-term

elections. That would drive the estimates for Internet ad buys alone to some $73 million.

(Marketing Charts). However, one might ask what is the benefit to the candidate’s

campaigns in spending all that money on Internet ad buys and the answer is simple

fundraising. “Eric Frenchman, an Internet strategist for McCain, estimated the campaign

brought in $3 to $4 for every $1 spent on search ads.” (Times Argus) However, Barack

Obama has far exceeded any of his rival presidential candidates in harnessing the power

of the Internet.

        The Obama campaign managing to raise $28 million in January…About 90

percent of that money came in donations of $100 or less, allowing donors to give again

every few weeks — up to the limit of $2,300 each for the primary and general elections.”

(Times Argus) This represents a significant change in the way traditional presidential

campaign fundraising has occurred with primary donations coming from more affluent

Americans who gave $1,000 or more. (Institute for Politics, Democracy, & the Internet).

One thing worth noting here is that, “Fewer than 10 percent of donors who gave less than

$100 to a candidate or campaign in 2004 were under age thirty-five.” (Institute for

Politics, Democracy, & the Internet) Obama has been highly successful by most all

accounts at capturing the youth vote by investing early in technologies used by tech-

savvy young voters such as blogs, streaming video, texting and the like. According to

Frank Davies article in the San Jose Mercury News, “Younger voters…helped make

Obama’s speech clips and a "Yes We Can" music video as popular as Britney Spears on
                                                      Internet and the Presidency    pg. 5


YouTube. Internet activists were also attracted to Obama's early support for the free use

of video content such as TV networks' campaign debate clips. "Friends" of Obama on

Facebook get automatic news feeds from the campaign sent to their profiles, which are

then seen by other friends. The campaign mass-texts news updates ("CNN just projected

Obama wins Wisconsin") and reminders of where to vote in upcoming primaries.” (2008)

       In 2000 the University of Southern California, Annenberg School of

Communication began a study called the Digital Future Project that’s main purpose was

to explore the impact of online technologies on Americans. The study found the Internet

is being used by campaigns, "For fundraising, outreach to voters, making announcements,

and articulating a campaign platform, the Internet is now the primary media of choice for

candidates to deliver their messages.” (Blog4President) Alexis Rice, Fellow at the Center

for the Study of American Government at John Hopkins University, states it in this way,

“Campaigns have embraced Internet strategies to stay competitive.”

(CampaignsOnline.org) Candidates of both parties are taping into the power of streaming

video, such as that found on YouTube, the site that recently hosted a presidential debate

forum. The candidates may be onto something too according to Marketing Charts,

“Nearly 80% of US internet users will watch online video at least once a month in 2008 -

that is, 52.5% of all Americans, or 154 million people.” (2008) Thus, streaming video

has the potential to reach a fairly mainstream audience.

       Nearly six months before the first presidential primary ballot was cast Senior

Hillary Clinton advisor, Anne Lewis, was already well aware of the campaign’s strategy

to utilize social networking sites. Lewis stated in an August, 2007 report by ABC News

"When you talk to people who already know you, they're going to listen harder, they're
                                                       Internet and the Presidency      pg. 6


going to respect what you have to say, and you know what they care about….social

networking is going to be at the center of Clinton's organizing effort. What we're saying

is that's your list. Those are the people we want you to reach out to talk to about what's at

stake in this election, and about why Hillary is your candidate.” (KGO ABCNews) It’s

not just the candidates and their staff who are recognizing the Internet’s potential role in

campaign politics these days. In 2005, nearly 3 years before the current presidential race,

the Digital Future Project found that 60.4 percent of the Internet users and 34.6 percent of

non-users believed the Internet was a tool for people to better understand politics. (USC

Annenberg School). This corresponds with a 2007 study by the Pew Internet &

American Life Project which found, “ that a growing percentage of Americans are no

longer satisfied with passively gathering political information online. Instead, they want

to use Web 2.0 tools -- blogs, video and social networks -- to seek out diverse opinions,

create their own political content and share it with others” (Pew Internet & American Life

Project)

       One of the greatest advantages to the growth of the Internet for campaign

management is the ability to frame the candidate’s image. Alex Lavoie presents it in this

way, in his article in the Harvard Political Review, “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.” (2007) In January, 2008 The Pew Research Center

found 24% or nearly a quarter of all Americans stated they regularly gather news
                                                       Internet and the Presidency    pg. 7


information about the presidential campaign from the Internet and that figure is nearly

double for those persons under 29 at 42%. (Pew Research Center) Jeffrey Cole,

Director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School of

Communication poses this important question for consideration, "Can the Internet truly

be a tool for the political empowerment of voters?" (Blog4President)

       Several possible considerations to this question arise, the first being the dramatic

increase of user generated content (UGC) on the web. The power of individuals to post

UGC limits the ability of the candidate to manage his or her image. For instance, in 2006

Virginia Senator George Allen, was regularly followed by a young man who was

working for the campaign of his challenger, Jim Webb. “On a campaign visit in August

of that year, Allen publicly acknowledged Sidarth's presence to participants at the rally,

referring to Sidarth on two occasions as "Macaca." Sidarth, who is of Indian descent,

posted the video clip of Allen's comments on YouTube and other Web sites, where it was

soon viewed by hundreds of thousands of Internet users. Soon the video became a major

campaign issue, as Allen had to fend off charges that the word "macaca," which is a

genus of primate, was used in a racially derogatory way. Allen apologized and

maintained that the word held no derogatory meaning to him.” Despite Allen’s apologies

his image was damaged and he later lost his reelection bid by a narrow margin.

(eJournalUSA) Thus, with empowerment of people to affect news and election outcomes

through web tools also comes responsibility. Citizens must carefully consider what they

post, as well as, what they view on the web with a critical eye.

       Another consideration is that social networking sites and blogs should not be

overemphasized as having the ability to influence people or change campaign outcomes.
                                                       Internet and the Presidency     pg. 8


“Social networks make it easy to find people of like-minds to work together, but does not

afford the ability to converse or convince people on the “other side” to the merits of your

points.” (Political Gastronomica) However, as more and more Americans gain access to

the Internet even more of the general populace has the ability to gather information about

the political candidates and become involved in the campaign process. In Election Law

and the Internet, authors Potter and Jowers describe it in this way, “The accessibility and

relatively low cost of the Internet provide hope that it will become the greatest tool for

political change since the Guttenberg press. It already has become a “democratizing

force” in connecting millions of Americans with the political process.” (Brookings

Institute)

        One concern that emerges as more people become involved in the political

process through Web 2.0 tools is are they fully prepared to engage in an educated

conversation on the policy issues or are we simply encouraging more people to publicly

voice opinions based on personality traits and not facts? Are we in effect creating a mass

marketing of candidates similar to what we see with rock stars or Hollywood movie

actors and actresses? Shanto Iyenger asks this question in Soft News, Hard Sell: Treating

the Audience as Consumers, not Citizens. “This substantial information gap on matters of

public affairs disappeared almost entirely, however, on matters of pop culture,

entertainment or sports. Here, Americans were just as well informed as

Europeans.” (Stanford University, Political Communication Lab, 2007) Study after study

has shown a lack of knowledge among the American public on public policy and current

affairs related issues. For example, in 2007 the Annenberg Public Policy Center

conducted a study on judicial knowledge amongst 1514 respondents ages 18 or older.
                                                       Internet and the Presidency      pg. 9


When respondents were asked the following question, “Do you happen to know who the

Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court is?”, 78% replied they did not, however 56%

could name at least one of the three judges on the TV show American Idol. Perhaps the

case is better stated by Mark Rhoads in his article from the Illinois Review in which he

comments, “Democracies are more legitimate than other forms of government, we

believe, because the government officials must seek the consent of the people. We

believe that voting is the process that gives authenticity to our government. But we also

know that not all voters will be equally well informed before they go to the

polls…Democracy demands some level of civic education for the voters in order to

work. Knowing the difference between what a state legislature does and what the

Congress does should not be too much to ask.” (2008)

       Another caution to increased use of web tools is the potential sacrifice of privacy

for citizens and potential voters. In a survey of 9,705 users of Microsoft Network (MSN)

by the Institute for Politics, Democracy, & the Internet at George Washington University,

they found 69% of visitors to campaign web sites have hesitated to give their email

address and 89% paused in providing their credit card number for a donation. (2003)

The reason according to the study was concerns over SPAM, security, and privacy.

Conversely the authors of this study find that campaigns base the success of their

websites on their ability to gather personal information about visitors. In Political

Privacy and Online Politics: How E-Campaigning Threatens Voter Privacy author

Christopher Hunter summarizes his findings in this way, “Through the use of cookies,

online donation forms, and political mailing lists, Internet-based campaigns can now

gather tremendous amounts of information about which candidates voters prefer and
                                                       Internet and the Presidency     pg. 10


where they choose to surf. The creation and sale of such detailed voter profiles raises

serious questions about the future of political privacy and the democratic electoral

process itself.” (Peer-Reviewed Journal of the Internet)

       In summary, we have witnessed a dramatic evolution of the Internet and its

various tools in a relatively short amount of time. Political campaigns have always relied

upon the most effective methods available at the time to reach the greatest audience and

the Internet is simply the next generation in these technologies. The 2008 presidential

campaign has thus far been the most influenced by web 2.0 tools of any campaign season

in American history. Many of the current pool of candidates have deemed success in

reaching additional voters through blogs, video streaming, and social online

communities. As more and more Americans rely on the Internet to learn about candidates

we must also pause to consider the implications of this new media to influence political

outcomes and our democracy. One serious question we must ask ourselves as citizens is

are we well prepared for the additional responsibilities that come with the new

empowerment the Internet provides us within our political system? Further at what cost

will the benefit of greater access to information and technologies for campaign

management occur? Surely there are many benefits to be had through the new tools, but

we should not move so fast as a nation in adopting these technologies into our political

system that we do not evaluate their consequences as well.

       It is my belief that although the Internet may provide greater access to more

citizens to obtain information about candidates, it will not significantly influence the

political party system within America. In a University of California Santa Barbara study

entitled Campaigning Online researcher Bruce Bimber summarizes it in this way, “The
                                                     Internet and the Presidency    pg. 11


most important thing we learned is that Web sites tend to reinforce people's partisanship

and their preferences…People tend to go to the Web sites of the candidates they support,

and they tend to come away feeling even more strongly about them than they did going

in." As with all new technologies throughout history they evolve and are modified to fit

the needs of the society and surely the same will be said as the Web tools develop and

change to fit the needs of both the public and candidates. However, we can at least be

assured of this, "Will a candidate without an internet strategy ever win the presidency

again? And the answer to that is a resounding, "No!”” (Information Technology &

Politics, American Political Science Association)
                                                    Internet and the Presidency     pg. 12


                                          References


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Bimber, B. (2003). University of California Santa Barbara. Campaigning Online: The
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                                                     Internet and the Presidency   pg. 13


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                                                     Internet and the Presidency   pg. 14


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