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Angela Connor, 7701 � Issues in Technical Communication by k135E9


									A. Connor, 7730 – Issues in Technical Communication (Fall 2007)

Project 4 - Literature Review


Internet websites have become an important component of political candidate campaign

strategies over the last decade because of the nearly ubiquitous nature of Internet access among

American adults, with three in four reporting their “being online,” and the increasing

awareness among politicians of the power of campaign websites as fundraising, support-

building and voter education (persuasion) tools. This environment simply requires nearly all

political candidates, particularly those that run for higher offices (e.g., US presidential or

congressional candidates) to develop and maintain websites as a part of campaign

communication strategies (Madden 1). The following provides a brief overview of the use and

evolution of campaign-associated websites, and offers an analysis of online campaign

messaging and website interactivity.

Evolution: The Use of Websites as Political Campaign Tools

The first US political candidate websites debuted in 1996 (Trammel et al. 39). These websites

tended to be static and made minimal use of interactive features such as hyperlinking and

emailing options (Stromer-Galley 128); instead, content was typically nothing more than

“brochureware,” meaning that website content was often made up of electronic versions of

written material that used brochure-style layout, tone and graphics (127). At that time,

candidates demonstrated an understanding of the Internet as a “publication mechanism” but

had not fully grasped, or perhaps appreciated the value of, the Internet’s potential as a uniquely

interactive communication mechanism. However, candidates’ usage of websites has continually

evolved, likely as a result of both voter demand and an increased understanding of the ability of

websites to engage voters. While the use of the latest website technology appears to be

dependent upon financial resources of the campaign, the level of office sought (US president

and Senate contenders) and constituent demographics/access to the Internet, nearly all political

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candidates seeking federal-level offices maintained websites by 2006. (Druckman, Kifer and

Parkin 425; Gulati and Williams 443).

The widespread use of candidate websites is perhaps not surprising, particularly given that

research demonstrates that campaign websites do have the ability, at least in the short term, to

influencing site users’ perceptions of candidates (Hansen and Benoit 225). Schneider and Foot

also indicate that campaign websites facilitate political action (e.g. volunteerism, donations, and

candidate promotion) both online and offline (n. pag.). When combined, these factors make a

strong case for the use of websites and offer insight into what may have facilitated the evolution

of their use.

But has candidates’ use of websites impacted the campaign process, or more broadly,

democracy itself? Many predicted in the early stages of online campaigning that the use of the

internet to reach the masses would completely transform democracy by facilitating a fully

participatory system in which citizen involvement was widespread, and public, internet-based

policy discussions were a driving factor in candidates’ development of policy agendas and

overall campaign platforms.

Lipsitz, et al report that this transformation has only partially taken place, in that voters tend to

desire a level of participation that falls between the participatory ideal and passive political

involvement, a fact that is reflected in political campaign website characteristics (350). However,

given the ongoing advancements in both web technology and candidates’ employment of it, the

level to which web campaigning facilitates long-term changes in the campaign process and

ultimately participation of voters as part of a democratic process remains to be seen.

Campaign Communications On Candidate Websites

As Williams, et al suggest, campaign websites provide political candidates with the opportunity

to highlight issues as they see fit and expand upon content as necessary to offer voters as much

information as the candidate deems necessary to garner support (180). This is a distinct

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advantage of websites, in that the candidate’s message is not subject to the external “gate

keeping” mechanism by which traditional media (newspapers and television) put forth

information selectively based on what editors and other “media elite” consider “newsworthy”

(180). This type of gate keeping, which may be influenced by individual biases or other

subjective circumstances, does not allow for customization or placement of messaging to the

candidate’s advantage. While such biases or subjective circumstances are also a factor in

developing content on websites, the candidate and his/her staff serve as gate keepers and shape

website content accordingly to maximize political advantage (180).

Given the fact that political candidates have complete control of messaging on websites, one

must question the types of messages candidates then put forth and their similarities (or

differences) to those offered through television and print media. Based on analysis of the

websites of 2002 US candidates, Xenos and Foot maintain that web-based campaign

communications do not mirror those found in print and on television in respect to issue position

taking and issue dialogue, perhaps indicating the unique nature of internet political

communications and the unique opportunities that candidates are afforded by reaching out to

potential voters through cyberspace (182).

However, somewhat contradictory to the findings of Xenos and Foot, additional research by

Souley and Wicks, Going Negative, suggests that 2000 presidential candidates used website

communication to attack opponents (included in what Xenos and Foot determine to be issue

dialogue), and that such negativity on websites did in fact closely mirror negativity found in

other media ( 141). These findings may indicate that candidates’ negative messaging strategies

(attacks on opponents, or defense of self) have evolved in recognition that websites allow

candidates to expand positions and develop detailed content in a way that other media do not

permit, thus making them an extension of print and television messaging. These findings may

also be indicative of increased savvy on the part of candidates and political communicators in

regard to web-driven communications – perhaps they are simply doing a better job of using the

Internet as a communications medium.

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The use of news releases and coverage of current events further support the notion that

candidates are refining campaign website messaging strategies as the Internet is increasingly

recognized as a formidable political communication tool. Souley and Wicks conclude that news

releases have become critical components of campaign website attack strategies, suggesting that

the traditional audience for news releases (the media) has been redefined to expand reach

(“Tracking” 544). Souley and Wicks also suggest that current events drive content to a large

degree, rather than more traditional policy issues, further indicating candidates’ use of website

messaging to address areas not typically covered by more conventional media as campaign-

related news (“Tracking” 544).

The degree to which web-based campaign communications reflect, or deviate from, the patterns

found in broadcast and print media bears significant consideration, as it not only provides

insight into candidates’ use of the web as a medium for communications, it also implies that

candidate websites may be vastly different from, but perhaps equally important to, traditional

media vehicles.

In addition to offering the opportunity for candidates to provide detailed messages and

information regarding issues and personal attributes of themselves as well as their opponents,

candidates are also afforded the opportunity to reach out to a variety of populations through

web-based technologies. Websites may be constructed in such a way as to facilitate access for

those with disabilities, or those that do not speak English as a primary, or preferred, language.

However, Len-Rios’ findings suggests that candidates do not always take advantage of the

unlimited content space and relatively low-cost technologies associated with producing multi-

audience messages to reach specific cultural/linguistic subsets of the population, particularly

subsets of the Hispanic population (e.g. Cuban Americans and Mexican Americans) (898).

According to Len-Rios’ analysis, George W. Bush varied messages for multiple audiences of

Hispanic origin on his website during the 2000 presidential campaign, and used imagery on his

website to promote his relationship with, and understanding of issues specific to, a broad range

of Hispanic populations; Al Gore, on the other hand, communicated with Hispanics via his

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website using a singular message and did not differentiate messaging in acknowledgement of

the variance among population subsets (887). As with general messaging, the use of political

candidate websites to engage a variety of population sub-sets must be examined over time, as

such an analysis may determine demand, utilization and effectiveness of such strategies.


The interactivity that websites allow offers candidates a unique opportunity to “develop a

relationship” with potential voters. However, based on interviews with campaign staff and an

analysis of US political candidate websites in 1996 and 1998, Stromer-Galley asserted that

candidates avoid interaction that risks a loss of control in relationship to presenting messages

with ambiguity as a campaign strategy, or that place significant time or mediation-related

burdens on campaign staff members (122). While this supposition was undoubtedly accurate as

candidates “dipped their toes” into the waters of online campaigning, it no longer holds true.

Voter demands and expectations, as well as greater comfort, technical savvy and demonstrated

online campaign successes among candidates, have facilitated increasingly high levels of

interactivity during each campaign cycle (Trammell, et al 42). Stromer-Galley and Foot found

that website users appreciate interactive features, as they do in fact desire a high level of

interactivity on political candidate websites (n. pag.).

In evidence of increased site interactivity, more recent candidate campaigns have developed

websites that employ interactive “user-to-system,” “user-to-user” (or perhaps more

appropriately, “user-to-campaign”) and “user-to-document” strategies that meet the needs of

both candidates and voters (Endres and Warnick 324-326). Endres and Warnick also assert that

text-based interactivity (interactivity that is “created” rhetorically) is also increasingly used and

must be used considered as a component of a site’s overall interactivity, in that it indicates the

ability (or lack thereof) of a campaign to engage and interact with website users through the use

of personalized, rather than formal, language, more journalistic prose, multiple voices/authors,

and a more immediate engagement/response approach to updating text (326). Using text-based

or rhetorical features concurrent to previously established categories to gauge interactivity

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proves valid, in that website users are just as likely to perceive interactivity based on these

features as they are on other, more technologically-based interactive features (Warnick, et al n.


Hyperlinking remains a key measure of site user-to-system interactivity (the user “clicks,” and

the system responds) and its practice tends not to vary significantly based on party affiliation,

office sought or candidate incumbency (Foot, et al n. pag.). Additional interactivity features that

are now considered “standard fare” on candidate websites include “Email Us,” “Volunteer”

and e-newsletter subscription options (user-to-campaign), as well as “Tell a Friend” and “Write

Letters to the Editor” options (“user-to-user”) (n. pag.). Candidates are also using their websites

with more frequency to raise money, create “personal relationships” with voters through blogs,

and enhance appeal through strategic use of imagery.

Online Fundraising: A New Frontier

With increasing success, more recent candidates have turned to websites to solicit financial

support for campaign efforts, largely through interactive, user-to-campaign “Donate Now” site

features. Online fundraising holds seemingly unlimited potential for soliciting donations,

particularly those that are made in smaller amounts (under $200) (Graf, et al 5). However,

contrary to the view held by many that campaign websites allow candidates to raise funds from

populations not politically engaged offline (i.e., those of lower incomes), campaign donors that

give online tend to be politically active and similar demographically to their offline donor

counterparts, with one exception – online donors tend to be younger than those that give offline

(Panagopoulos 484). Demographic characteristics of past online donors may indicate that either

“ask” strategies must be diversified to facilitate greater reach, or that certain segments of the

population are not motivated to donate to campaigns regardless of the medium with which the

request is made. Regardless of the need to modify existing online fundraising strategies to

maximize success, the astonishing results of such efforts to date indicate that such fundraising

demands both significant attention and additional research.

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Political Candidates…and Bloggers…

Candidates are also increasingly utilizing blogs to enhance interactivity of their websites and

make use of the more personalized voice inherent to blogs (Williams, et al 185; Lawson-Borders

and Kirk 554). According to Williams, et al, the blogs of candidate sites are more likely to cover

topics that receive little attention elsewhere on candidate sites, an approach which implies the

use of blogs as a strategy not only to encourage interactivity, but to also reach a broad range of

potential voters (183). This interactivity strategy, which may be considered user-to-user, user-to-

campaign, user- to-system and text-based interactivity simultaneously depending upon

individual blog characteristics, is particularly interesting, as it seems to reflect the rising

popularity of blogs among Internet users in general.

Visual Interactivity

In addition to explicitly interactive features of candidate websites, photographs and other visual

images also present opportunities for persuasion and are arguably evidence of text-based

interactivity (or lack thereof) on such sites. Specifically, campaigns are extremely deliberate

regarding photographs of candidates, in that photos included on campaign websites seem to be

used in such a way as to contradict negative images perpetuated by other media and enhance

overall candidate image (Verser and Wicks 178).

Interactivity, whether perceived or actual, is a critical component of campaign websites, in that

it has been demonstrated to influence potential voters’ perceptions of candidates and their

positions (Sundar, Kalyananman and Brown 48). As such, interactivity of websites warrants

ongoing review and evaluation to gain a greater understanding of the impact interactive online

political campaign communication strategies have on voters.


Research supports the assumption that political candidates have a vested interest in

maintaining an increasingly visible, and interactive, role on the web (Souley and Wicks 544).

Candidate websites have proven to be effective communication mechanisms, and their use will

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likely continue to evolve over time (544). To increase understanding of political campaign

websites and their effectiveness, it may be worth revisiting the criteria for evaluating websites

in their totality put forth by Benoit and Benoit (identification, navigation, readability,

irritability, information accessibility, interest level, information breadth and depth, and issues)

(238). If appropriately modified to reflect current technology, those criteria would likely provide

an effective framework for future research and ultimately increase understanding of sites’ use

as political communication tools.

In addition to examining websites in their entirety, research opportunities focusing on

individual aspects of political campaign websites also abound. While much scholarly study has

been undertaken in regard to the characteristics of political campaign websites, significant

opportunity lies in determining the effects these characteristics have on potential voters/site

users. Although studies indicate that website interactivity has impact on voter perceptions,

these studies were limited in scope, necessitating further inquiry (Sundar, Kalyananman and

Brown 49). The relatively new inclusion of hyperlinks to external (uncontrolled) blogs, video

messaging and links to external, but campaign developed, video websites (i.e., You Tube), must

also be examined and evaluated in regard to campaign use, voter reach, and voter persuasion

effectiveness. Future research focusing on video use alone offers the potential to substantially

enrich scholarly understanding of online political campaign communications, as its use

embodies the evolution of campaign websites from static, “brochureware” publication tools to

highly interactive, voter responsive mechanisms for increasing reach, expanding messaging and

integrating personalized, candidate-provided communications that will undoubtedly impact

voters and the political campaign process itself in coming elections. Future research must also

focus on candidates’ ability, or willingness, to address the linguistic, cultural and social

requirements of an increasingly diverse society, as the changing make up of the United States’

population will also present varied requirements, expectations, opportunities and challenges for

future political candidates.

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Finally, future research must also seek to determine the impact that Internet-based political

campaigning as a whole has had on election processes themselves, and the effects of political

campaign websites in the context of participatory democracy and citizen involvement.

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                                         Works Cited

Benoit, Pamela J., and William J. Benoit. "Criteria for Evaluating Political Campaign Webpages."

    Southern Communication Journal 70.3 (2005): 230-47.

Druckman, James N., Martin J. Kifer, and Michael Parkin. "The Technological Development of

    Congressional Campaign Web Sites: How and Why Candidates use Web Innovations."

    Social Science Computer Review 25.4 (2007): 425-42.

Endres, Danielle, and Barbara Warnick. "Text-Based Interactivity in Candidate Campaign Web

    Sites: A Case Study from the 2002 Elections." Western Journal of Communication 68.3

    (2004): 322-42.

Foot, Kirsten A., Steven M. Shneider, Meghan Dougherty, Michael A Xenos and Elena Larsen.

    "Analyzing Linking Practices: Candidate Sites in the 2002 US Electoral Web Sphere."

    Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 8.4 (2003): n. pag.

Graf, Joseph, Grant Reeher, Michael J. Malbin and Costas Panagopoulos. Small Donors and

    Online Giving. Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, 2004. November 24, 2007


Gulati, Girish J., and Christine Williams. "Closing the Gap, Raising the Bar: Candidate Web Site

    Communication in the 2006 Campaign for Congress." Social Science Computer Review 25.4

    (2007): 443-65.

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Hansen, Glenn J., and William J. Benoit. "Presidential Campaigning on the Web: The Influence

    of Candidate World Wide Web Sites in the 2000 General Election." Southern

    Communication Journal 70.3 (2005): 219-29.

Lawson-Borders, Gracie, and Rita Kirk. "Blogs in Campaign Communication." American

    Behavioral Scientist 49.4 (2005): 548-59.

Len-Rios, Maria E. "The Bush and Gore Presidential Campaign Websites: Identifying with

    Hispanic Voters during the 2000 Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary."

    Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 79.4 (2002): 887-904.

Lipsitz, Keena, Christine Trost, Matthew Grossman, and John Sides. "What Voters Want from

    Political Campaign Communication." Political Communication 22.3 (2005): 337-54.

Madden, Mary. Internet Penetration and Impact Report, 2000 - 2007 Internet & American Life

    Project. Pew Charitable Trusts, 2006. November 23, 2007


Panagopoulos, Costas, and Daniel Bergan. "Online Fund-Raising and Contributors in the 2004

    Presidential Campaign." Social Science Computer Review 25.4 (2007): 484-93.

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Shneider, Steven M., and Kirsten A. Foot. "Online Structure for Political Action: Exploring

    Presidential Campaign Web Sites from the 2000 American Election." Javnost (The Public)

    9.2 (2002): 43-60.

Souley, Boubacar, and Robert H. Wicks. "Going Negative: Candidate Usage of Internet Web

    Sites during the 2000 Presidential Campaign." Journalism & Mass Communication

    Quarterly 80.1 (2003): 128-44.

---. "Tracking the 2004 Presidential Campaign Web Sites: Similarities and Differences."

    American Behavioral Scientist 49.4 (2005): 535-47.

Stromer-Galley, Jennifer, and Kirsten A. Foot. "Citizen Perceptions of Online Interactivity and

    Implications for Campaign Communication." Journal of Computer-Mediated

    Communication 8.1 (2002): n. pag.

Stromer-Galley, Jennifer. "On-Line Interaction and Why Candidates Avoid it." Journal of

    Communication 50.4 (2000): 111-32.

Sundar, S. Shyam, Sriram Kalyananman, and Justin Brown. "Explicating Web Site Interactivity:

    Impression Formation Effects in Political Campaign Sites." Communication Research 30.1

    (2003): 30-59.

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Trammell, Kaye D., Andrew Paul Williams, Monica Postelnicu, and Kristen D. Landreville.

    "Evolution of Online Campaigning: Increasing Interactivity in Candidate Web Sites and

    Blogs through Text and Technical Features." Mass Communication & Society 9.1 (2006): 21-


Verser, Rebecca, and Robert H. Wicks. "Managing Voter Impressions: The use of Images on

    Presidential Candidate Web Sites during the 2000 Campaign." Journal of Communication

    56.1 (2006): 178-97.

Warnick, Barbara, Michael A. Xeons, Danielle Endres, and John Gastil . "Effects of Campaign-to-

    User and Text-Based Interactivity in Political Candidate Web Sites." Journal of Computer-

    Mediated Communication 10.3 (2005): n. pag.

Williams, Andrew Paul, Kaye D. Trammell, Monica Postelnicu, Kristen D. Landreville, and

    Justin D. Martin. "Blogging and Hyperlinking: Use of the Web to Enhance Viability during

    the 2004 US Campaign." Journalism Studies 6.2 (2005): 177-86.

Xenos, Michael A., and Kirsten A. Foot. "Politics as Usual, Or Politics Unusual? Position Taking

    and Dialogue on Campaign Websites in the 2002 U.S. Elections." Journal of Communication

    55.1 (2005): 169-85.

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