"Extended infomercials" or "Politics 2.0"? A study of Swedish political party Web sites before, during and after the 2010 election
First Monday

Extended
infomercials or Politics 2.0? A study of Swedish political party Web
sites before, during and after the 2010 election by Anders Olof Larsson



Abstract
Although many of the initial hopes regarding the Internets effect on political engagement and participation has largely gone unfulfilled, it is generally held that the Internet still has a substantial role to play during political election campaigns. Several studies have focused on how the Internet medium is employed for such purposes during the actual election campaign, but rather few (if any) studies have adopted a broader temporal scope, studying the Web sites of political parties before, during and after the election period. This paper fills this apparent research gap by presenting such a longitudinal analysis of the Web sites of Swedish political parties during the election year of 2010. Starting in January of 2010, these Web pages were downloaded on a monthly basis, lasting until the end of the year. By studying the Web sites of political parties before, during and after an election campaign, this project will provide scholars as well practitioners with unique insights into how Web campaigning rationale seems to develop.

Contents

Introduction
Background
Features of political Web sites
Influences for party use of Web site functionalities
Method
Results
Discussion

 


 

Introduction

The rise of new technologies has always been seen as playing key parts in shaping the processes of electioneering. From Roosevelt’s “great radio voice” via Kennedy’s television persona to Barack Obama’s apparent social media success [1], the development of technological innovations is frequently described as having significant effects on political campaigning (Pepe and di Gennaro, 2009). Recently, scholars have referred to the Internet as the “magic elixir” to raise voter participation in the process of government [2]. While an online presence is virtually mandatory when on the campaign trail [3], the early promises of increased political engagement and revitalized democracy through online activity appear to have been highly optimistic and have as such gone largely unfulfilled (Chadwick, 2006).

Recent online developments and the increasing popularity of accessible Web design concepts such as various Web 2.0 or social media technologies (i.e., Cormode and Krishnamurthy, 2008; O’Reilly, 2005) has yet again raised the question of how Web campaigning can be used in order to engage the denizens of the Web. While several studies have dealt with the Web use of political actors, the majority of these have been performed in U.S. or U.K. contexts (Chadwick, 2006; Coleman, 2005a, 2205b, 2004; Schweitzer, 2008). As such, there is a pertinent need to focus on other democracies and the ways that the Internet been used for political purposes there [4].

In this regard, Sweden is an interesting country to study. From early on, Swedish political parties have maintained an active Web presence [5] — perhaps a necessity given the high rate and speed of Internet dissemination and use among Swedish citizens (Facht, 2008). While studies have focused on the use of Web 2.0 and similar applications during the height of political campaigning (i.e., a few weeks before a set election date), few studies have focused on how political actors make use of their Web sites in a longer temporal perspective. This paper presents a longitudinal study of Swedish political party Web sites before, during and after the 2010 Swedish general election. While some studies have suggested that party Web sites undergo relatively few changes during political campaigning [6], other studies have presented results that indicate the opposite [7]. Based on data continuously collected during a twelve–month period, the paper provides unique insights into the developmental processes that political party Web sites undergo during an election year. By analyzing the different features employed by these sites before and after the election, the paper contributes to the ongoing discussion on whether online technological developments have had any substantial effects on how political actors use their Web sites in order to engage with the public [8], or if the potential for change in Web campaigning has been thwarted by what is sometimes referred as traditional or ”top-down” electioneering [9].

 

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Background

Political campaigning in the digital age — shift or enhancement?

Throughout the twentieth century, the printed press, radio broadcasting and television all made their marks on how political actors use technological innovations during election campaigns. During its introductory phase in western democracies, the Internet was often described as having the potential to make a large impact on political campaigning (i.e., Castells, 2001; S Coleman, 2005). Indeed, the thoughts of an “informational democracy” [10] facilitated through “postmodern campaigning” [11] were frequently expressed under a variety of labels. Most early research efforts on the potential of the Internet to rejuvenate contemporary democracy were inspired by the concepts of deliberation and direct democracy often associated with the ideal of the public sphere (Bohman, 1996; Habermas, 1989). The Internet appeared to offer the means to realize more inclusive public participation and discussions between political elites and citizens (Rash, 1997). Remembering the claim that periods of technological development tend to invite speculation about radical systemic changes [12] it nevertheless seems valid to conclude that hopes were high for the Internet to revitalize political interest and discussion among the general public [13]. However, the mostly somber assessments [14] of research focusing on that particular time period suggest that the new medium was not employed in the groundbreaking ways first imagined. Rather than providing a ”shift” in political campaigning and communication, the adoption of the Internet by political actors led instead to an ”enhancement” of existing patterns of civic engagement, generally providing information rather than opportunities for participation [15]. Although there are exceptions [16] an apparent ”Burkean, Top–Down communication strategy” [17] where providing ”vehicles for downward dissemination of information rather than recruitment of users’ opinions and the promotion of participation” [18] is evident in research findings from several countries. For example, in his study of the 2003 Finnish parliamentary election, Strandberg (2009) found that most candidates did not choose to campaign online, and that the majority of those who did employed Web sites mainly used for information provision rather than promoting participation. The results presented by Bergström (2007) in her study of the 2006 Swedish elections indicated that the Internet contributed to an enhancement of established political practices as discussed earlier. During the 2006 Italian elections, Vaccari described the adoption of Internet tools by Italian parties as ”slow and half–hearted” [19]. In France, the same author found few opportunities for voter participation [20]. Lilleker and Malagon’s (2010) study from the same election seem to corroborate this result, as they found few opportunities for conversations between electors and elected. Indeed, the Web sites of political actors have been described as ”extended infomercials” (Stromer–Galley, 2000) or ”electronic brochures” (Druckman, et al., 2007; Jackson and Lilleker, 2009), indicating that little adaptation to the interactive opportunities of Internet medium has taken place. Some of the reasons for this careful approach towards the new medium are discussed in the next section.

The non–use of Internet–specific features

The capacity for change towards a more participatory form of electioneering brought forward by the advent of the Internet should not be overemphasized at the expense of continuity [21]. Indeed, each innovation has advantages and drawbacks [22], and this certainly holds true in the digital era of political campaigning. The perhaps biggest drawback of fully utilizing Web sites for campaigning purposes is the risk of losing control over the content [23]. While such decentralizing services as chat rooms and discussion boards would be central to user participation, allowing proponents (and possibly also opponents) to engage in on–site discussion might risk ”negative graffiti–style comments” [24] and could distort the intended messages of the campaign [25].

The dynamic potential of the Internet does not seem to fully harmonize with the established tenets of political campaigning, which historically have been more focused on information and attempts at persuasion rather than engaging in peer–to–peer dialogue on any larger scale [26]. While the potential for information distribution via the Internet is obvious, the risks of allowing visitors to co–create online content are apparently looming [27]. Political actors might choose to employ certain features made available by the Internet (i.e., information provision) to higher degrees than other features (i.e., participatory features or features that allow for site visitor contributions). Furthermore, highly dynamic Web sites featuring tools for participation require larger staff and continuous efforts throughout a campaign period in order to sort and filter the incoming materials. Indeed, chat rooms, discussion boards and incoming messages, photos and videos require more than ”just one–off software engineering” [28], demanding allocation of resources that might not always be available to smaller political actors.

Recent online developments towards a ”Web 2.0” rationale of Web design have led some researchers to the suggestion that the previously described era of ”electronic brochures” could be facing serious challenges. Indeed, in his interviews with senior campaign officials during the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, Vaccari (2008a) reported his respondent’s beliefs that the Internet would become increasingly important in future campaign situations. In the following section, this notion of a matured form of online campaigning, a ”Politics 2.0,” is discussed in conjunction with the implied notion of ”Politics 1.0”.

”Tired old politics 1.0” and ”fresh politics 2.0”

While the early experiments with online campaigning seem to have ended in a status quo of ”politics–as–usual” (Margolis and Resnick, 2000), recent online developments including a ”Web 2.0” rationale of Web design are frequently described as having the potential to transform online political campaigning. As such, perhaps the normalization hypothesis, suggesting that online patterns of political activity will come to resemble those in the offline environment [29], is under challenge yet again from what is often labeled the innovation hypothesis. According to this line of thought, the development of Web campaigning will lead to new and innovative ways of engaging the electorate, providing a change from typical off–line patterns of electioneering [30].

Where a ”Web 1.0” rationale appears to have been focused on the dissemination of information to broader audiences [31], its 2.0 successor is often described as placing its focus on principles such as user participation, openness and network effects (O’Reilly, 2005; Pascu, et al., 2007). Although somewhat enigmatic and not entirely easy to define (i.e., Anderson, 2006), the concept has proved to be popular in everyday online activities (i.e., Grossman, 2006) as well as in specifically political contexts. A variety of Internet services and applications, such as the video sharing site YouTube or social networking tools like Facebook or Twitter, are seen as providing new possibilities for politicians to interact with the electorate [32]. Indeed, incremental use of these and other 2.0 applications by candidates up for election has been reported by researchers [33].

The suggested transition from ”tired old politics 1.0” to ”fresh politics 2.0” (Kalnes, 2009) has been evident in the U.S. political context, where different forms of cyber–campaigning have evolved since the 1996 election cycle [34]. Although use of political Web sites had become ”virtually ubiquitous” by the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections [35], the subsequent 2004 election is often pointed to as having spurred a watershed change in online political activities, with Web users demanding more than mere information on party politics and talking points from the Web sites of the candidates [36]. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, some 75 million Americans used the Internet for campaign–related activities like information gathering or participating as campaign volunteers during 2004 (Rainie, et al., 2005). Similar indications of heightened demand for online political activities have also been reported from outside of the U.S. context [37].

Following the apparent social media success of Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign [38], it seems as though many political actors have recently “discovered” the electoral potential of new Internet tools like the ones mentioned earlier.

In sum, the recent developments towards a Web 2.0 rationale have yet again risen the hopes for the Internet to play the role as a catalyst for democratic engagement and political deliberation. Although such optimistic hopes have been raised before, many of the attempts at ”politics 1.0” seem to have resulted in mere ”campaign gimmicks” rather than the enhancement of democratic life first imagined [39]. With both voters and candidates established and experienced in the online environment, perhaps the stage is set for the next phase in online political campaigning, a ”politics 2.0,” where focus is placed on user participation rather than information dissemination [40]. The following and final section of this background chapter details the features often employed by political Web sites, in both the 1.0 and 2.0 traditions.

 

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Features of political Web sites

Among the many frameworks and typologies available for classification and analysis of political Web site features, the four–part typology employed by Foot and Schneider (2006) will serve as the starting point for this study. The four types of online functionalities are labeled informing, involving, connecting and mobilizing. This fourfold and its different components are described in the following sections.

The practice of informing entails providing information on party and/or candidate issue positions and plans. In the context of online campaigning, techniques for informing involve providing documentation regarding party and/or candidate history, ideology and talking points [41]. The practice of informing has been evident in online campaigning since the earliest attempts at online political activity [42], providing parties with opportunities to inform and possibly also convert undecided voters into supporters [43]. Candidates must decide how much information to provide, as too much information can overwhelm site visitors, and too little information may leave visitors unsatisfied [44]. Information provision can also be seen as hindering ”strategic ambiguity” [45] — practices of non–disclosure that allow politicians to ”becloud their policies in a fog of ambiguity” [46] in order to seem appealing to voters of different political persuasions.

While practices of informing are commonplace in Web campaigning, features that allow the practice of involving are scarce (Vaagan, 2009). Foot and Schneider define involving as ”facilitating interaction between site visitors and the campaign organization” [47]. While the basic techniques for involving, such as opportunities to contact the campaign are quite common, more advanced features (such as discussion boards or live chats with politicians) are rather uncommon [48]. Involving visitors in these ways is not risk free. Involving features are labor–intensive and larger organizations are needed to sort the incoming contributions [49]. Indeed, most previous research efforts have found involving practices to be limited to providing contact information [50].

The practice of connecting is associated with facilitating interaction with other online actors and providing context for the campaign [51]. In linking to other actors, the campaign can be described as deeming those actors important in some way [52]. The practice of connecting also provides the visitors of campaign Web sites with a way to place the party in a specific cognitive context or frame [53], making the candidate ”understandable” in relation to other societal actors. As discussed earlier, connecting might not be as straightforward a practice as it first might seem to be. Giving away the attention of the visitor to some other, linked site might not be very desirable in a campaigning context [54]. Similarly, linking also implies a loss of control over the information presented at the linked–to site — information that is potentially not consistent with the candidate’s narrative [55].

Finally, Foot and Schneider define the practice of mobilizing as ”using the Web to persuade and equip campaign supporters to promote the candidate to others, both online and off–line” [56]. By motivating supporters to take concrete action and promote the candidate or party, site visitors can be made to function as campaign organizations on to themselves [57]. Parties can engage in mobilizing practices by providing site visitors with a number of tools, ranging from ”tell–a–friend” on–site functionalities to supplying campaign materials for online and off–line distribution. Advanced forms of mobilizing might involve parties encouraging their supporters to blog, tweet or act online in some other way in order to spread the party message [58]. As mentioned earlier, the main problem with mobilizing techniques can be said to be party loss of control over the message [59]. Indeed, campaigns cannot force site visitors to use provided online functionalities in the ways they were originally intended to be used [60]. As a result, parties have apparently not yet taken full advantage of the Internet’s potential for political mobilization [61], although certain research findings have indicated that this might be subject to change [62].

While the four–part typology provides an analytical framework for the different kinds of features that are often found on political party Web sites, it does not account for the reasons behind the utilization of these different features. In the next section, factors often believed to have influence over the use or non–use of these features are discussed.

 

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Influences for party use of Web site functionalities

Following Druckman, et al. [63], there are a number of influences on the degree to which political actors employ different functionalities on their Web sites. In this section, four such influences are described — party size, party status, temporal influence and ideological influence.

The effect of party size on utilization of Web site features has been studied extensively [64]. While some studies have found that minor parties tended to use the Web more extensively or in more novel ways than major parties [65] the majority of research done corroborates a view of major parties as providing more features on their sites than their minor party counterparts [66]. These findings seemingly validate the necessity of vast resources for providing content rich Web sites [67].

The influence of party status has also been acknowledged. Parties or candidates enjoying incumbency are often found to be “less likely to update their sites” than challengers, as incumbents might feel less pressured to gain repeat visitors [68]. The positive influence on Web campaigning of being a challenger rather than an incumbent seems to be valid in most studies available (Carlson, 2007; Herrnson, et al., 2007; Herrnson, 2007). Differences regarding Web campaigning have also been found between parliamentary and non–parliamentary parties. Schweitzer [69] found that the more established parties (i.e., those already in Parliament) in the German context provided more professional Web sites than the “fringe” parties struggling for seats in the Parliament. Conversely, as fringe parties often lack the resources necessary for publicity in off–line environments (Margolis, et al., 2003), they might be expected to employ various forms of potentially low–cost Internet initiatives in order to reach out [70].

As the role of a campaign Web site can be expected to evolve during the campaign year [71], the temporal influence should be taken into account. In his study of the 2006 Italian elections, Vaccari (2008b) sampled the party Web sites three times and found that as election day approached, parties tended to improve their sites in various ways. Lilleker and Malagón (2010) studied the 2007 French Presidential elections focused on the final iteration of the party Web sites, potentially missing out on any developmental processes that these sites might have undergone earlier during the campaign. Following this, it seems reasonable to examine the temporal influence on Web site development during the course of a campaign. Also, by analyzing party Web sites in their post–election state, the claim that parties are now operating with Web sites as ”permanent structures […] to mobilize resources not only during campaigns, but also outside of them” [72] can be scrutinized.

Several studies have found various forms of ideological influence, giving credence to the claim “party does matter, although not necessarily in terms of size” [73]. During the 2007 French Presidential election, Vaccari (2008c) found that right–wing parties tended to provide more information on their Web sites than their left–wing counterparts. Conversely, parties to the left tended to employ involving and mobilizing features to higher degrees than parties to the right. Studying the same election, Lilleker and Malagón suggested that these differences could stem from the parties different political platforms, with the right offering a ”top–down party centric form of participation” and the left acting more like a grassroots movement [74]. Similar trends were also reported from the 2006 Italian elections [75]. Previous research has also found that environmental parties tend to use the Web in more novel ways than other political actors (i.e., Russmann, 2009; Strandberg, 2009), perhaps due to the suggested environmental ”cleanliness” of the Internet medium [76].

In order to assess these characteristics, Table 1 presents data regarding the main parties competing during the 2010 election. In order to assess party status at the beginning of 2010, data is based on the results of the previous election, held in 2006.

 

Table 1: Characteristics of Swedish political parties.
Note: Election results gathered from the Swedish Election Authority (2006). Table design inspired by Kalnes (2009).
Party
English translation
(Swedish abbreviation)
Votes (%)
2006
elections
Seats in Parliament
(total of 349)
Ideological position
Large (≥20%) 
Social Democrats (S)35.2130Left
Moderate Party (M)26.197Right
 
Medium (4–19.9%) 
Centre Party (C)7.929Centre/Right
Liberal Party (Fp)7.528Centre/Right
Christian Democrats (Kd)6.624Right
Left Party (V)5.822Left
Green Party (Mp)5.219Centre/Left
 
Small (<3.9%) 
Sweden Democrats (Sd)2.90Right
Feminist Initiative (Fi)0.70Left
Pirate Party (Pp)0.60Centre

 

The parties are grouped according to size, showing considerable variation both when it comes to this factor as well as ideological positions. Party names are translated into English, while the common Swedish abbreviations are shown in parenthesis.

The Swedish political system is based on proportional representation, where parties must reach at least four percent of votes in order to take seat in the parliament. The system can be likened to what Sartori (1990) labels moderate pluralism, with multiple parties and few centrifugal forces. While the Social Democrats dominated Swedish political life for most of the twentieth century, Sweden has been ruled by an alliance of right and center/right parties (M, C, Fp, Kd) since 2006. This collaboration proved successful also for the 2010 elections, as the parties were given ruling mandate for yet another period.

 

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Method

Given that the structure of a party Web site facilitates a certain range of potential political actions (Schneider and Foot, 2004), quantitative content analysis was employed in order to study the election year development of Swedish political party Web sites. While the majority of research performed on political party Web sites appear to be feature–based content analytical efforts [77], the study at hand will take this approach one step further by basing its analysis on longitudinal data collected before, during and after the 2010 Swedish general election. By approaching the party Web sites in this novel matter, the study will provide much needed data regarding how these Web sites develop during an entire election year.

Data collection

While similar studies have employed three– or four–week selection frames (Schweitzer, 2008; Vaccari, 2008b) this study expanded the temporal element and used 12 monthly recurring selection waves of data selection. Each site was downloaded three levels deep — meaning that the first “start” page as well as the main second and third pages were subject to archiving. Downloading was performed by using a Web site archiving tool. Where “robot exclusion” warnings made archiving unsuitable, the pages were saved as PDF files, utilizing specialized software. In order to capture the final iteration of the party Web sites on the day before election day of 19 September as well as the “initial or tentative approaches” [78] downloading was performed on the 18th of each month, starting in January 2010 and ending in December of the same year.

Coding

The archived Web pages were subject to a feature–based analysis taking its starting point from the four–part typology of Web site features suggested by Foot and Schneider (2006) described earlier. Each monthly version of each party site was evaluated using a coding scheme including 82 features that were identified as present or non–present. Specifically, 39 features were utilized for the informing category, 18 for involving, 16 for connecting and nine for mobilizing. The features included were based on Foot and Schneider’s original 2006 study and supplemented with features identified by other, similar studies (i.e., Pepe and di Gennaro, 2009; Bimber and Davis, 2003; Carlson and Strandberg, 2008; Druckman, et al., 2007; Gibson and Ward, 2000; Hara and Jo, 2007; Jackson and Lilleker, 2009; Kalnes, 2009; Kann, et al., 2007; Kluver, et al., 2007; Kushin and Kitchener, 2009; Russmann, 2009; Smith, 2009; Strandberg, 2009; Stromer–Galley, 2000; Vaccari, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c; Wiklund, 2005; Wright and Street, 2007). The Web sites were also visited a priori in order to find any features that had not been identified by previous research.

The author served as the main coder. In order to gauge reliability, a second coder was trained and analyzed a randomly selected 20 percent sample of sites. Following the recommendation of Lombard, et al. (2002), Krippendorf’s α was used to determine the levels of reliability for the variables. Specifically, the KALPHA macro (constructed by Hayes and Krippendorff, 2007) was employed. The values of α ranged between .65 and 1.0, with a mean agreement figure of .95. As such, the coding process was considered reliable.

Following previous similar research efforts (Schweitzer, 2008; Vaccari, 2008c), each of the 82 features were coded as either present (given a score of 1) or not (given a score of 0). Next, the variables in each category were added together and divided by their theoretical maximum value, thus creating four indices ranging from the minimal value of 0 to the maximum value of 1.

 

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Results

In order to assess the longitudinal changes of the party Web sites, Figure 1 contains a multiple line graph providing an overview of the changes for each of the indices per month over the course of the election year. The overarching view in Figure 1 is completed with a more detailed description of the results below.

 

Figure 1: Overview of changes in utilization of Informing,
Involving, Mobilizing and Connecting features
Figure 1: Overview of changes in utilization of Informing, Involving, Mobilizing and Connecting features.
Note: For each month, the overall mean is reported. A more detailed account of these changes can be found in Appendix 1.

 

Focusing first on the informing category, the results in Table 2 (Appendix 1) indicate these features are more common on the Web sites of Swedish political parties than each of the other types (All year mean=.6, SD=.12). However, the growth of these features throughout the election year is minimal — the index starts out at .56 (SD=.11) in January, reaches its peak during the election month of September (.64, SD=.14) and then gradually decreases to a score of .6 (SD=.12) at the end of the year. Results for the informing index further indicate that the Pirate Party (PP) and the Sweden Democrats (Sd) used comparably few of these features, while the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party appeared to employ informing features more.

While the overall mean for the involving index is lower (all year mean=.51, SD=.11) than that for the involving category, this index displays a more dynamic development throughout the examined period. Starting out at a mean level of .46 (SD=.08) in January, it reaches its peak during election month with a score of .59 (SD=.12). Following September, the mean score for involving decreases to .49 (SD=.11) and remains unchanged for the rest of the election year. As for minimum and maximum values, the Centre Party and the Sweden Democrats employed involving features comparably less than their competitors, while these features appeared to be common on the Web sites of the Pirate Party (PP) and the Social Democrats (S) throughout the election year.

The index for mobilizing starts out in January with a mean score of .39. The standard deviation is higher than for both previous indices (reported at .24), indicating plenty of variation regarding how parties use these particular features. Between January and July, the index increases incrementally and reaches its peak values of .58 (SD=21) and .59 (SD=.2) for August and September respectively. Following election month, the mobilizing index decreases to .51 (SD=.24). For the remainder of the year, the index remains at levels approaching .5 (November: M=.49, SD=.26; December: M=.48, SD=.26). During the months building up to the election, results indicate that the Center Party (C) and the Left Party (V) used mobilizing features least, while the most ardent users of mobilizing functionalities during the same period were the Moderate Party (M), the Green Party (Mp), the Social Democrats (S) and the Liberal Party (Fp). As for the post election period, lower levels of use are reported for the Center Party (C), the Left Party (V), Christian Democrats (Kd), Sweden Democrats (Sd) and Feminist Initiative (Fi), while the Social Democrats (S) holds the top mobilizing index score (.88) during the five month period of August to December.

Finally, the connecting index is similar to the informing index in that it is stable throughout the entire election year. In fact, party use of links appears virtually unchanged during all twelve months. Scores for the index vary between .38 and .39 January to June, while it stays at .39 (SD=.15) for the remainder of the year. Furthermore, the results show that the Sweden Democrats used links rather conservatively (minimum value of .25 from January to April, .06 for the rest of the year). Conversely, linking practices were extensively used by the Christian Democrats (Kd) from January to June, as well as by the Social Democrats from July and throughout the year.

In sum, the results presented above indicate that while the scales for informing and connecting functionalities are not subject to much change during the election year, the scales for involving and mobilizing appear more dynamic throughout the covered time period. While the index for connecting remains stable during the entire year, index scores for informing, involving and mobilizing features tend to reach their high point during the election month of September, after which they decrease.

 

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Discussion

Foot and Schneider suggest that “we should not be surprised at the degree to which campaign organizations engage in informing” [79], and the results presented here for the informing category make no challenge to this claim. Indeed, these features are the most commonly used overall, as suggested by the high month–by–month and all year means, as well as by their comparably low standard deviations. An apparent effect of party status can be discerned here, as the lowest levels throughout the year were reported from two non–parliamentary parties (PP and Sd). Both parties campaigned on rather limited platforms, with one calling for a restructuring of copyright law and a ban of government cyber surveillance (PP) and the other for a more restrictive immigrant policy (Sd). Other types of party information appeared to be largely missing from their respective Web sites — perhaps the result of a deliberately employed “strategic ambiguity” [80]. An effect of ideological influence is also visible, as both parties competing for the highest informing index score (Kd and Fp) are positioned to the right on the ideological scale. As such, the claims that right–wing parties are more devoted to using informing features seem valid also in the Swedish context [81].

Like the index for informing features, its involving counterpart incrementally increases up until election day — but more so than for the previous scale. A temporal influence can be observed, as the index reaches its top notation during election month after which it immediately decreases. This gives us an indication that parties tend to use involving features primarily in the pre–election campaigning phase. Some parties appeared more hesitant to utilize involving features. The Centre Party (C) and the Sweden Democrats are located to the right on the ideological scale, and could therefore be expected to employ comparably fewer of these features [82]. Remembering that ”organizational size and resources are key factors” [83], the reported differences could also be due to the fact that both parties are classified as either medium sized or small. The fact that the Left Party (V), a medium–sized political actor but politically left oriented, appears to employ rather few involving features (score of .39 for May and June), gives further weight to the argument that party size and status are important predictors of Web site sophistication. Influences of party size and ideology can also be traced among the more frequent users of involving features. Indeed, while the Pirate Party (PP) is one of the smallest parties, the Social Democratic party (S) is one of the biggest. The claim by Druckman, et al. [84] that one party might be more technologically savvy than others seems valid in this regard. This seems reasonable, given the political focus proposed by the Pirate Party. Of note is also the result that the Pirate Party alone reached the highest scores for the involving index during the post election months, perhaps an indication of a more far–reaching approach to online interaction with the electorate.

For mobilizing features, the results show a similar pattern of the scale gradually increasing as election month draws closer. The final mean score of the year is considerably higher than the January score — especially when compared with the other indices discussed here. While this indicates that the utilization of mobilizing features are not as clearly tied to campaign periods as their involving counterparts, the high standard deviations for the mobilizing scales suggests plenty of variation regarding to what degree these features are used by the parties. Nevertheless, a temporal influence can be discerned, as the suggested need for parties to utilize mobilization features regardless of whether an election is at hand or not [85] is evidently yet to become a priority for political actors [86]. Focusing on the month–by–month distribution of minimum values, the results imply an effect of party size, as both the Centre Party (C) and the Left Party (V) are classified as medium–sized political actors. A temporal effect is visible also for the month–by–month minimum scales, as three additional parties (Kd, Sd and Fi) report lower scores during the post election phase. Regarding the maximum values for the mobilizing scale, we see a dominance by large parties like the Moderate Party (M) and the Social Democrats (S), indicating an effect of party size, while medium sized parties like the Liberal Party (Fp) and the Green Party (Mp) provide plenty of these features on their sites — but only before and during the election campaign. Following election month, the maximum score for mobilizing features is held by the Social Democrats for the remainder of the year. Overall, the results for the mobilizing category indicate that party utilization of these features tend to depend more on temporal influence and party size than ideology — with one exception. As a progressive, left wing party, previous research would suggest that the Left Party (V) would have been expected to provide more mobilizing features on their sites [87]. At the same time, the conservative Moderate Party (M) appear to be embracing the opportunities to mobilize their supporters, although only during the pre–election phase. The same pattern of use is adopted by the medium–sized Green Party (Mp), which could be explained by previous research findings indicating that environmentalist or green parties use the Web in new and innovative ways — like the employment of mobilizing features (i.e., Russmann, 2009; Strandberg, 2009).

Finally, the mean of the index for connecting features remains virtually unchanged throughout the entire year, varying only slightly between .38 and .39. Judging by this, linking practices appear to be the least used functionality on the sites under scrutiny — perhaps a result of a desire to keep the visitors on the site. As expected, there are variations regarding how political parties make use of links on their Web sites. The party that employ linking practices the least are the Sweden Democrats. Due to their extreme right–wing views on many issues, they can be described as somewhat isolated in Swedish civil society. The results for the connecting index suggest that this outsider status is valid also in an online context. Looking at what parties employed linking practices the most, the Christian Democrats (Kd) dominate the first half of the year, while the Social Democrats raise to the same index level (.56) during the second half. Taken together with the results for the mobilizing scale, this indicates a restructuring of the Social Democrat’s for the second half of the year — augmenting their site with new functionalities in time for the election campaign.

While the concept of postmodern campaign entails “permanent efforts” by politicans in order to maintain long term engagements with the electorate [88], the results presented in this paper shows that while some political actors try to maintain more long–term relationships with citizens, most parties choose to concentrate their efforts to engage the voting public to the more intensive campaign period building up to election day. For the most part, the “stop–start” nature of political activity, arranged around election cycles, has made its mark also in the online realm [89]. However, as differences relating to party size, parliamentary status and ideological persuasion can be discerned, the aforementioned dichotomy of the Internet providing either a shift or enhancement in political campaigning appears unsuitable in order to understand the current situation. Similarly, the notions of normalization and innovation hypothesis both seem inappropriate. The use of the Internet for political campaign purposes can not be understood through dichotomies – rather, we might be better off by identifying these issues as placed on a scale ranging from more traditional approaches of online campaigning to more progressive ones. Recent studies from Great Britain (Jackson and Lilleker, 2009) as well as Norway (Kalnes, 2009) have reached similar conclusions, proposing a view of “Web 1.5” as middle way between the two aforementioned extremes in order to understand how these developments play out. As noted above, there are exceptions — some parties tend to be more progressive in their employment of the features discussed in this paper — but this view seems largely feasible also when assessed with the longitudinal data presented above in mind. End of article

 

About the author

Anders Olof Larsson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Informatics and Media at Uppsala University. His research interests include organizational use of online interactive features and social media. More information can be found at http://www.andersoloflarsson.se.
E–mail: anders.larsson [at] im [dot] uu [dot ] se.

 

Notes

1. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 7; Kalnes, 2009, p. 264; Vaagan, 2009.

2. Stromer–Galley, 2000, p. 113; Vaccari, 2008a, p. 648.

3. Druckman, et al., 2007, p. 426; Roodhouse, 2009.

4. Strandberg, 2009, p. 851; Vaccari, 2008c, p. 17.

5. Gibson, 2004, p. 96.

6. I.e., Gibson, et al., 2008, p. 20.

7. I.e., Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 16; Vaccari, 2008c, p. 8.

8. Vaccari, 2008a, p. 648; Zittel, 2009, p. 298.

9. Gibson, 2004, p. 103; Kalnes, 2009, p. 251.

10. Castells, 1996, p. 353.

11. Vaccari, 2008a, p. 648; Zittel, 2009, p. 298.

12. Kalnes, 2009, p. 251.

13. Jackson and Lilleker, 2009, pp. 233–234.

14. Davis, 2010, p. 747; Vaccari, 2008c, p. 6.

15. Vaccari, 2008a, p. 649; 2008c, pp. 1–2; Ward and Vedel, 2006.

16. Gibson, 2004, p. 96.

17. Jackson and Lilleker, 2009, p. 247.

18. Gibson, 2004, p. 103.

19. Vaccari, 2008b, p. 75.

20. Vaccari, 2008c, p. 16.

21. Kalnes, 2009, p. 251.

22. Druckman, et al., 2007, p. 425.

23. Stromer–Galley, 2000, p. 124.

24. Jackson and Lilleker, 2009, p. 246.

25. Druckman, et al., 2007, p. 434.

26. Jackson and Lilleker, 2009, p. 235.

27. Lilleker and Malagón, 2010, p. 26.

28. Druckman, et al., 2007, p. 430; Vaccari, 2008c, p. 10.

29. Hara and Jo, 2007; Margolis, et al., 1999, p. 24.

30. Schweitzer, 2008, p. 450.

31. Jackson and Lilleker, 2009, p. 233; Kalnes, 2009.

32. Castells, 2007, p. 255.

33. Lilleker and Malagón, 2010, p. 26; Vaccari, 2008a, p. 663.

34. Gibson, 2004, p. 96.

35. Gibson, 2004, p. 98.

36. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 11; Vaccari, 2008a, pp. 647–648.

37. Jackson and Lilleker, 2009, p. 236.

38. Kalnes, 2009, p. 264.

39. Lilleker and Malagón, 2010, p. 26.

40. Kalnes, 2009, p. 254.

41. Foot and Schneider, 2006, pp. 50 ff.; Kann, et al., 2007; Vaccari, 2008c.

42. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 48.

43. Bimber and Davis, 2003, p. 48.

44. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 61.

45. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 62; Stromer–Galley, 2000, p. 125.

46. Downs, 1957, p. 136.

47. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 70.

48. Vaccari, 2008c, p. 1.

49. Vaccari, 2008c, p. 10.

50. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 99.

51. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 103.

52. Rogers and Marres, 2000, pp. 16–17.

53. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 105.

54. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 125.

55. Druckman, et al., 2007, p. 434.

56. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 131; Kann, et al., 2007.

57. Bimber and Davis, 2003, p. 59.

58. Foot and Schneider, 2006, pp. 143 ff.

59. Stromer–Galley, 2000, p. 111.

60. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 155.

61. Nixon, et al., 2003; Russmann, 2009, p. 9.

62. Vaccari, 2008a, p. 649.

63. Druckman, et al., 2007, p. 436.

64. Gibson, et al., 2008, p. 18.

65. I.e., Gibson, 2004, p. 102; Schweitzer, 2005.

66. I.e., Bimber and Davis, 2003, p. 27; Kalnes, 2009, p. 263; Margolis and Resnick, 2000; Russmann, 2009, p. 9; Strandberg, 2009, p. 851; Vaccari, 2008c, p. 6.

67. Jackson and Lilleker, 2009, p. 240.

68. Druckman, et al., 2007, p. 429.

69. Schweitzer, 2008, p. 457.

70. Kalnes, 2009, p. 255.

71. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 16.

72. Vaccari, 2008c, pp. 11–13.

73. Gibson, et al., 2008, p. 26.

74. Lilleker and Malagón, 2010, p. 35.

75. Vaccari, 2008b, p. 76.

76. Gibson, 2004, p. 109.

77. Lilleker and Malagón, 2010, p. 28.

78. Lilleker and Malagón, 2010, p. 31.

79. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 63.

80. Foot and Schneider, 2006, p. 62.

81. Lilleker and Malagón, 2010, p. 35; Vaccari, 2008c, p. 15.

82. As suggested by Kalnes, 2009, p. 258; Vaccari, 2008b, p. 76.

83. Gibson, et al., 2008, p. 18.

84. Druckman, et al., 2007, p. 429.

85. Vaccari, 2008c, p. 11.

86. Russmann, 2009, p. 9.

87. Vaccari, 2008b, p. 76.

88. Vaccari, 2008a, p. 648; Zittel, 2009.

89. Gibson, 2004, p. 102.

 

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Appendix 1

Table 2 shows the mean, standard deviation, minimum and maximum value for each of the indices per month over the course of the election year. Party abbreviations are in parenthesis.

 

Table 2: Development of features on party web sites throughout the election year.
Notes: A score of 0 indicates that none of the features in the specified category were employed. A score of 1 indicates all the features in the specified category were employed. Party abbreviation key: C (Centre Party), Fi (Feminist Initiative), Fp (Liberal Party), Kd (Christian Democrats), M (Moderate Party), Mp (Green Party), PP (Pirate Party), S (Social Democrats), Sd (Sweden Democrats), V (Left Party)..
  Informing Involving Mobilizing Connecting
 MSdMinMaxMSdMinMaxMSdMinMaxMSdMinMax
Jan.56.11.41
(PP)
.74
( Kd)
.46.08.33
(C)
.61
(PP)
.39.24.13
(C,V)
.75
(M,Mp)
. 38.09.25
(Sd,Fi)
.56
(Kd)
Feb.57.11.41
(PP)
.74
( Kd)
.48.09.33
(C)
.61
(PP,S)
.41.22.13
(C)
.75
(M,Mp)
. 39.09.25
(Sd)
.56
(Kd)
Mar.58.12.41
(PP)
.74
( Kd)
.49.1.33
(C)
.67
(S)
.41.22 .13
(V)
.75
(M,Mp)
.39 .09.25
(Sd)
.56 (Kd)
Apr.6.13.41
(PP)
.77
( Fp)
.52.1.39
(C,Sd)
.67
(PP,S)
.46.22.13
(V)
.75
(M,Mp,
S)
.39.09.25
(Sd)
.56 (Kd)
May.59.14.33
(Sd)
.77
( Fp)
.52.1.39
(Sd,V)
.67
(PP,S)
.5.25.13
(V)
.75
(M,Mp,
S,Fp)
.39.14.06
(Sd)
.56
(Kd)
Jun.6.14.36
(Sd)
.77
( Fp)
.53.11.39
(Sd, V)
.72
(S)
.51.24 .13
(V)
.75
(M,Mp,
S,Fp)
.38.14.06
(Sd)
.56
(Kd)
Jul.62.14.36
(Sd)
.79
( Kd)
.56.12.39
(Sd)
.78
(S)
.51.24.13
(V)
.75
(M,Mp,
S,Fp)
.39.15.06
(Sd)
.56
(S,Kd)
Aug.63.15.36
(Sd)
.82
( Kd)
.58.13.39
(Sd)
.78
(S)
.58.21.25
(V)
.88
(S)
.39.15.06
(Sd)
.56
(S,Kd)
Sep.64.14.38
(Sd)
.82
( Kd)
.59.12.39
(Sd)
.78
(S)
.59.2.25
(V)
.88
(S)
.39 .15.06
(Sd)
.56
(S,Kd)
Oct.62.12.38
(Sd)
.79
( Fp)
.49.11.33
(C)
.67
(PP)
.51.24.25
(V,Kd,Sd)
.88
(S)
. 39 .15.06
(Sd)
.56
(S,Kd)
Nov.6.12.38
(Sd)
.79
( Fp)
.49.11.33
(C)
.67
(PP)
.49.26.25
(V,Kd,Sd,C)
.88
(S)
.39 .15.06
(Sd)
.56
(S,Kd)
Dec.6.12.38
(Sd)
.79
( Fp)
.49.11.33
(C)
.67
(PP)
.48.26.25
(V,Kd,Sd,C,Fi)
.88
(S)
.39.15.06
(Sd)
.56
(S,Kd)
All
year
.6.12.33.82.51.11.33.78.49.23.13.88.39.12.06.56

 

 


Editorial history

Received 3 March 2011; accepted 21 March 2011.


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“Extended infomercials” or “Politics 2.0”? A study of Swedish political party Web sites before, during and after the 2010 election
by Anders Olof Larsson.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 4 - 4 April 2011
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3456/2858





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