The Digital Tea Leaves of Election 2000
First Monday

The Digital Tea Leaves of Election 2000: The Internet and the Future of Presidential Politics

While the Internet may not have played the transformational role in the election of the U.S. President in 2000 that some predicted, this new medium of political communications suggested what an Internet-driven transformation in political communications might look like. After setting the stage by discussing the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) by Sen. John McCain in the primary campaign, the researchers evaluate the Web sites of four major candidates for President of the United States over the course of the general election. Additionally, this article serves as a digital archive of Web pages caught at what many believe is the nascent stage of what might come to be the dominant medium for political communications in the decades to come.

Contents

Introduction
Methodology
The Internet and Presidential Politics Before 2000
The McCain Moment
The Digital Tea Leaves of Election 2000
Conclusion: The Gathering

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Introduction

"To cite the hazards and shortcomings of [it] as a political instrument is simply to suggest that, in spite of its enthusiasts, it is neither qualified, nor destined to replace the traditional forms of American electioneering and its active reporting by a vigilant press." - Robert Bendiner writing about television in the New York Times Magazine, 2 November 1952, quoted in Electronic Whistle-Stops: The Impact of the Internet on American Politics, by Gary W. Selnow (1998), p. 39.

On June 1, 2000, five months before the presidential election, a panel of academics, journalists, pundits and political advisors gathered at Harvard University to discuss the impact of the Internet on presidential politics [1]. Hovering over the proceeding - as well as the then-oncoming election - was the specter of "the JFK moment," that is, a medium-shifting event analogous to the 1960 presidential debates when television cast its light down a new path, as American politics shifted on its hip and went in a new direction (Cornog and Whelan, 2000; Chester, 1969; Dinkins, 1989). When, the panel collectively wondered, would the Internet produce a similar shift, and perhaps lead to what Dick Morris, the chief strategist for President Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign, president of Vote.com, and a panelist, called "direct democracy." Inevitably, Morris says, "there will be daily referenda ... the Internet will be the Congress. The Internet will be the Parliament. The Internet will be the election" (Morris, 2000). Perhaps. But what had already occurred and what was developing on the Internet in relation to the candidates for President of the United States was not as clear as Morris' populist prognostications.

As it would turn out, a transformational moment in American political communications did not occur during the election of 2000, yet the candidates' use of the interconnected forms of electronic communications was, we contend, sufficient to suggest what the Internet-driven transformation in political communications might look like. The impulses and hunches used in 2000 might develop into powerful elements for 2004 and 2008. "No one knows how the Internet will develop over time," writes Gary W. Selnow in Electronic Whistle-Stops: The Impact of the Internet on American Politics, "or what miracle will replace it. The only sure thing is that when we look back on [this early stage], we'll marvel with amusement at the primitive sites and silly applications, the way visitors to the Smithsonian marvel at the old crystal sets and iconoscopes that were the early versions of radio and television, respectively" (Selnow, 1998, p. 2). The election of 2000 offered much at which to marvel [2].

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Methodology

For this study, we examined how the candidates employed information and communications technologies (ICTs) and to what end. This qualitative snapshot situates the candidates' use of ICTs in a mature phase of the pre-broadband era, a transitional stage in networked political communications, one in which the technology is becoming ubiquitous, but before the considerable data-pipe of broadband is open, an event that will undoubtedly characterize the end of the current decade. For this election, the candidates' interactivity and convergence capabilities were limited to the bandwidth of the public with whom they are vying for attention and approval, an audience increasingly turning to the Internet for a number of reasons and in astonishing numbers (Coffman and Oldyzko, 1998). At a time of low unemployment in the United States, Reuters reports that 92% of American workers now have access to the Internet (Nibley, 2000); by the time the campaigns started in 1999, "42 percent of American adults [were] regular Net users. Every month, some 65 million people go online. There were 26,000 Web sites in use in 1993. By 1999, there were 5 million" (Hundt, 2000, p. 224). But even in light of this saturation, the limits of the candidates' cyber-sophistication - and the resources they direct that way - were set by the technical capabilities of the electorate. As a result, the 2000 race's networked efforts were geared towards that potential voter with a modem and an old PC.

Starting 1 June, and continuing until Thanksgiving Day, 23 November 2000 - 16 days after election night on 7 November 2000 - we monitored the Web sites of the major candidates for President of the United States: Pat Buchanan (www.buchananreform.com), the Reform Party candidate; George W. Bush (www.georgewbush.com), the Republican candidate; Al Gore (www.algore2000.com), the Democratic nominee; and Ralph Nader (www.votenader.com), the Green Party candidate. We used a small shareware tool that employs a spider technology to capture the candidates' Web sites [3]. Sites were captured and stored once a week, providing HTML material to discern a sense of the pages' development for design, content, and interactivity over the course of the campaign (This amounted to more than 40 billion bytes of data.). In addition, we subscribed to the candidates' e-mail lists in order to track the amount and kinds of mail - electronic or otherwise - we might receive from the candidates [4]. We were particularly interested in anything beyond the "shovelware," (Weise, 2000) either print or electronic, that is, material originating for another, generally older medium, and used to fill a Web site. Shovelware generally includes speeches, position papers, news releases, videos, canned interviews, TV and radio spots, etc. Were these sites providing content or services that were indigenously Web-based? What was the technology that was embedded in the pages, and what was its effectiveness? To gauge the timeliness of the sites, to compare the sites to the context of the news cycle, we used the New York Times, the national paper of record, as a benchmark.

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The Internet and Presidential Politics Before 2000

"Although the use and popularity of the Internet is advancing with unprecedented speed, we are still only on the very edge of its development. Among the dreams that might be entertained for it, and are actively entertained in some quarters, is that of a world of far greater freedom of expression and democratic control than anything which human history has yet contrived." - Gordon Graham, The Internet: A Philosophical Inquiry, p. 62.

This mature phase of pre-broadband Internet campaigning has a relatively brief but potent history (Aikens, 1996; Abramson, Arterton and Orren, 1988; Bowen, 1999; Davis, 1999; Grossman, 1995; Hundt, 2000; Karmarck and Nye, 1999; Klinenberg and Perrin, 2000; Selnow, 1998). On Sunday, 6 October 1996, to note one epiphany, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole made political communications history. In his closing statement of his first debate with Bill Clinton, Dole said: "This is important business. This election is important. I ask for your support. I ask for your help. If you really want to get involved, just tap into my homepage: www.dolekemp96.org. Thank you and God bless America" [5] (Anonymous, 1996. "A Transcript ... ," New York Times, p. B-11). This acknowledgment of an Internet site was "something no other candidate had ever done in the history of presidential debates" (Davis, 1999, p. 85). Despite Dole's cyber-plug, the Internet was viewed as a novelty in the 1996 race. Klinenberg and Perrin correctly assert that "all the major campaigns were online in 1996 and the ways they used the Web established the foundations from which all Web politics will develop" (Klinenberg and Perrin, 2000, p. 18). "But in general," Karmarck concludes, "the Internet didn't play a very big role in the 1996 election cycle" (Karmarck and Nye, 1999, p. 107). The mid-term elections in 1998, however, "will go down in history as the first election cycle in which a new medium - the Internet - played a major campaign role" (Karmarck and Nye, 1999, p. 100). Yet at the Harvard conference, moderator Karmarck bottom-lined the Internet role in 1998 as "one big electronic brochure" (Karmarck, 2000).

It was in the 2000 race, some predicted (Bowen, 1999; Friedenberg, 1997; Weise, 2000) that the Internet might have its breakthrough. Friedenberg (quoting a study by the Aspen Institute in 1997) purported that "it will not be until the 2000 election that the full effects of the Internet on elections will be felt" (Friedenberg, 1997, p. 205), citing the medium's cheaper costs when compared with television and direct mail. "[C]yberspace campaigning might well facilitate the growth of third parties and independent candidates who are currently largely priced out of extensive campaigning" (Friedenberg, 1997, p. 205), a potentially prescient statement for the 2000 election.

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The McCain Moment

"From day one, McCain said, 'If we're going to win, if we're going to be competitive, we need to try new and innovative ways ...' The Internet was that way." Max Fose, Sen. John McCain's Internet manager for the 2000 campaign (telephone interview, 20 November 2000).

Without a doubt, the single most important Internet moment of the 2000 presidential race occurred during the campaign of Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, says Julia Glidden, vice president of public affairs at election.com. "John McCain will go down in history as the candidate who did the most to maximize the use of the Internet. His strategists and operatives will also go down in history as pioneers," she says. "[Their primary campaign] will be a model for elections for years to come as to how to best capture and utilize the potential of the Internet ... McCain is the standard bearer..., the gold standard," she says (telephone interview, 16 November 2000).

McCain's pioneers were Wes Gullett and Max Fose [now operating their own company, Integrated Web Strategy]. What contributed to the success of their Internet strategy, says Fose, was having the buy-in and the cooperation of the candidate, as well as putting Internet issues on a somewhat equal footing to other traditional campaign activities. "John McCain understood this," Fose says, "Every interview he did, every speech he gave following the victory in New Hampshire, he not only mentioned the Web site, but he asked people to join his cause and go to the Web site. That proved successful" (telephone interview, 20 November 2000).

Without the infrastructure of a mainstream candidate, McCain and his blend of reform, idealism, and insurgency proved to be an opportune environment in which to make Internet history. "We had to use the Internet. We didn't have a choice," says Fose. "We looked at the Internet as a national staging ground for grassroots activities ... We looked at the Internet as a way to mobilize in those states where we couldn't afford to put up a bricks and mortar building" (telephone interview, 20 November 2000). Mobilize they did and in doing so, Fose and Gullett - the Watson and Crick of Internet campaigning - pulled off as close to a "JFK moment" as has yet occurred.

Fose says that in January, 1999, the McCain campaign workers and strategists met with the candidate. There was a month to go until New Hampshire. "The meeting took an immediate [focus on] the Internet, and we stayed there for a long time. [McCain] said, 'Max, what's going to happen if I win?' And I said, 'Sir, you need to say: 'Go to my Web site if you want to get involved. It's more than just mentioning the URL. That's basic now. You've got to tell them, 'If you want to get involved in this cause, in this campaign, if you want to make a difference, go to the Web site' ... Then he said, 'If I do that, what's going to happen?' And I said, 'Well, our site's going to shut down, because we don't have the server capacity.' Then he said, 'Whatever you need, make it happen.' He had the foresight to say: 'OK, this is important'" (telephone interview, 20 November 2000).

Fose tells the story like the piece of Internet hagiography that it is, but he and Gullett had, in fact, pulled off a breakthrough. They made going to a Web site a political act, not just an informational search or an entertaining diversion. They positioned Web browsing on McCain's site as an initiation to activism. It would not be repeated in election 2000.

After McCain won the New Hampshire primary, the Arizona senator and war hero not only basked in the bonanza of image-building publicity but also received more than a half-million dollars in online contributions in 24 hours; "[e]very few hours," The New York Times front page story reported, "Mr. McCain's aides ticked off new fund-raising totals from his campaign Web site" (Mitchell and Bruni, 2000, p. 1). The campaign added $600,000 the next day and went on to raise $10 million online and receive favorable national publicity for its forward-looking cyber-savvy, Fose says. Glidden confirms that people in the Internet and political communications fields are "very aware of what the McCain people did," much less aware of anything that Bush, Gore, or Nader might have done in the general election. "That's a telling sign," she says (telephone interview, 16 November 2000). Fose and Gullett had engineered what proved to be the Internet moment of the 2000 presidential race.

The McCain moment, says Glidden, "shows the Internet at its best - the ability to bring together a community of like-minded people in a quick and effective way and be able to deploy those people quickly and efficiently and harness their responses quickly and efficiently" (telephone interview, 16 November 2000). Thus, the first flower of election 2000 had surprisingly and gaudily bloomed in the harsh political climate of New Hampshire. But it was a false start, and the bud withered on the road to Dixie and the South Carolina primary. Had McCain gone on to take the nomination from George W. Bush and then the presidency from his Democratic rival, "the JFK moment" for the Internet would now be in the formaldehyde of history. It was not to be in this election cycle. Yet what these candidates who survived into the primary season did with some of this new technology, while not as effective nor historic as the work of McCain's pioneers, offers a glimpse into the future of this medium.

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The Tea Leaves of Election 2000

"The awesome fact of instantaneous communication provided cause enough for intense speculation; no future possibilities seemed as dazzling as present reality." - Daniel J. Czitrom, Media and the American Mind from Morse to McLuhan, on the birth of the telegraph, p. 3.

The mature Internet-driven political campaign may be an election cycle or two after the introduction of broadband technology near the end of the current decade. Yet, as Abramson, Arterton, and Orren (1988) suggest in The Electronic Commonwealth: The Impact of New Media Technologies on Democratic Politics, the characteristics of what we now refer to as ICTs offer candidates a number of advantages over their pre-digital counterparts. We suggest six "generic properties" of the new media:

  1. Greater volume of available information;
  2. Faster gathering, retrieving, and transmitting of information;
  3. More control over the media by consumers;
  4. Greater ability of senders to target their messages to specific audiences;
  5. Greater decentralization of the media; and,
  6. Greater interactive capacity (Abramson, Arterton, and Orren, 1988, p. 34).

These properties outline the availability, accessibility, interactivity, and navigation of the materials offered by the candidates of 2000. Never before has so much been available to so many so quickly - and some of it answered back.

 

Gore

Bush

Nader

Buchanan

 

7/4/00

11/7/00

7/4/00

11/7/00

7/4/00

11/7/00

7/4/00

11/7/00

Color scheme

blue, white

red, white, blue, gold

red, white, blue

black, gold, white

blue, white, green, red

green and white

red, white, blue

red, white, blue, brown

Schedule

   

X

X

X

 

X

X

Issues

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Search

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Biography

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Speeches

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Press releases/News

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Contributions

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Volunteer

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Contact/E-mail

 

X

X

X

 

X

X

X

E-mail list

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Register to vote

     

X

       

In Spanish

X

X

X

X

 

X

   

List of contributors

   

X

X

       

Kids' page

X

X

X

X

       

Countdown clock

X

 

X

         

Audio/Video of candidate

X

X

X

X

 

X

 

X

Petition

       

X

 

X

 

Links page

       

X

     

Site map

       

X

     

Q & A page

X

   

X

       

Merchandise

X

X

 

X

 

X

X

X
(mail-order form)

Tax calculator

   

X

X

       

Webcam

 

X

 

X

       

Photo gallery

 

X

     

X

   

Family resources

 

X

           

Mobile option

 

X

           

Spamming

X

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

Personalized page

X

   

X

       

Downloadable files for
campaigners

 

X

 

X

 

X

   

Trivia

     

X

       

Table 1: Site Feature Comparison (note links to interesting site features)

All of the candidates' sites provided important collateral materials - biographies, press releases, schedules, shovelware. Generally, the sites before the major party conventions in the summer were busily designed and splashed with patriotic colors (except Nader's green sensibility, of course). As the campaigns and the sites evolved, many developed out of the generic umbrella of red, white, and blue and into a more individual color display and more effective design meant to highlight linkage ability and encourage interactivity. Some of the interactivity was as simple, but effective, as Bush's trivia contests or as potentially "sticky" as his site's "tax calculator."

This individuality was most evident in the overall improvements of the Bush site, which by late July offered a newly designed corporate-looking environment that was cleaner. It appeared to add a sense of gravitas with its black-and-gold color scheme, as well as offering a number of sophisticated technologies that proved to be a mixed blessing for the Bush effort. By employing a number of features that needed to be retrieved from other Web sites, Bush's site, at the height of its complexity (they seemed to pull back on this as election day drew near), proved to be the most elaborate yet often took the longest to download (It was also the site that, for our qualitative sampling, was down the most.). While getting points for effort, the Bush site violated one of the Web's cardinal roles: "[d]ownload speeds are the single-most important design criterion on the Web" (Nielsen, 1999).

Ari Schwartz, policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology, believes that one of the important general characteristics of the 2000 election cycle is that candidates operated with the instrumental memory of the Internet for the first time; that is, "people really did take lessons from '96 and '98 and used that effectively this time, which hadn't happened [previously]" (telephone interview, 20 November 2000). In other words, Schwartz claims that the 2000 race was the first in which a discernible record of Internet use in campaigns could be evaluated and analyzed, thus allowing the form to develop and evolve. It was the campaign of Jesse Ventura for governor of Minnesota that loomed in the minds of the Webmasters of campaign 2000, says Schwartz. In that groundbreaking campaign (see in particular "The Body Politic Registers a Protest: Jesse Ventura's Stunning Victory for Governor of Minnesota in 1998" in Campaigns and Elections: Contemporary Case Studies, Bailey, et. al., 2000 and Aikens (1996) in First Monday for an even earlier, pre-Ventura study). Phil Madsen, director of Ventura's campaign Web site, said that the "Internet for us served as the nervous system of the campaign. The Web site was the difference; it was the mobilization" (Bailey et. al., 2000, p. 134). With the 2000 race, Schwartz says, "we really have started to see how people are using the net as related to its past success." But what we saw, Schwartz says, was a timid use of the Internet's current power, not an evolutionary surge forward. "A lot of the campaigns were generally conservative in the use of the Web and therefore didn't want to push any buttons or make any mistakes" (telephone interview, 20 November 2000). As a result, by the end of the 2000 race, there appeared to be no breakaway winner, no singular Internet candidate, no cyber-Kennedy for this form of political communications. Each candidate employed or realized one or two aspects well; no one had the whole package.

With that in mind, then, who did what well? Some of the sites evolved from being an information desk - albeit one at which the attendant asked the visitor for a contribution before he or she left - to a warrior barracks, where one could be given the tools to become a one-person campaign shop with the options of hooking up with other warriors to form a tribe. After fundraising, this may be the most important development for this election cycle and potentially the most important tactical tool of election 2000.

 

Figure 1: Listing of Gore's Warrior Tools

Gore's site was the most effective in the handling of warrior tools and its "tribing up" capabilities. It offered the most efficient portable document format (PDF) materials to download and reproduce. Also, his "Instant Message Net" took potential warriors who offered geographic and psychographic data and hooked them up with other like-minded warriors presumably to form ongoing discussion/bonding/warrior tribes. The possibilities of this tool for future networking among supporters during elections are enormous.

Nader's site, on the other hand, didn't facilitate tribing but did an outstanding job in mobilizing volunteers on the ground, especially with students on college campuses. Good PDF files, canvassing tracking sheets, chronologies of tasks were encouraged and followed with phone calls, and a hand-off to more traditional campaigning methods.

It was the Nader site, too, we contend, that saw the most improvement over the course of the campaign. By election day, Nader's clean, link-based design downloaded in a click; it was not text heavy or busy, but provided efficient paths to targeted information (as compared to Nader's site design in July). If what Reuters suggests, that "90% of the people read headlines. Another 10% go down to a 25-word summary and only a very small percentage finish reading the article" (Nibley, 2000), then Nader's Webmasters learned this first and best (The Bush site, late in the campaign, came to that conclusion too, especially during the 'second campaign' following the indecision of election night.). Nader's site was the first to use Macromedia's Flash technology on its splash page and, while it proved a dramatic piece of digital punctuation at the end of campaign, it did slow down the load.

 

Nader's download page
Nader's field manual page
Nader's student page

Figure 2: Nader Site Samples (click for full view)

One element at which the Buchanan site excelled was to present its candidate's materials as a database rather than as a series of pages, as the other sites did. This permitted users to sort through materials by date, byline, subject, etc., making access easy and efficient.

"Content is king," pronounces Jakob Nielsen, and "the only way to increase the ultimate value of the Web to users is to enhance the quality of the content" (Nielsen, 1999). Reading through only the Web sites of the major candidates for President in 2000, with no other external information, one would get the sense that very little happened in the world beyond the hopes and plans of the candidates themselves. Sites were "refreshed" - that is, new data changed on a timely basis - but these changes were presumably tied to an "issue of the day" kind of campaign plan. In other words, the data made up in movement what it lacked in direction. The so-called "news" elements or sections of the sites were nearly exclusively promotional, rarely related to the news or the actual world that the candidates themselves were ostensibly campaigning to lead. Why?

Schwartz says that the campaign planners' choice not to direct time, resources, and effort into such unknown and potentially dangerous waters as real news is further evidence of their timidity (telephone interview, 20 November 2000). Glidden points out the technological difficulties of an actual news site and the commitment of resources may, at this point in time, be prohibitive for many campaigns. "Everyone now has a baseline awareness of the importance of the Internet, [but] actually, integrating that into one's day-to-day communications toolbox often takes a bit longer," she says. "That's something that will work through the cycle as the Internet becomes an increasingly important part of political campaigning" (telephone interview, 20 November 2000).

September 23

"Clinton Approves Releasing Some Oil from US Reserve" "Politics or Policy?"

September 25

"Both Sides Claim to Hold Lean in Yugoslav Vote"

September 26

"Yugoslavia's Opposition Leader Claims Victory over Milosevic"

September 28

"After Yugoslavs Celebrate, Belgrade Orders a Runoff"

September 29

"US Approves Abortion Pill"

September 30

"Battle at Jerusalem Holy Site Leaves 4 Dead and 200 Hurt"

October 6

"Yugoslavs Claim Belgrade for New Leader"

October 7

"Milosevic Concedes ... "

October 8

"New President in Yugoslavia"

October 13

"Blast Kills Sailors on US Ship in Yemen/2 Israeli Soldiers Slain by a Mob ... "

October 14

"Toll Rises to 17 in Ship Blast ... " "Israel in Shock as it Buried Mob Victims" "Bush Camp Sees Unrest as Validation of its Views"

Table 2: New York Times Headlines/Dates

The disparity, though, between what was in the news and what was masquerading on the candidates' Web sites as news was, at times, jarring. This is suggested by comparing the headlines from the New York Times in Table 2 with the news elements on the sites linked in Table 3. World-shaking events, such as the fall of the last piece of the Iron Curtain or the terrorist bombing of an American ship in the Mideast occurred, and the sites served up pandering puffery in their news sections (Given the events that would unfold in Florida, the candidates' tepid approaches to the Elian Gonzalez issue, particularly from the Gore camp, may have played a role in the uncertain outcome, and have helped Bush's effort.).

Bush's Site

Gore's Site

Buchanan's Site

Nader's Site

Table 3: Links to October 3rd News Snapshots on Specific Sites

"The Web sites were one place where they could control the message," says Schwartz, and so they sacrificed effectiveness in favor of control. "It would have been more effective to respond to news, so that people would turn there and look to it as a kind of portal, but neither of the contestants was willing to try something like that. The Gore campaign, in particular, had this plan to do an issue a day and they would have had to get off-track, off their plan, to do that ... I don't think that plan was as successful as [it could have been]" (telephone interview, 20 November 2000).

But at times, the sites did come alive, and this occasional awakening to news was curious, says Glidden. "I think that speaks to the level of penetration and awareness of the Internet, yes, it's out there [the candidates seem to be saying], but our use of it tends to slip into the background when we get into the day-to-day mode of operating," she says. "And then it comes back to the fore when something pivotal or something high-profile occurs ... That gap is something we'll see close over time, the gap between the use of the Internet during pivotal, high-profile events and application day-to-day" (telephone interview, 16 November 2000).

One important example of a high-profile, gap-filling Internet event was the positioning of each candidate's performance in the presidential debates, the first of which occurred on Tuesday, 3 October 2000, between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Within hours, many major media sites had the transcript of the debate online. The candidates' sites, in a rare confluence of hard news and promotional need, had separate and unequal digital versions of the rhetorical proceedings and a potentially important, Internet-driven strategy for situating the event. Having the text of the debates online on objective media sites gave the electorate the opportunity to examine the outlines and nuances of the encounter in much more detail that ever before. Having the "e-buttle" on the candidates' sites gave voters yet another "text" to interpret as each explained or accused each other of misleading, evading, obfuscating, or fabricating. Both candidates were effective in providing timely e-buttles to specific items that the other brought up during the debate itself. At Gore's site this took the form of "rhetoric" vs. "reality" points, and appeared on the main page. The Bush team was more technologically ambitious. While Gore's visitors had to reload the site themselves to get fresh material, Bush's page was automatically being refreshed. More importantly, perhaps, Bush had a different domain for debate cyber-spin - debatefacts.com - linked from his main page. The page was austere, even chilly, devoid of the bright trapping of promotion, and designed to appear like hard news. Somewhat troubling, a link to C-SPAN appeared as if it were a banner ad, perhaps suggesting an endorsement or sponsorship from the cable channel. This raises an ethical question that the Bush Webmasters should have resolved. Bush's tax calculator - a sticky element from early on - sat prominently on the upper right side of the page. During the debate, the Bush site "reported" on the proceedings, adding Gore's "inventions," or where the Bush camp determined that the Vice-President was violating the truth. By the next day, this was replaced by debate timeline of Gore's alleged inventions. Glidden and Schwartz believe that the candidates' handling of the debate and e-buttling is an important element to watch as it may evolve into a standard element for political campaigning (telephone interviews, Glidden, 16 November 2000; Schwartz, 20 November 2000).

The general campaign was followed, of course, by the sustained finale of a "second campaign" that engulfed the candidates, the media and, to some extent, the public, after the near-national voter tie between Bush and Gore and the political and legal wrangling that erupted in Florida in the days and weeks following the inconclusive election results. On Thursday, 9 November 2000, the New York Times editorial page weighed in magisterially: "First let us pause and survey an extraordinary scene that confronts a nation that is making history moment by moment. On a day when the identity of our next president is usually clear, the political process is frozen" ("Getting It Right in Florida," p. A-22). The Internet campaigns, for a moment, were frozen as well, but the Bush site defrosted with a vengeance and came back with an e-mail initiative that proved to be the most effective and impressive of the entire election, a digital echo of McCain's triumph, recalling this election's greatest Internet moment.

On 10 November, three days into the stalemate, the Gore site posted a statement from campaign chairman William Daley that dated itself by the moment during the dramatic days of November. It stated that "the hand count process will begin ... the overseas ballots have not been counted" well after those processes were either underway or completed. The Bush campaign, on the other hand, posted a call to contribute on its site to fund the post-election campaign in Florida and reinforced its message with an effective e-mail effort. They seemed to have succeeded, eventually posting an impressive 117-page PDF document (as of 20 November) of donors who helped to fund the fight in Florida.

Date: Sun, 12 Nov 2000 16:45:41 PST [Show full headers]

From: "Don Evans" [Add to Address Book]

To: don_lewicki@excite.com [Add to Address Book] Subject: A Message from Don Evans

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A MESSAGE FROM DON EVANS CHAIRMAN, BUSH-CHENEY 2000 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, November 11, 2000

Dear Friend,

This is an urgent message to supporters of Governor George W. Bush and Secretary Dick Cheney regarding the situation in Florida.

It is now clear we must raise money to fund the recount effort in Florida. Governor Bush won the vote on Election Day, a victory confirmed by a recount. Now, the other side is seeking yet a third count by hand. There is a reason why ballots are counted by computer and not by hand.

The expense of the recount effort must be funded immediately. Please send a check in any amount that you can up to $5,000 today. These contributions, in keeping with Governor Bush's "full disclosure" policy on financial contributions, will be posted on the Bush-Cheney website. Any funds not spent will be returned on a pro rata basis.

To contribute, please click here:

http://www.georgewbush.com/media/pdfs/recountfund.pdf

to download the Bush-Cheney recount fund reply form. Please fill out the form and mail in with your donation.

We are setting up a site for secure online credit card contributions. As soon as the Web site is available, we'll send out an e-mail with the link for online contributions.

Remember:

1. Checks must be personal, not corporate.

2. Checks should be payable to Bush-Cheney Recount Fund.

3. Download and fill out this form: http://www.georgewbush.com/media/pdfs/recountfund.pdf

4. Mail or overnight check to: Donald L. Evans 301 Congress Avenue 2nd Floor/Bush-Cheney Recount Fund Austin, Texas 78701

5. These funds do not count against your annual personal federal giving limit of $25,000.

Thank you for your friendship and support. If you have friends that can help, please forward this message to them immediately. We thank you for all that you did to help elect Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney. We also thank you in advance for your willingness to help us during this important time in the life of our country.

Sincerely,

Don Evans

_____________________

Paid for by Bush-Cheney Recount Fund. Contributions to Bush-Cheney Recount Fund are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes. _____________________________________________________________

Paid for by Bush-Cheney 2000, Inc. http://www.georgewbush.com ==============================================================================

Figure 3: Bushnews' E-mail Soliciting Contributions for Florida Recount Effort

Bush's Floridian e-mail assault was in contrast to the overall lackluster effort by all the candidates throughout the campaign. The overall volume of e-mail was impressive, but, in its way like the news materials, was often a collection of self-referential, disembodied institutional voices, usually squandering the most powerful weapon in their digital arsenal.

Figure 4: Number of E-mails Received

The campaigns seemed to ignore the conventional wisdom of this medium. E-mail should have an appropriately enticing subject line; the message should be short; and it should elicit a response (O'Keefe, 1997, pp. 142-150). McCain's Internet manager Fose says, "We tried to give a headline, then one sentence, and then a link back to the site. You don't want to waste their time reading a long e-mail. I got one recently from one of the candidates that was four pages long! (see Gore, Bush samples). You want to get them back onto the Web site, where they're a click away from doing something" (telephone interview, 20 November 2000).

Throughout the season, it should be noted, the Bush campaign should be given credit for earlier and more fully than the others - sometimes even more than the law required - posting the list of its donors. The Bush site offered a "thank you" from campaign chairman Don Evans as the voting ended, a statement from Karen Hughes, communications director, as the Florida recount began, and then links to important position papers and other documents that outlined their argument as the conflict went on: shovelware of an immediate and important order. Up until at least Thanksgiving, the Gore site sat mute.

++++++++++

Conclusion: The Gathering

"The only people more foolish than those who try to forecast the future of a new medium are those who listen to them." - Larry Grossman, quoted in democracy.com?, p. 123.

Back at Harvard in the clear light the campaign's spring, before Gore's sighs and W's DUI, before chads and butterfly ballots, Dan Schnur, John McCain's communications director, who helped to write Internet history with Fose and Gullett, is talking to the conference audience, four months after Team McCain fired its shot across the bow of the future in New Hampshire and five months before the longest election night in U.S. history:

The next challenge is taking the Internet from what it is now, at least from a campaign standpoint, which is an organizational device and, at best, a motivational device for someone who is already supporting, [and turn it] into a persuasive one. And the dirty little secret of this is none of us knows how to do this. When this next breakthrough comes, it is not going to come from [a] George W. Bush or [an] Al Gore ... somewhere out there, there is a candidate for state legislature ... there is a school board member ... a candidate for city council ... and they are putting together a site that's turning the Internet into a persuasive device for them, for their candidate, for their cause ... [L]ike so many of the other great breakthroughs in political communications, it's not going to come from the top down. It's going to come from the bottom up. It's not going to come from campaigns that already have everything at their disposal. It's going to come from the campaigns who are dumb enough and lucky enough and desperate enough - like ours was - to take a chance (Schnur, 2000).

So while everyone waits for that candidate, a gathering is going on. The election of 2000 was, in fact, The Gathering. Tactically, the candidates in general may have attempted to use the Internet as a tool to reach supporters; strategically, however, the candidates and the parties were gathering data on who's using the Internet, how much, and for what reasons, to mount a much more convincing campaign in subsequent elections. The successful Presidential Internet candidate of 2004 or 2008 - with the parable of election 2000 at her or his back - will raise money like McCain, develop warrior tools like Gore, have clean and efficient design like Nader, organize shovelware like Buchanan, have tightly-written, regularly-delivered e-mail like Bush when things get tough, develop tribing-up tools like Gore, and have the e-buttling efficiency of Bush. She or he will report and respond to news on the campaign site, a site, (dare we suggest), modeled somewhat on Matt Drudge's infamous yet unavoidable Web site, but without the curdled and questionable ethics of the Internet gossip columnist.

The election of 2000 has cleared some of the political landscape, pointed out the edges of the possible. It's now time to build the new edifice.End of article

 

About the Authors

Don Lewicki enjoyed a technical management career for more than 16 years with IBM before joining the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford in 1996 as Director of Computing, Telecommunications and Media Services. In 1999, he joined the faculty (while retaining his administrative post) as assistant professor of business management and then as coordinator of the management information systems program. A member of the editorial board of the Journal of Computer Enhanced Learning, Lewicki has presented his work at the International Business School Computing Association; this year he published "One Recipe for Success: Computers in Education" in Teaching with Technology (Anker, 2000).
E-mail: lewicki@imap.pitt.edu

Tim Ziaukas, associate professor of public relations at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, is on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Relations Research. His work includes the forthcoming "Environmental Public Relations and Crisis Management: Two Paradigmatic Cases - Bhopal and Exxon," in Handbook of Crisis Management (Dekker, 2001); some recent work includes "Titanic and Public Relations: A Case Study," Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1999 and "Baum's Wizard of Oz as Gilded Age Public Relations," Public Relations Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3. Fall 1998.
E-mail:timz@imap.pitt.edu

Notes

1. The panel titled "Presidential Politics.org: The Internet and Election 2000" was held on 1 June 2000, from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM and was part of Harvard University's third conference on Internet and Society 2000, 31 May - 2 June. The moderator was Elaine Ciulla Karmarck, lecturer in public policy, formerly director of the Visions of Governance for the Twenty First Century at Harvard University, and co-editor of democracy.com?: Goverance in a Networked World (see Bibliography). The panel included Dan Schnur, communications director of McCain2000 Inc; Jacob Weisberg, chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine; Kathleen DeLaski, group director for politics, government and families programming, AOL; and Dick Morris, president of Vote.com.

2. As we submit this article, the unresolved issues between the Bush and Gore campaigns are working their ways through the courts of Florida and onto the U. S. Supreme Court.

3. The captured Web sites may be currently accessed at: http://b75.upb.pitt.edu/election2000. Material is subdivided by folders according to date of capture. Readers may drill down into the "mirror" of each candidate's site by accessing the appropriate folder. Only HTML pages were captured.

4. Curiously, we received only one piece of "snail mail" during the entire study and, ironically, it was a letter designed to appear to have come from a previous technology: a mass-produced simulation of a hand written letter from George W. Bush.

5. Dole misstated his address; it was "com," not "org."

Bibliography

Jeffrey B. Abramson, F. Christopher Arterton, and Garry R. Orren, 1988. The Electronic Commonwealth: The Impact of New Media Technologies on Democratic Politics. New York: Basic Books.

G. Scott Aikens, 1996. "A History of Minnesota Electronic Democracy," First Monday, volume 1, number 5 (November), at http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5/aikens/index.html

Anonymous, 2000. "Getting It Right in Florida," New York Times (9 November), p. A-22.

Anonymous, 1996. "A Transcript of the First Televised Debate Between Clinton and Dole," New York Times (7 October), p. B-8-11.

Michael A. Bailey, Ronald A. Faucheux, Paul S. Herrnson, and Clyde Wilcox (editors), 2000. Campaigns and Elections: Contemporary Case Studies. Washington D.C.: CQ Press.

John M. Broder, 2000. "His Success in New Hampshire Brings McCain an Overnight Infusion of Cybercash," New York Times (3 February), p. A-23, and at http://www.nytimes.com/library/politics/camp/020300wh-gop-mccain3.html

Charles Bowen, 1999. "Campaign 2000: The Internet's Political Impact," Editor & Publisher, p. 29, and at http:www.mediainfo.com

Edward W. Chester. 1969. Radio, Television and American Politics. New York: Sheed and Ward.

K. G. Coffman and Andrew Odlyzko, "The Size and Growth of the Internet," First Monday, volume 3, number 10 (October), at http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_10/coffman/index.html

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Max Fose, 2000. Telephone interview (20 November).

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Lawrence K. Grossman, 1995. The Electronic Republic: Reshaping Democracy in the Information Age. New York: Penguin.

Reed E. Hundt. 2000, You Say You Want a Revolution: A Story of Information Age Politics. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Elaine Karmarck, 2000. Harvard University Conference on Internet and Society, "Presidential Politics.org: The Internet and Election 2000" (2 June).

Elaine Karmarck and Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (editors), 1999. democracy.com?: Governance in a Networked World. Hollis, N.H.: Hollis.

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Alison Mitchell with Frank Bruni, 2000. "After Upset, Challenger Eyes South Carolina," New York Times (3 February), p. 1.

Dick Morris, 2000. Harvard Conference on Internet and Society, "Presidential Politics.org: The Internet and Election 2000" (1 June).

Andrew Nibley, 2000. "The Internet and the New Generation of Newsreaders," Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, volume 20, number 1 (March), pp. 37-42, and at http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m2584/1_20/61759110/p1/article.jhtml

Jakob Nielsen, 1999. "User Interface Directions for the Web," Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, volume 42, number 1, pp. 65-72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/291469.291470

Steve O'Keefe, 1997. Publicity on the Internet: Creating Successful Publicity Campaigns on the Internet and the Commercial Online Services. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Dan Schnur, 2000. Harvard Conference on Internet and Society, "Presidential Politics.org: The Internet and Election 2000" (2 June).

Gary W. Selnow, 1998. Electronic Whistle-Stops: The Impact of the Internet on American Politics. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.

Ari Schwartz, 2000 Telephone interview, (20 November).

Elizabeth Weise, 2000. "Not Yet the Net," Media Studies Journal, volume. 14, pp. 36-41.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the Faculty Development Grants Committee at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford for its support. They would especially like to thank the DeFrees Foundation, whose support not only resulted in this article but also has generated onhoing classroom material and exercises. An early version of this research was presented at the Society for Literature and Science (SLS) conference in October 2000 in Atlanta.


Editorial history

Paper received 29 November 2000; accepted 30 November 2000.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

The Digital Tea Leaves of Election 2000: The Internet and the Future of Presidential Politics by Don Lewicki and Tim Ziaukas
First Monday, volume 5, number 12 (December 2000),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_12/lewicki/index.html





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