Digital campaigning

Authored by: Stephen Ward , Rachel Gibson , Marta Cantijoch

The Routledge Handbook of Elections, Voting Behaviorand Public Opinion

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138890404
eBook ISBN: 9781315712390
Adobe ISBN:


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It is now over 20 years since political parties began to move online and fight elections using new internet technologies, although in most established democracies it took another decade, or more, before internet access spread to the majority of voters. Much of the initial research tracked the adaptation of parties, and to a lesser extent voters, to the internet. In particular, research was dominated by supply-side web content analyses examining how parties were using the technology (what if anything was new?), and how they compared with one another (who gained, if anyone?). On the demand side of the equation, there was a much more restricted field of quantitative studies of voter attitudes and behaviors online. Much of the initial research spent time looking for uniform effect patterns – notably, whether the internet provided any boost to political engagement. The empirical results of the early years were often underwhelming, although it is arguable whether: expectations of “internet effects” were too high; researchers were asking the right questions; and they were looking in the right places. However, as the internet has matured, with a second wave of social media technologies (so-called Web 2.0), scholars have both revisited earlier questions and also increasingly expanded their range of methods and tools. Furthermore, the era of big data has provided a new stimulus to study and as the internet has become embedded into everyday life, research has arguably moved away from its focus on the technology toward more socially structured approaches.

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