Online Political Conversations Replacing Hard News?

30 10 2009

The Pew Research Center’s report on online political activity found a number of trends important for any campaigners, politicians or political communicators to pay attention to. 1192_1a

The report found that the number of people going online to find political information is rapidly increasing, with 60 percent of all Internet users going online for political aims during the 2008 campaign. It also found that these interested people are not only observing the blogs, but 18 percent of them are commenting on the information out there. What does this online interactivity mean for the country’s political conversations?

The speed at which news travels is faster than ever before, as any political junkie can get instant, legitimate updates on their mobile devices, which we know never leave our sides.

The rise in political blogging, and blogging in any type of news outlets for that matter, has stirred up a great amount of attention as to whether or not these “citizen journalists” are helping or hurting America’s press. This summer, Jerry Bowles produced a piece “The Internet is Killing America’s Free Press and Why It Matters”, published on socialmediatoday. He made a valid point repeated by many concerned journalists that bloggers are usually not doing in-depth, investigative reporting. They don’t have the time or financial resources to travel the world and dig up news. This task has been mostly forgotten in the fast-paced, 24-hour aggregation news cycle except for within dying newspaper establishments. If newspapers continue to go under as more people go online for their information, Bowels argues that the American free press as we know it will no longer be able to efficiently serve its citizens.





The Political Blogosphere: Who’s Posting, Who’s Reading?

30 10 2009

Published Oct. 19, Technorati’s 2009 report on the State of the Blogosphere is one of the most interesting resources I came across in doing research on politics and social media. Technorati surveyed bloggers directly to discover who is blogging, what they’re blogging about and why, how they are blogging, what revenue they’re making and the political impact of blogging and twitter.

A New Media Strategies post claims that bloggers are the new “man”. But who exactly are today’s bloggers? Are they 45-year-old men cooped up in their parent’s basement hovered over their laptop?

No. Technorati found that 2/3 of bloggers are male, with the majority aged 18-44 with college degrees and an above-average income.

Technorati claims that a majority of bloggers engage in the activity to share expertise with others and as a form of personal expression. Still, half of the bloggers surveyed said they posted on the political aspects of their blogging topics. 

from conventionblogger.com

Plus, there are all those watchdog bloggers out there keeping the government in check. (See: thewatchdogblog.org or specifically, Matt Drudge with the Monica Lewinsky scandal.)

But are people paying attention to these bloggers? In 2008, a poll found that only 22 percent of respondents looked at political blogs on a regular basis. Still, most studies on Internet interactivity agree that the audience may very well be growing. As one blogger reported from a speaker at the Association of Internet Researchers, the small sample of political blog readers doesn’t offer much data to analyze, but we do know that the average reader is much like the blog publishers: educated males with a decent income, but an average age of 52.





Lobbyists are online, too!

28 10 2009

I’ve discovered that the value of politicians’ twitter account, in terms of informing or mobilizing the public, depends on the person behind the account and their communication goals. For example, Claire McCaskill offers followers a look into her life on the Hill, while John McCain posts links to op-eds he writes and articles mentioning him. Yet simply accumulating thousands of followers does nothing for the candidate if these people aren’t donating to their campaigns or actually going to the voting booth on election day. Today, we know the Internet has helped many a fundraising effort, but its mobilization abilities to get people to leave their computer to campaign or vote are not quite as positively reported. 

How does twitter play in to fundraising efforts? The National Journal published a piece entitled “Will Twitter Add A New Wrinkle To Campaign Fundraising?” that claims  the click-through rates for Twitter are much better than those of the blast campaign e-mails most popular in past election years. Only 2.5 of the campaign e-mail recipients visit the actual campaign site, according to David Nickerson, a political science professor at Notre Dame.

This is wonderful news not only for penny-pinching candidates, but also nonprofit organizations, grassroots groups and lobbyists hoping to raise money for their political action committees (PACs) to influence the government. These groups are a critical arm of influence for the federal government. OpenSecrets reports there are 13,301 active, registered lobbyists in 2009, with $2.5 billion spent in lobbying efforts so far this year.

As a displayed in my last post, the candidate with the most money wins the race. In the lobbying world, the groups with the most funding are the ones whose voices are heard and opinions are attended to in legislation passed for the entire country. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has outspent all other lobbying groups since 1998, spending $527,473,180, according to OpenSecrets. When talking about government fundraising, it’s important to remember the groups influencing the politicians and the mediums available to them for communicating with potential donors. Some of these groups survive and thrive based on the money they raise, so while a politician or candidate may not find benefits in online communications for getting people out to vote, these teams can bank on the proven success of online fundraising.

poker-chip-black

poker player alliance supporters can click on the chips to donate via credit card or paypal online.

A fun example I found was the Poker Players Alliance, who creatively asks for your donation toward lobbying efforts by clicking on a $10 ‘ante’ chip to a $100 ‘all-in’ chip. And, of course, interested constituents can also become a fan on facebook or follow them on twitter.





Cash Rules Everything Around Me

22 10 2009

It’s a well-known fact of the American political system: The candidate with the most money wins. An Open Secrets report found this to be true for the 2008 presidential election and 9 out of every 10 congressional elections.

But what do you do when you’re a little-known candidate with limited funds to get your message out? Use the greatest invention since the printing press, of course: the free and open World Wide Web!

The trend in online campaigning and fundraising has roots in then Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s 2003 presidential campaign. Although this Green party candidate lost, he revolutionized the use of online tools for political communication and raised $27 million in online contributions. He used MeetUp.com to organize groups of like-minded people online to meet in person off-line. He also incorporated blogs-“Call-Action”, later re-named “Blog for America,”  on which he still posts comments regarding his stance on current political issues.

In 2008, Congressman Ron Paul, a candidate on the opposite side of the political spectrum, used the free communication medium to set an online fundraising record raising $4.2 million in a single day. This video features Paul’s finance director attributing their online transparency to the success of the “money bomb.”

That December, Paul’s campaign broke their own record, raising more than $6 million with their “money bomb” technique.

This August, Ron Paul’s son, Rand, followed his father’s successful online strategy and raised more than $400,000 on a single-day internet drive toward his senate campaign. Congressional Quarterly hailed the return of the ‘money bomb.’

Furthermore, on Nov. 5, Rand hopes to benefit from the ‘largest one-day multi-candidate donation event in history’ through ThisNovember5th.com.

The site boast the mug shots of a list of candidates along with the number of pledges and dollar amount they’ve received. The total number of pledges with a countdown to the deadline is featured at the top of the page, with links for visitors to share the site via the Facebook group or other social sites. I will be interested to see how well this online push fares for the candidates come Nov. 5!





All A-Twitter

18 10 2009

Twitter, Tweets, Twitterers in the Twitterverse…the mainstream media has taken notice of this micro-blogging phenomenon. Twitter.com encouraged visitors to its site to ‘Join in the conversation’ to ‘share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.’ Even though not even a quarter of the population is currently using the site, most have probably heard something of the craze in terms of its effect on breaking news and human conversations. I registered an account with the site last summer out of curiosity. I quickly found friends from school to follow, along with a handful of celebrities like Lady GaGa, Rob Dyrdek and Rev Run. I also found some news sites and popular bloggers to follow to stay up-to-date with interesting, breaking news not covered by mainstream media.

twitterThis invention gives politicians the opportunity to spread messages to interested constituents immediately. Their followers can re-tweet their statements to friends and create a buzz that bloggers and mainstream media can pick up on. Even the UK has noticed the impact the site has had on political communication with the population. (Check out the Telegraph’s article: “Twitter craze brings US politicians closer to constituents”) Sixty-nine members of Congress were on the site in February, but a Sept. 20 Washington Post article, “Tweeting Their Own Horns” stated that the number has reached 169. However, exactly what the politicians are tweeting about varies greatly in its importance and relevance for followers. The Post article mentioned at University of Maryland study that came to the conclusion that most politicians are using the medium to promote themselves and their opinions. The study found that 80 percent of the members’ posts were either links to articles or press releases.

Still, some politicians offer unique insights into daily happenings in the capitol, like Sen. Claire McCaskill, ranked No. 2 by Politico in their ranking of “10 Most Influential D.C. Twitterers“. Her diverse blend of personal thoughts and open comments on things happening around her on the hill has attracted 33,880 followers as of Oct. 18, 09.

I think it’s great that the politicians are getting involved in this online conversation. TweetCongress.org is a site that encourages all politicians to sign in, and interestingly tracks trending topics of their accounts.  It also keeps tabs on the most followed, most active, most controversial and most political tweeters. For those of you not registered on Twitter looking for second-by-second updates from the hill, this site is a great resource.





A New Communication Model

12 10 2009

Communication is defined as a systematic process by which people interact with symbols to create and interpret meanings.
Before recent years in which a majority of the American population can access the internet, campaigning and elected politicians had much more restricted options by which they could communicate with potential voters or constituents. The majority of the options for politicians were highly one-way communication models. Politicians and their staff pushed out messages to the public, be it through radio and TV commercials or appearances, billboards, yard signs or mass mailings.
The revolutionary difference in today’s world is the fact that the political communication model has transformed into a more two-way system between the politicians and their constituents. Yet how effective are these videos at getting the government or candidate’s message across to constituents and voters? As The Council for Research Excellence found, TV is still the most-used form of media for getting news.
Still, the population is increasingly going online to find political information. YouTube is a new media model designed to distribute a message, but it’s different from television ads in that viewers can comment and form a discussion immediately online. They can subscribe to these channels and share the video with friends by embedding it on their blog, website or social media platform of choice. A YouTube post entitled “How to Use YouTube for Politics” stated that “YouTube has becomes the world’s largest town-hall for political discussion.”
In this Jan. 2009 YouTube video, a handful of stiffly-scripted congressional leaders deliver a “Welcome to YouTube”.

Their attempt at communicating with the public is somewhat endearing, but their awkwardness and less-than-genuine expressions clearly demonstrate their lack of experience with this new medium.
The lack of consistent updates on the House of Representatives and Senate YouTube channels is also a problem in maintaining credibility and viewer traffic.

Possibly more interesting for political information seekers are the more than 4,000 comments below the video post. While some of them irrelevantly bash the politicians character, others seek to expose these videos as spin tactics and propaganda. These free, open, town-hall-like discussions are what set this form of political communication apart from past methods.





A Face Made For Politics

7 10 2009

Before the series of “Great Debates” between Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts and Vice President Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election were televised around the world, the concept of a politician’s ‘image’ having an effect on the public’s perceptions of them was of little concern to their staff. It’s interesting to note that those who listened to the debate on the radio were of the sentiment that Nixon won. Those who witnessed the young, vibrant Kennedy on television however, overwhelmingly saw him as the winner.

The debates were held ten days ago, on Sept. 26, in the year 1960. On the 49th anniversary of the debates this year, the Christian Science Monitor posted the original newspaper article from the start of the debates on their Web site. How have candidates’ presentations to the public changed since then? And how are voters judging politicians?
With the gender-diverse candidates in the 2008 election, The Public Library of Science conducted a study published under the title of “The Political Gender Gap: Gender Bias in Facial Inferences that Predict Voting Behavior” and found that voters actually do care about what the candidates look like. The survey examined men and women voters rankings of candidates competency, dominance, attractiveness and approachability based only on the candidates’ facial appearances. The research found interesting results on which factors influence male and female voters depending on the gender of the candidate they’re judging. For men, a more attractive female candidate would be more likely to get their vote, while women were drawn to more approachable male candidates.
It seems like candidates these days must always be camera-ready, looking their best. One blogger observed the 2009 general elections in Indonesia and harped upon the narcissim of the candidates plastering their posters all over the city.

Poster in Indonesia

Poster in Indonesia

Still, a study by Bailenson, Illinyengar, Yee and Coseople found that voters lean toward candidates that look like themselves!