[Air-l] democracy & culture; political flash apps

Jennifer Stromer-Galley jstromer at albany.edu
Thu Jul 10 11:50:21 PDT 2003

I know this thread died out, but I've been thinking about Philip's post
as I've been painting rooms in my house in Philadelphia to sell, so that
I can get moved up to Albany. 

The question I'm mulling over is, what is the bottom line? How does one
tell if the Internet "has made a difference" in any context, really, but
specifically as it relates to political campaigns. Pundits say that the
bottom line is winning the election. That's the ultimate goal of the
mainstream candidate, and so that's the test to which the Internet
should be put. But, Philip argues that the Internet has made a
difference in campaigns where the candidate didn't win. But, I'm stuck
on that pesky question, how has it made a difference? If winning isn't
the criterion, then what set of criteria are we talking about? What IS
the model? Is it mobilization of voters? Is it information dissemination
about the candidate? Both? Do we know it when we see it? How do we
measure it?

I also want to pause a sec., and backtrack and say that it's not that
the Internet by its existence makes a difference, but makes a difference
in how it is used. So, really the question is, how does the Internet get
used to "makes a difference" in a positive way for democratic

Alright, back to painting . . . .

P.S. I'm including Philip's last note to refresh memories, since it's
been a few weeks.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: air-l-admin at aoir.org [mailto:air-l-admin at aoir.org] On 
> Behalf Of Philip N. Howard
> Sent: Wednesday, July 02, 2003 1:43 PM
> To: air-l at aoir.org
> Subject: [Air-l] democracy & culture; political flash apps
> AIR Friends:
> I am a big fan of describing the role of the internet in 
> political life as a story of democracy and culture.  For a 
> candidate, the bottom line may be winning.  For candidates, 
> the bottom line may be winning, but I would disagree with JSG 
> if she means that the 'bottom line' for those of us studying 
> political culture should be candidate victories.  Stories 
> about politics online always involve some exciting new 
> innovation and some disheartening stories of ugly political 
> tricks.  So both McCain and Bradley campaigns were innovative 
> in that they used the Internet to organize decent campaigns 
> in states where they had no paid full-time staff.  They 
> raised big bucks online, but only after media blitz on the 
> possibilities of an upset and many of those "pledges" were 
> taken over the phone and processed through webforms by 
> volunteers sitting at campaign HQ.
> I don't think its going out on a limb to say there are a 
> number of legislative campaigns, both elite lobbyist and 
> grassroots campaigns, that have won _because_ of the 
> internet.  If this is out on a limb I'd hope it can be part 
> of JSG's tree.
> It is really important to move beyond win/loss measures of 
> the internet's role in political culture.  Looking for 
> internet effects the traditional polisci way means treating a 
> bunch of phenomena additively, such that campaign 
> communications strategy is one of a dozen factors (along with 
> charisma, financing, platform) that add up to a explain a 
> candidate's victory.  Will the internet be making a 
> difference when a wired campaign strategy (wired/not wired) 
> provides 51% of the explained variation in electoral outcomes 
> (candidate win/loose)?  Even if you could create the database 
> for such a model, I'd bet that the role of the internet in 
> candidate campaigns is increasingly important yet 
> increasingly ubiquitous, not increasingly pronounced and 
> distinct.  Being interested in political culture should mean 
> looking for the contours of complex interaction between the 
> variables.  As a Ventura IT guy said, they "didn't win 
> because of the internet, but wouldn't have won without it."  
> With the traditional, additive analytical frame, this 
> statement from the Ventura campaign would make their case 
> unworthy of study.
> I think the internet made a difference in the 2000 
> Presidential election, where difference = deep part of 
> political culture, not wired campaign = victory.  I think 
> secondary candidates like McCain, Bradley and Nader got 
> further than expected; campaign communications were 
> significantly more agile than in 1996; online posturing 
> became a crucial part of impression management in the 48 
> hours after the Florida recount debacle.  Activists dreamed 
> up some really effective apps, including vote-swapping apps, 
> candidate-citizen affinity matching apps, campaign finance 
> tracking apps and more.  They also generated a huge volume of 
> political humor in the form of jokes, art, flash ads etc, 
> which circulated well beyond activist networks.
> I agree Dean's campaign is innovative and seems to have 
> really integrated internet-based apps into its campaign 
> communications strategies.  But will he or the richer 
> campaigns be using the bots that join lists to promote and 
> 'engage' list members?  What kind of datamining will they do 
> online?  What are the internal power relations like between 
> IT consultants and other campaign workers?
> BTW i'm building a collection of political flash apps at 
> http://faculty.washington.edu/pnhoward/polart.> html
> Do AIRers 
> have any others I should add?  There are a 
> dozen there to play with, but i'd love more! Phil Philip N. 
> Howard Assistant Professor Department of Communication 
> University of Washington
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