Campaigning online

Al Gore did not create the Internet, nor a victory for himself because of Florida in 2000, but that didn’t stop Dr. Richard Davis, Professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University in Utah from lecturing about U.S. on-line election campaigns to a handful of political science aficionados on Tue., Nov. 26.

“The 2000 election was a great leap forward,” said Davis. “Seventy-five per cent of U.S. Senate candidates and 55 per cent of U.S. House candidates were on-line.”

Davis, holder of the Calgary Chair at North American Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences, compared the figures to those from 1996 when about 50 per cent of Senate candidates and 16 per cent of House candidates had an on-line presence.

“Early prognostication suggested that the Internet was a tool for convenience, used to reach out to undecided voters to communicate,” said Davis. “But our conclusion was that communication between candidates and voters fostered reinforcement, not conversion.”

Davis’ study, which surveyed voters who visited at least one presidential candidate’s web site or a non-partisan political web site during the 2000 elections found that on-line communication with voters were more successful in reinforcement than recruitment.

“Voters don’t use the Internet to make decisions, but to reinforce decisions already made,” said Davis. “Visitors were not people who needed to be converted but wanted to be reinforced.”

Davis found that the majority visitors to U.S. Presidential candidates’ sites were either ideological or political supporters of their candidate. One surprising finding was that almost the visitors to conservative Pat Buchanan’s web site were Democrats.

“That so many Democrats visited Buchanan’s site was a little bit odd,” said Davis. “These were probably union people who were attracted to Buchanan’s trade-protectionist views.”

Davis explained that unlike previous forms of campaigning, Internet sites allow anyone to investigate their political views anonymously but more interactively than with television.

“Unlike television, with the Internet, you have to click and type, and keep on clicking and typing to where you want to go,” said Davis.

As a result, voters who are politically-active on-line are more likely to vote, a finding Davis said would guide decision-makers in future elections.

“In 2004, you might see more emphasis on supporters,” said Davis. “But while websites influence voters more than traditional campaign literature, actual contact was still the best way of getting people to vote.”

Davis is the Fulbright-University of Calgary Chair in North American Studies in the faculty of Social Sciences.

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