Elevate Difference

Politicking Online: The Transformation of Election Campaign Communications

By now, we are all so familiar with the way the Obama campaign used technology to revolutionize politics that it almost seems cliché. Media coverage of the campaign’s strategy has made it seem as if Obama invented Internet campaigning. On the contrary, Politicking Online: The Transformation of Election Campaign Communications points out that “the digital pulse” of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was significant not for its innovative tech-savvy approach, but for its ability to synthesize lessons learned from a decade of web innovations and missteps.

For the politically minded, Politicking Online is a treasure trove of case studies, statistics, graphs, and clear-cut analysis of what works (Ned Lamont’s winning Connecticut’s Democratic primary nomination was due, in part, to his ability to gain support from the progressive blogosphere), what does not work (a candidate’s Facebook profile page means nothing if it doesn’t motivate voters to actually get out to the polls on election day), and what we are still unsure of (do websites boost civic participation among the politically indifferent, or just rile up those who are already engaged?).

Panagopoulos breaks down the nebulous term “technology” into a variety of sub-categories—blogging, online fundraising, Facebook, campaign websites, text messaging—without getting too nuanced and without skimming the surface of these topics. This ultimately results in a book that flows well from one topic to another without seeming fragmented. The reader is able to analyze website technology in congressional and state legislative campaigns before entering into a discussion on whether these websites have an impact on civic engagement, looking at how campaigns use other technology, such as email, text messaging, and online advertisements, to enhance their web presence. Politicking Online concludes with a discussion of blogging, Facebooking, and YouTube—technologies that, when used correctly, can enhance a candidates’ appeal and, when used poorly, leave candidates unable to retain control of their image.

Two of Politicking Online’s pieces focused on international examples of online communications in political campaigns. These two pieces, which looked at blogging in German electoral campaigns and text messaging in get out the vote efforts in Spain, left me simultaneously eager for more examples of how online communications worked on a global level and annoyed that it was not a more robust investigation. Panagopoulos would have done well to either examine this topic more wholeheartedly, or leave it out altogether. Two chapters in a book that otherwise focused on American politics seemed like a distraction.

Despite this, Politicking Online is a book that experienced campaign workers, aspiring politicians, tech-junkies, and part-time political wonks will find intriguing, informative, and definitely worth missing a few Twitter or blog updates to delve into.

Written by: Gwen Emmons, October 14th 2009