The Digital Election: 2004
The potential of the internet to transform election politics is evident in the 2004 presidential campaign. The Digital Election Project at the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement is examining how digital communication and social software may revitalize grassroots participation in our most important democratic activity.
Although the use of the internet in U.S. presidential campaigning has been growing steeply since 1996, many see the current contest as the first truly digital presidential election. Not only are all major candidates fielding at least one Web site, but many also maintain a strong multi-site presence, using the internet to mobilize supporters through separate campaign Web-logs (or “blogs”), independent grass roots sites like Meetup.com, and unique pages for distinct groups of supporters by age or geographic region. The rise of candidacies such as those of Howard Dean and Wesley Clark reflect these practices, sparking a number of questions concerning the possibilities and effectiveness of the internet as a national campaign tool.
Despite integrating information rich, interactive digital communication technologies into everyday life, young people continue to abandon politics and government in alarming numbers. At the same time, they want to make a difference in society. What are the reasons for the Generation Next’s political withdrawal? Can the appeal of the internet be harnessed to make a difference in the first digital election?
CCCE is proud to be a founding partner in Youth04.org. Youth04 seeks to synthesize the best of the political Internet and the best of traditional grassroots organizing to transform the role 18-25 year olds will play in the 2004 election.
Youth04's chief goals are these:
In a word, Youth04 aims to create a relationship between young voters and candidates for political office, from President on down. The aim is to motivate both sides of the relationship to listen to each other. Youth04 aims to empower the young voters, and to make the system more responsive to them.
CCCE Research Initiatives in the Digital Election Project Include:
With support from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), CCCE director Lance Bennett and staff-member Mike Xenos (Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Concentration in Political Communication), along with CCCE undergraduate fellows Christine Lee, David Iozzi and Theda Braddock, have recently concluded a yearlong study of political and civic engagement resources available to young people on the Web, and links between these resources and political Web content aimed at wider audiences.
Integrating Center research on declining levels of youth engagement and the emerging role of the internet in American politics, the project documents the ways in which Web communication has been used to promote greater civic engagement among younger citizens and areas in which common practices fall short of utilizing the full potential of web-based political communication to reach out to American youth.
Please take a look at the executive summary and the full report on the CIRCLE Web site. The lists of the youth engagement and campaign sites included in the study are also available (Download Youth Engagement Sites PDF | Download Campaign Sites PDF).
Many of the campaigns for candidates running in the presidential primaries are producing multiple Web sites, each of which supports their Web presence in different ways. Dr. Kirsten Foot (CCCE Associate Director), Meghan Dougherty (CCCE graduate research assistant), and Meghan McLaughlin (CCCE undergraduate research assistant), are collaborating with Dr. Steve Schneider at the SUNY Institute of Technology on a study of presidential campaigns' use of the Web. Since March, 2003, they have been tracking the ways in which presidential campaigns engage in four practices of campaigning via the Web: informing, connecting, involving and mobilizing citizens. Although all the presidential campaigns use the Web for informing, they are doing so at different levels and through different types of information. Most of the presidential campaigns are currently employing about half of the potential features for connecting citizens with other political actors and involving them in supporting the campaign. A few of the campaigns are making extensive use of the Web's mobilizing capacities, enabling supporters to become direct advocates for the candidate. Visitors to the Political Web Info project site may use a feature grid that is updated monthly to compare presidential campaigns' Web practices and click on examples of features that support these practices from each campaign site.
How did the Dean campaign come from nowhere and into contention? This project under the direction of CCCE Director Lance Bennett and Undergraduate Research Fellow David Iozzi examines the growth of the national Dean network facilitated by self-organizing social software. Topics include: How Dean’s set online fundraising records. Why the national media paid attention. Why other campaigns have not learned to use the power of the internet and social software.
Our first report on the Dean Campaign is now available:
the Campaign Divide: Dean Changes the Election Game
CCCE Undergraduate Fellows Research
David Iozzi, who holds both CCCE and Mary Gates Undergraduate research fellowships, is writing his senior thesis on the use of the Internet by the 2004 presidential candidates. David’s research uses the online campaigning activity of presidential hopefuls to shed light on the question of how the Web can be used most effectively by political candidates. In particular, David is focusing on the emergence of “digital grassroots” campaign techniques most notably seen in the Howard Dean and Wesley Clark organizations. More broadly David’s project seeks to document the crystallization of new forms of networking and political mobilization, by analyzing complex linking structures between candidate Websites, personal Weblogs, and sites like MeetUp.com.
Undergraduate research fellow Christine Lee is also writing her senior thesis at the CCCE this year. Christine’s research takes a sweeping look at the state of youth political engagement, identifying key problem areas, exploring the potential emergence of college students as pivotal actors in the upcoming presidential election, and documenting the most promising avenues for greater youth engagement in civic and political life through politically oriented youth portals on the Web. Christine has assembled a collection of literature and findings related to her research on her own Website: