Virtual Campaigns

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Title: Virtual Campaigns Online Campaigning by Candidates in the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Whitson, Tyler
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2011
Publication Date: 2011


Subjects / Keywords: Blogs
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: In the case of blogs, it was found that activists attempted to vet potential candidates throughout the election, although it was not clear whether these blogs were part of the political establishment or a genuine grassroots attempt to influence the nomination process. In the case of candidate Web sites, it was found that the desires of the candidates to control their respective messages and protect them from outside influence limited the ways that the sites were designed, specifically in regard to ties to outside sources and interactivity between users.
Statement of Responsibility: by Tyler Whitson
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2011
Supplements: Accompanying materials: CD w/Images
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Mink, Joseph

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Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2011 W6
System ID: NCFE004516:00001

Permanent Link:

Material Information

Title: Virtual Campaigns Online Campaigning by Candidates in the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Whitson, Tyler
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2011
Publication Date: 2011


Subjects / Keywords: Blogs
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: In the case of blogs, it was found that activists attempted to vet potential candidates throughout the election, although it was not clear whether these blogs were part of the political establishment or a genuine grassroots attempt to influence the nomination process. In the case of candidate Web sites, it was found that the desires of the candidates to control their respective messages and protect them from outside influence limited the ways that the sites were designed, specifically in regard to ties to outside sources and interactivity between users.
Statement of Responsibility: by Tyler Whitson
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2011
Supplements: Accompanying materials: CD w/Images
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Mink, Joseph

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2011 W6
System ID: NCFE004516:00001

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VIRTUAL CAMPAIGNS: ONLINE CAMPAIGNING BY CANDIDATES IN THE 2010 US SENATE ELECTION IN FLORIDA BY TYLER WHITSON A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulllment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts in Political Science Under the sponsorship of Dr. Joseph Mink Sarasota, Florida May, 2011


VIRTUAL CAMPAIGNS: ONLINE CAMPAIGNING BY CANDIDATES IN THE 2010 US SENATE ELECTION IN FLORIDA Tyler Whitson New College of Florida, 2011 ABSTRACT !In the age of online communication, candidates are equipped with a more powerful, diverse and accessible set of tools than ever before to communicate with voters and develop a unique public image. At the same time, many of these tools are available to activists and voters who wish to use them to inuence elections. These developments have led to widespread speculation regarding the extent to which the heightened autonomy offered by Internet technology may affect the relationship between voters, candidates and political parties. !This thesis is intended to contribute to the existing body of research concerning what are referred to here as "virtual campaigns," or modern political campaigns that make signicant use of the Internet as a means to achieve their goals. This is accomplished through an investigation of the online presence of the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida and its candidates on two platforms in particular: political blogs, as an example of a potentially useful political resource available to voters and activists, and candidate Web sites, as an example of a powerful political tool available to candidates. In the case of blogs, it was found ii


that activists attempted to vet potential candidates throughout the election, although it was not clear whether these blogs were part of the political establishment or a genuine grassroots attempt to inuence the nomination process. In the case of candidate Web sites, it was found that the desires of the candidates to control their respective messages and protect them from outside inuence limited the ways that the sites were designed, specically in regard to ties to outside sources and interactivity between users. Dr. Joseph Mink Division of Social Sciences iii


Table of Contents Introduction! 1 I. The Co-evolution of Politics and Media in the United States! 18 II. The Political Blogging Community and Party Activism! 41 III. Candidate Web Sites and Public Image Control! 66 Conclusion! 86 References! 90 iv


Introduction !Former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean received considerable media attention in the early part of 2004 when he led an upstart candidacy for the Democratic nomination of that year s presidential race, doing far better than many spectators had predicted. Although Dean failed to receive the Democratic nomination, his campaign has demonstrated a tremendous inuence on the way that subsequent political campaigns have been run and will be remembered for shattering the expectations of campaign managers, political scientists and voters alike regarding what could be accomplished through online mobilization. In addition, Dean s campaign and the 2004 election prompted widespread excitement among media outlets and Web users about the Internet" s potential to improve public debate and further democratize the electoral system by empowering individuals and grassroots activists (Hindman 2005, 121, 124; Rainie 2005, 10) !These developments were inspired by Dean s ability to fulll several of the principal requirements of a respectable campaign early on in the election season and without the aid of substantial personal wealth or a popular reputation by raising substantial amounts of funding, mobilizing a sizable base of support, developing a nationwide media persona and obtaining endorsements from key political gures in a relatively short period of time. Even though Dean s efforts were not sufcient in the long run to achieve victory, his use of online campaign Whitson 1 of 102


strategies to meet several goals demonstrated the potential of the Internet as a campaign tool for future candidates. !First of all, as Governor of a small state in the northeast, Dean was not well-known on the national scene and therefore not expected to be able to raise considerable sums of money on his own. For him to have been able to raise $41 million much of it through his Web site by the end of January 2004, was astonishing. Even more so was the fact that 61 percent of the donations to Dean s campaign were made in sums of $200 or less and that 99 percent of total donors gave in this range, compared to the 11 percent of donations made in sums of $2000 by less than one percent of donors. 1 These proportions are even more striking when compared to those of Dean s opponents at the same point in time: donations of $2000 made up 58 percent of US Senator from Massachussetts John Kerry s funding, 73 percent of former US Senator from North Carolina John Edwards funding and 68 percent of former President George W. Bush" s funding (Center for Responsive Politics 2004; Hindman 2005). !Second, the ways in which word spread about Dean s candidacy were drastically different from what was prevalent at that point in time. A survey of Dean s volunteers conducted in October of 2003 found that only 23 percent of respondents stated that they had learned about "meetups" local meetings or "house parties" organized online for and by Dean supporters through a Web site called from friends or peers and that nearly the entirety of the rest of those polled had learned about these events online from Dean s national Whitson 2 of 102 1 $2000 is the legal limit for direct campaign donations established under the Federal Election Campaign Act.


Web site, an unofcial pro-Dean Web site or from the home page at (Williams, Weinberg and Gordon 2004). 2 These gures stand in stark contrast to the ndings of previous research which demonstrated that more than 80 percent of average campaign volunteers were recruited through direct and personal interactions ( Hindman 2005; Verba, Schlozman and Brady 1995). Third, Dean was able to accomplish a goal that candidates very rarely meet by mobilizing a large number of volunteers who had never taken part in a campaign before. A survey conducted in October of 2003 found that only 39 percent of Dean volunteers stated that they had offered their services in a previous campaign, which is particularly unusual considering the volume of studies which have shown that somewhere between two-thirds and four-fths of most campaign volunteer pools are made up of individuals who have offered their services in previous campaigns (Hindman 2005, 125; Williams, Weinberg and Gordon 2004). 3 !Finally, Dean used his Web site to appeal to base voters, or those with "strong party afliations and strong preexisting views on politics," instead of median voters, a group which consists of swing voters, independents and undecided voters (Hindman 2005, 124). Up to this point, candidates commonly designed their Web sites to target median voters in the hopes of persuading them directly but often had little success. Dean s approach was more indirect but ultimately more effective because he was able to mobilize his base which was Whitson 3 of 102 2 The same survey was repeated in January of 2004 and found that this gure had risen to 31 percent. 3 The same survey was repeated in January of 2004 and found that this gure had risen to 47 percent.


far more likely to visit his Web site into actively converting median voters into supporters (Bimber and Davis 2003; Hindman 2005). While all of these factors led many to view Dean s candidacy as a grassroots phenomenon made possible by the increasing popularity of the Internet, the role that small private donations played is of particular importance to this view and is something that was not exclusive to the Dean campaign or the election in which he was running. In the 2008 election, for example, President Obama was reported to have mobilized over 3 million individual donors to his campaign who, combined, donated a total of 6.5 million times online, 6 million of which were in sums of less than $100 each (Vargas 2008). Also, most of those who donated gave less than $1000 total and approximately 2.5 million of the 3.5 million reported donors approximately 71 percent gave less than $200 total. In comparison, the number of donors who gave less than $200 to the Obama campaign exceeded that which gave in the same range to all of the combined candidates in the 2004 election (Malbin, Glavin and Dusso 2008). !Astonishingly, nal 2008 campaign gures show that Obama raised greater than 57 percent of his campaign contributions in sums of less than $200 and US Senator from Arizona John McCain raised 35 percent of his campaign contributions within the same range. This shows a marked increase from the 2004 elections, which showed Kerry raising 31 percent of his contributions and Bush 32 percent of his contributions in donations less than $200 (Center for Responsive Politics 2008a). Undoubtedly, the Internet has played an increasingly vital role in making these small donations possible. In the 2008 election, for Whitson 4 of 102


example, Obama raised over 80 percent of his contributions online, which comes out to over $500 million, an absolutely unprecedented achievement (Vargas 2008). In comparison to past elections, this gure is almost equal to the combined funds raised online in 2004 by Bush and Kerry (Weintraub 2008, 473). !What else is remarkable about these donors is that their gender makeup is straying increasingly from that of previous norms. For example, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, approximately 44 percent of Obama s donors were women and they provided about 42 percent of his total donations (Center for Responsive Politics 2008b). McCain s demographics are more difcult to ascertain, however, because he was forced to stop accepting donations for his own campaign after accepting his nomination and signing his public funding contract, the same time that he named former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as his running mate. Prior to accepting his nomination, McCain s demographics did not deviate from the status quo: he raised 72 percent of his campaign contributions from men, the group that made up 72 percent of his contributors. However, after McCain named Palin his running mate, contributions to the Republican National Convention from women skyrocketed, surpassing $1 million in just a few hours (Mullins 2008). The Women" s Campaign Forum Foundation reported that, before the general election season had begun in 2008, women had donated three times as much to candidates as they had in the entire 2000 election season and almost as much as they had in the entire 2004 election season (2009). Whitson 5 of 102


!These statistics demonstrate a radical change from the 2000 election s donor demographics, in which over 70 percent of campaign donors for both candidates were male, nearly 96 percent were white and most were over the age of 50, held college degrees and had family incomes of $100,000 or more (Overton 2004, 153). Weintraub and Levine (2009) have lauded the character of many of the newly participating donors, highlighting what appears to be their desire to contribute to an ideological cause rather than make an attempt to gain inuence through the leverage of capital. The authors state proudly that these donors "present virtually no threat of corruption, and they exemplify the spirit of the First Amendment," (474). Essentially, the idea is that these types of donations are essentially more democratic than those given by afuent, college-educated white males because they represent the desires of more diverse groups of individuals that are more representative of the overall American population and are often discouraged from political participation. !In addition, there is a widespread optimism among critics concerning the Internet s capabilities for reducing political corruption by making information more accessible to the public. Contributing to this viewpoint is the fact that candidates in the 2008 presidential campaign voluntarily posted all public donations online in order to further the transparency of their own funding. Furthermore, certain critics have argued that the very nature of fundraising online makes it less susceptible to corruption because "raising funds over the Internet substantially limits the opportunities for the kind of actual or apparent improper inuence that can arise in direct face-to-face or telephone solicitations by candidates," (Weintraub 2009, Whitson 6 of 102


472). Hasen (2008) was also optimistic, stating his condence that the Internet s potential as a democratizing tool for egalitarians is only beginning to be tapped. He believed that the increased signicance of small donations is consequently decreasing the political inuence of capital-intensive entities such as corporations (1). In spite of the importance of raising money in an election, it is only one step in conducting a successful campaign online and is practically irrelevant if the candidate is unable to properly communicate with and mobilize voters. Consequentially, the Internet plays an enormous role in the latter process by reshaping the ways in which voters gather political information. As Dean discovered in 2004, developing the proper strategies to exploit this phenomenon can be extremely rewarding, due to the fact that the American population is quickly reaching a major turning point in the methods in which it gathers and distributes its political information. !Although local and national broadcast news stations continue to be the most popular sources of political information for Americans about 78 percent and 73 percent, respectively, responded that they check these sources for news on a typical day the Internet is now following closely behind at 61 percent and has recently surpassed radio (54 percent) and newspapers (50 percent) in popularity as news sources (Purcell et al. 2010, 10). While these gures are constantly transforming, it appears that they are doing so in a relatively consistent and predictable manner, with television decreasing in popularity while Internet sources increase in favor. For example, the number of Americans who Whitson 7 of 102


listed the Internet as their top source for congressional election coverage in 2010 rose by nine percent from 2006, whereas the number of those who listed television as their top source decreased by two percent in the same span of time (Smith 2011, 3). It appears likely that this trend will continue at an increasingly rapid rate as citizens migrate to the Internet for a greater proportion of their informational needs. !Demographic ndings provide strong evidence for this hypothesis. Adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are three times more likely to utilize the Internet as a tool for gathering political information in this specic case, presidential campaign information than adults over the age of 65 (Winneg, Kenski and Jamieson 2008, 2). However, this does not indicate that older Americans are not interested in the Internet. On the contrary, evidence has recently been uncovered which shows that larger percentages of older generations are not only connecting to the Internet, but those already connected are increasing their online activity (Jones & Fox 2009, 2). In addition, a recent survey has found that Americans over the age of 65 consume the most news overall, with 70 percent stating that they follow the news "all or most of the time," as compared to 35 percent between the ages of 18 and 29 (Purcell et al. 2010, 9). Based on these two ndings about older Americans, one could predict that they will become increasingly dependent on the Internet as a source of news and political information as they become more active online, thus increasing the Internet s overall signicance as a political tool for citizens. Whitson 8 of 102


!It is apparent that, as the American population as a whole ages and as older generations become more active online, it is likely that political information gathering using the Internet will continue to become more prevalent. Just as occurred with the rise of cheap newspapers, radio and television, the increasing inuence of the Internet has inspired political scientists to reevaluate the American media system in terms of the potential effects of the new technology, particularly the ways in which the Internet impacts political participation and the behaviors that citizens exhibit when seeking out information. At the same time, political candidates and campaign advisors are working to exploit this research, since their political viability is dependent upon disseminating messages to as many people as possible and in the most convincing way possible and the Internet provides them with what may be the most economical and efcient tool to do so. !The Internet may help to offset a substantial amount of the costs which were once associated with running a campaign by offering candidates an alternative to the capital and labor-intensive means of mobilizing and communicating with voters associated with elections of the past. The resources required to design and maintain a candidate Web site, write blog posts, compile e-mail lists and voter data, send out bulletins and updates, design and exploit social networking Web site accounts, upload videos and other media and generally disseminate information, communicate with voters and organize support meetings online pale in comparison to traditional means which include Whitson 9 of 102


mass mailings, door-to-door mobilization and purchases of television, radio and print ads. 4 !Internet technologies are also efcient for candidates in that they seem to have helped lower the costs to citizens of supporting a campaign. Activists and voters can perform valuable functions for candidates, including fundraising, donating money, mobilizing voters and volunteers, planning events and disseminating information all without having to leave their computers. As a result, it seems that voters who were not previously inspired to participate in campaigns have become more active in doing so. Furthermore, since these voters can more easily work directly with candidates and receive campaign updates in real time directly from the candidates rather than being recruited by and communicating through political parties, they may be more loyal to these candidates than they would be simply based on party identication. This loyalty was apparent during the Dean and Obama campaigns in which a greater number of voters began to provide support for candidates earlier on in the election season. !Another result of the accessibility and convenience of Internet technologies is that candidates have been receiving an increasing proportion of contributions directly from donors using their Web sites rather than having to channel them through intermediaries like political parties. The sheer number of donors can be advantageous for candidates under the limits imposed by the Whitson 10 of 102 4 This is not to imply that the latter means are no longer necessary or that they have been outmoded by technology. Rather, the argument is that technology offers alternatives that appear increasingly viable as time progresses.


Federal Election Commission (FEC) because a greater number of smaller donations can surpass the total amount received by a smaller number of larger donations. 5 In the case of candidates who do not possess the startup capital necessary to begin their campaigns by investing in traditional mobilization techniques, the fact that designing a Web site is relatively cheap and quick is an extremely helpful rst step in developing a campaign. !The optimism concerning the Internet s potential for democracy has not all been centered around indirect improvements for citizens that have resulted from their being given greater access to a larger pool of candidates. There are others who emphasize the possibility of Internet access granting citizens an increased autonomy in directly expressing their own interests on the political scene. It is argued that this is possible because of the Internet s cyclical nature information can be transmitted, consumed, critiqued or retransmitted relatively indiscriminately by users in a way that was not possible during the television era. Gurevitch et al. make the point that "in the era of digital interactivity, the production of political messages and images is much more vulnerable to disruption at the point of reception," (2009, 171). !Optimists may argue that the Internet may be the closest that any system of mass communication has come to being a suitable vehicle for democratic dialogue. It must be conceded, however, that there are numerous aws which Whitson 11 of 102 5 In the case of presidential candidates, direct online contributions have had a tremendous effect on the ways in which they run their campaigns. Traditionally, presidential candidates are entitled to a limited sum of public funding, which is adjusted every term according to ination, once they win their party s nomination. However, by accepting this money, the candidates are also agreeing that they will halt any further fundraising. Considering the tremendous amounts of money which presidential candidates have demonstrated can be raised online, they are increasingly refusing public funding in exchange for the freedom to raise their own funds without limit.


detract from the Internet s potential to satisfy this idealized denition, such as the division between those who have access to the Internet and those who do not, or what has been termed the "digital divide." Nonetheless, it can still have the overall effect of encouraging a large number of citizens to take interest in politics and prompt them to feel more relevant to today s political society, potentially increasing participation among those who have not shown prior interest in politics. !The growth of network technology is unique in that it has the ability to parallel ofine personal communication on a massive scale. It allows voters to commiserate and organize for certain causes, whether they be policyor candidate-related, and, some would argue, exert their own inuence through the media. For example, citizens can use the same tools exploited by political candidates to disseminate their own messages by building their own Web sites, organizing their own mailing lists, running critical political blogs, organizing social networks and more. Such strategies should not be taken lightly by candidates. For example, many political blogs have high levels of readership and therefore can theoretically exert a considerable amount of inuence on elections, especially during the primary season. In some cases, citizens have attempted to use a candidate s own tools against him or her by, for example, posting negative comments on a candidate s blog or social networking account which may be viewed by potential voters. Whether or not these attempts are taken seriously by candidates or voters, they should still be taken into account because the information is still published online to be read by interested citizens. Whitson 12 of 102


!In spite of the potential harm that can be inicted upon candidates by individuals using the Internet, the advantages can easily outweigh the disadvantages if a candidate is shrewd in how he or she goes about a campaign. Arguably the most signicant way for a candidate to do so is to target the proper audience. In other words, if a candidate makes sure to appeal to demographics that are politically active online, he or she may be able to quickly amass a group of dedicated followers who are likely to possess a substantial amount of social capital and be willing to use it to persuade others to support the candidate by exploiting various platforms, a technique which can be considered a type of social bundling. In certain cases, for instance, the candidate may be able to convince a small number of more dedicated political activists to post on political blogs to express their support for the candidate. In other cases, a candidate may be able to depend on a larger number of supporters to spread the word using more convenient and less time-consuming platforms such as social networks. !While it is clear how candidates can use online strategies to improve their chances of winning elections, there exist advantages which may be less obvious to voters. As Gurevitch et al. stated, disseminating messages online may make them more "vulnerable to disruption at the point of reception," (2009, 171). Whether or not this disruption occurs, the gesture that a candidate makes in taking this risk may broadcast the notion that he or she is more concerned with allowing voters greater freedom to respond to a topic and commiserate with other voters than he or she is in protecting a particular image. In other words, the notion of an increasingly democratic political landscape is one which candidates Whitson 13 of 102


can reinforce through the strategic use of different communication platforms online and ultimately exploit in order to to gain votes and support. 6 !This viewpoint has led many to wonder whether the existence of the political tools made available by the Internet actually function to further democratize elections in the United States or whether this is just a propagated illusion, a question that is widely contested by political commentators. While there is unfortunately no clear way to answer this, the arguments made on both sides bring to light a connection which may make a more feasible point of departure for research. In other words, all of the developments discussed so far in this paper regarding the Internet s role in contemporary elections share one common factor, which is that the Internet appears to strengthen the mediated relationship between candidates and voters. This is apparent in two ways. First, the Internet appears to have the potential to strengthen the emphasis placed on candidates as the central gures of elections due to its abilities to supplement services traditionally carried out by political parties, in particular fundraising and mobilization. Second, as evidenced by the Dean and Obama campaigns, the Internet appears to have encouraged citizens who were previously not involved in campaigns to volunteer to support or oppose particular candidates using tools which are not only convenient but may provide them with real political leverage. !The rst idea is supported by research that has tracked developments in election politics over the past two centuries, beginning with what is often termed Whitson 14 of 102 6 A strategy of this type, such as that of Dean" s decision during the 2004 presidential election to run a message board on his Web site intended to allow supporters to communicate with one another in a public forum, may function to build a trust among supporters that would outweigh its potential consequences for his campaign.


the "mass party era" and continuing into the present day, or what is termed the "contemporary era ." The principal claim of this research is that elections in the contemporary era focus chiey on political candidates as the key gures of elections, whereas the mass party era saw candidates largely dependent on parties for voter recognition (Aldrich 1995). Prior to the 1880s, when single ticket voting was common practice, for example, voters were frequently less concerned with who candidates were than with which parties they represented (Wattenberg 1991, 33). Starting in the 1960s, according to these arguments, the candidate s image during an election has become increasingly relevant in comparison with that of the party he or she represents, partially because television and computers have allowed political candidates to establish a visual presence in American homes. !Much has occurred, however, since television began to lose its place as the primary form of media consumption in the US. In the age of online communication, specically, candidates are equipped with a more powerful, diverse and, most importantly, accessible set of tools than ever before to communicate with voters and create the impression of a more personalized and democratic relationship between candidates and their constituents. These developments have led many to speculate generally about to what extent the heightened autonomy offered by Internet technology may affect the relationship between candidates and the parties that they represent. !This thesis is intended to contribute to the existing body of research concerning what are referred to here as "virtual campaigns," or modern Whitson 15 of 102


campaigns which make signicant use of the Internet as a means to achieve their goals. I plan to explore the effectiveness of these types of campaigns by performing an investigation of the online presence of the three popular candidates in the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida: Republican and US Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, Democrat and former Florida Representative Kendrick Meek and independent but formerly Republican former Governor of Florida Charlie Crist. !Although a single case study will not provide conclusive evidence of the effects of the Internet on political campaigns, this case may provide a valuable foundation for directing future research by raising important questions. That being said, this particular case was chosen because it clearly demonstrated two developments which may reect the changing nature of political parties in the contemporary age while simultaneously providing a more traditional element for comparison. First, the Republican nominee Rubio made active use of the Internet as a tool for gaining supporters by constructing an elaborate Web site and making a concerted effort to appeal to critical bloggers and ideological activists who have often exhibited a strong online presence. In this way, he was able to combine the resources and loyalty that are part of gaining a party nomination with the dedicated support of activist voters and the utility of novel campaign techniques. Second, the upsurge of support for this exceptionally conservative candidate during the primary elections prompted his main contender for the nomination, then-Republican Governor of Florida Crist, to disassociate himself from the Republican Party altogether and run as an independent, although using Whitson 16 of 102


many traditional strategies of candidate-centered campaigns which include a reliance on name recognition, a further move toward the policy center during the general election, and expensive media purchases. Finally, the Democratic nominee Meek relied heavily on his party s support during the general election and did not deviate signicantly from long-established, party-based campaign strategies, thereby providing a strong case for comparison with the other candidates. !My analysis will be divided into three chapters which will be followed by a short conclusion. Chapter 1 is dedicated rst to developing a basis for argument through an historical consideration of the campaign functions carried out by political parties and how they have changed over time in conjunction with developments in media technology. Chapter 2 is an analysis of political blogs and their potential as a tool for activists to inuence elections by vetting candidates, mobilizing supporters and raising funds. Chapter 3 is an analysis of the effort by each candidate in the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida to strategically construct, develop, maintain and promote a public persona using his Web site. 7 Whitson 17 of 102 7 My examination in Chapters 2 and 3 will be largely descriptive and is designed not to verify or prove that any particular causal relationship exists among the variables involved in this case, but rather to contribute to a larger body of research concerning the relationship between contemporary elections and Internet technology in the hopes that this may help researchers in the future develop testable theories.


I The Co-evolution of Politics and Media in the United States !During what has been referred to as the "golden age" of political parties a period that lasted from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century electoral politics in the United States essentially centered around the interactions of three primary agents: candidates, party ofcials and party voters (Herrnson 2002). In a simplied explanation of this process, one could say that candidates would vie for the approval of party ofcials by demonstrating their public appeal, party ofcials would vet candidates, deliberate and eventually lend the party s resources to the candidate that they believed most represented the party and would have the best chance of winning an election, and nally voters would cast their ballots for the candidate or party that they felt best served their interests. The contemporary era of electoral politics has seen a reorientation of the roles of these three primary agents: voters now have a greater say regarding which candidates represent their parties, candidates are now seen as the central gures of elections and parties have recongured to become more like service organizations while at the same time becoming more ideologically consistent and policy focused (Aldrich 1995, 282). 8 At the same time, the role of the media has become so integral to elections that it could possibly be considered a fourth agent: voters rely on the media as a means to learn about candidates and Whitson 18 of 102 8 This is not to say that parties are necessarily weaker than they were prior to the 1960s, but rather that party power in the contemporary era is more dispersed, both in its apparent inuence over candidates and voters, and is channeled in a more complex way through a greater number of actors and organizations, thereby making it less obvious to the public.


candidates turn to the media as the most efcient and effective way to appeal to large numbers of voters (Aldrich 1995, 289). The purpose of this chapter is to explain how this occurred and consider the implications that it has for voters and candidates in modern elections. Party reconguration !The shift in election dynamics away from party focus toward candidate focus was made possible because of three historical contingencies that happened to overlap during the decade of the 1960s and signaled the beginning of a new electoral era. First, the decline of the Roosevelt coalition that had allowed the Democratic Party to dominate national politics since the 1930s reached its nadir, which was reected in Richard Nixon" s victory in 1968. Second, a movement of restlessness manifested itself within the Democratic Party, forcefully articulating its concerns about the lack of voter representation in the candidate selection process and eventually achieving its goals through the establishment of the McGovern-Fraser Commission and the implementation of the electoral reforms it suggested prior to the 1972 election. Third, the Nixon campaign utilized a new strategy to remake Nixon s image and "sell" his candidacy by employing experts and techniques outside of the traditional party leadership. !For some political scientists writing at the time, the victory of Richard Nixon and the Republican Party in 1968 came not as a surprise but as the perceived fulllment of a prediction (Burnham 1985; Wattenberg 1991). Since the late 1950s and early 1960s, proponents of a newly developed theory that Whitson 19 of 102


centered around the idea of "partisan realignments" had proposed that a major shift in voter preferences would precipitate a transfer of power between political parties in the election of either 1960 or 1964. This idea was based on a theory proposed by V.O. Key in 1955 that characterized electoral politics by periods of relative stability which were dened by the dominance of certain ideas or political parties and were followed by massive shifts in public sentiment that led to the rise of a new party to power and the subordination of the previous ruling party until the next "critical election," (4). Key s postulation caught on quickly among political scientists, but the term critical election was soon replaced by "partisan realignment" because many saw the voting readjustments which he identied as being strongly reective of partisan preferences (Aldrich 1995, 261). !According to Key s observations at the time of the article s publication, the last realignment had occurred in either 1928 with the gains of Democratic presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith or in 1932 with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the tremendous power takeover by the Democratic Party and the ofcial start of the New Deal era (Key 1955, 4). This assumption led followers to predict, based on the historical interpretation that partisan realignments had taken place approximately every 30 to 36 years prior to the New Deal, that the next great shift in voter preferences would likely occur in either 1964 or 1968 (Burnham 1970). But did Richard Nixon s victory in 1968 really justify this conjecture? This seemed unlikely, due to the fact the Democratic Party still held a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which lasted until 1980 and even after continued to be the case more often than not. Whitson 20 of 102


!These inconsistencies led political scientists in the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s to rethink the theory of partisan realignment into one of a dealignment of the electorate in general and propose that, while major shifts in electoral alignment did perhaps occur in or around 1968, the crucial point did not lie in a shift toward a new system of power within the parties. Instead, it was proposed that the changes were more structural in that the electorate was moving away from parties in general (Burnham 1985; Wattenberg 1991). There were three developments within electoral politics that led political scientists to develop the theory of a dealignment of the electorate. First, voters appeared to attribute a continuously decreasing relevance to the two major parties in elections. 9 Second, there has been a rise of "candidate-centered elections," or an increased focus on candidates as the central gures of elections as well as an increased role of candidates in running their own campaigns. Third, there has been a reorientation of parties as being "in service" to candidates, providing resources to support the candidate s own campaign as opposed to orchestrating it themselves (Wattenberg 1991, 32). !One of the main principles of dealignment theory, however, doesn" t seem to have stood the test of time. Proponents would have expected party identication to continue to decrease over time, but it seems that it has plateaued and even bounced back slightly since the 1980s. According to a poll by Whitson 21 of 102 9 This was evidenced in polling data gathered by the National Election Survey which suggested that voters began to view the parties as less relevant to elections since the proportion of voters who identied as either Democrats or Republicans had declined from 75 percent in the period between 1952 and 1964 to 64 percent in 1972 until nally in 1988 more identied as independents than either Democrats or Republicans (Wattenberg 1990).


Rasmussen taken in April 2011, for example, the American electorate is divided relatively evenly into three groups, with 34.8 percent identifying as Republican, 33.5 percent identifying as Democrats and 31.7 percent stating that they do not identify with either party. 10 This plateau had became obvious by the 1990s and led to a challenge to dealignment theory referred to here as reconguration put forth by Aldrich (1995), which states that parties, rather than becoming weaker, have reconstructed the mechanisms by which they inuence elections and therefore the way that they are perceived by the American electorate, which would explain why they will likely never reach the heights of partisan identication that they enjoyed prior to the 1960s, why candidates are now seen as the central gures of elections and why parties are seen as being more in service to candidates, even though they are now stronger by other standards in that they have become more ideologically consistent and policy oriented. Aldrich also argues that partisanship among candidates is still an important factor in elections, stating that the "autonomous, ambitious candidates" of the contemporary era are "nonetheless overwhelmingly partisans" because "competition makes partisan brand names valuable to candidates in solving, in signicant if preliminary measure, the collective action problem of information in the electorate," (290). !Arguably the most important catalyst for the changes that led to the contemporary era was the growing desire of the electorate for a more transparent Whitson 22 of 102 10 These statistics can be misleading, however, because it has been estimated that more than two-thirds of voters who identify as independents end up voting for either Democrats or Republicans in general elections. This nding has been used as an argument against dealignment theory (Schmidt et al 2009, 312).


and more democratic party system. This desire had, by 1968, become strikingly obvious due to the friction it was creating on the national scene that could be epitomized by the violence which took place in Grant Park on August 28, 1968 outside of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. The scene was televised and broadcast live into the homes of 89 million Americans who watched as one hundred police ofcers armed with riot gear descended upon a group of 10,000 protestors, beating them with batons, spraying pepper spray indiscriminately at demonstrators and bystanders alike and unleashing a volume of tear gas so massive that it eventually made its way into adjacent city streets (Farber 1988, 205; Gitlin 1987, 331). Inside of the nearby International Amphitheatre, Democratic representatives, party ofcials and delegates were arguing about which candidate George McGovern of South Dakota, Hubert Humphrey or Eugene McCarthy, both of Minnesota would succeed President Lyndon Johnson as the ofcial nominee of the Democratic party, following the incumbent s announcement that he would not be running for reelection. The delegates eventually made a decision that prompted further voter frustration and backlash by selecting Humphrey a candidate with a vague stance on the Vietnam War who had the support of Johnson but had not participated in the primary elections and had therefore not demonstrated popular support in spite of the fact that 80 percent of primary voters had voted for anti-war candidates (Gitlin 1987, 331). !The effects of this disaster on the American public consciousness are perhaps best expressed in a statement by moderate political gure Arthur Whitson 23 of 102


Waskow, who wrote that Chicago "challenged the most important liberal dogma, the one that America is a free and democratic country with only a few major faults that need to be reformed," and that "our armies of the night need new recruits to get them, we must invent a political course of action, not street tactics," (Waskow 1970, 154, 158). The entire media spectacle served as a wake-up call to the Democratic Party by highlighting its inability to respond effectively to the desires of its members because it ultimately made its candidate selections based on the decisions of delegates who were not constrained by voters. Furthermore, it demonstrated the complete frustration of party voters with this process and the growing sentiment that a party which ignores the desires of its voters is not democratic. !In an attempt to save the reputation of the Democratic Party, its leaders appointed a committee, known as the McGovern-Fraser Commission, to draft a document of suggested reforms that would address the concerns of voters. The resulting report s guidelines, which were designed with the ultimate intent of making the candidate selection procedure more responsive to voters, were integrated into party procedures in time for the 1972 presidential election. The revisions thoroughly opened up the voting process for the Democratic presidential nominees by drastically limiting the private selection of delegates by party ofcials, making the election of delegates more timely, allowing all party members to vote for delegates making explicitly sure to provide representative voting power to women, racial minorities and those under the age of 30 and adjusting the number of delegates from each state to be proportional to its Whitson 24 of 102


population. As a result, primaries would become an inuential part of presidential, congressional and state elections for the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party, which was forced by state law in the 1970s and 1980s to integrate the proposals into its own procedures. Ultimately, this restructuring of party procedures would transfer considerable power over nominee selection from local, state and national party leaders to the rank and le members of the party, thereby increasing the importance of a candidate s image in his or her chances of winning a party nomination (Green and Herrnson 2002, 48; Aldrich 1995, 254-255, Polsby 1983). !Before any of these changes could occur, and indeed before the McGovern-Fraser Commission was even drafted, Nixon embarked on a campaign that seemed to predict the effects that it would have on future elections by placing a strong emphasis on his own image as a candidate. Nixon had learned from his loss against John F. Kennedy in 1960 that the way a candidate" s image is perceived by the public is one of the most crucial elements in an election, especially in an era dominated by television. In order to do so, Nixon hired a staff of advertising agents and young men who could offer him advice on how to present himself on television as a marketable product. His team s efforts consisted of making Nixon appear comfortable, condent and passionate about communicating with the American public on television by "controlling him and the atmosphere around him," (McGinnis 1969, 39). !This control became the key to Nixon s campaign and may have been the strategy that led him to victory because it enabled him not only to promote a Whitson 25 of 102


positive image of himself to the American public, but also to convey the idea that a personal relationship existed between himself and the potential voter. This is possible because the media can be considered both a type of public space, due to the fact that so many Americans are exposed to it, and a type of private space because it often invades one s personal life. Furthermore, since politicians tend to be dominating and powerful gures in the media, their status as inhabiting the public realm, which can ascribe to them an air of celebrity and inspire awe in the viewer, can also overlap into the personal realm, which can fabricate a sense of intimacy between the viewer and the politician. When all of this occurs at once, it is possible for a politician s image to give rise to feelings of power and inspiration in the viewer (Miroff 1982). Nixon" s ability to use television so cunningly for this purpose, and to do so using the aid of advisors outside of the realm of political parties, may have inspired many successive candidates to do the same. Regardless of where politicians have drawn their inuence, however, it is clear that candidates have become more adept at using images as a campaign tool and that elections have become more visually oriented than they were in the 1960s two developments that have occurred alongside the increased focus on candidates that is characteristic of the contemporary era. Redening electoral history In order to truly comprehend the possible implications of party reconguration on the current state of electoral politics, it is necessary to examine the historical events that led up to it. However, since reconsidering the momentous shifts that took place in the 1960s as signifying a reconguration of Whitson 26 of 102


parties rather than a dealignment of the electorate or a partisan realignment involves developing a new perspective of those events, this must also be applied to the previous historical eras in order for them to be understood properly. Silbey has attempted to do so, arguing that electoral history can be recharacterized by four distinct periods: "(1) A preparty era from the 1790s to the late 1830s; (2) A party era that solidied in the 1830s and lasted into the 1890s; (3) A decliningparty era that began in the 1890s and stretched into the 1950s; and (4) An increasingly postparty era," (2002, 2). 11 Having established this more critical view of electoral history, it is now possible to examine the progressions that led to the contemporary era. Since this investigation is concerned with the restructuring of parties, it will begin with the period which Silbey termed the "party era," Aldrich called the "mass party era" and Herrnson believes to be "the golden age of political parties," (Aldrich 1995, 272; Herrnson 2002, 48). During this period, the Democratic and Republican parties were made up of strong local and state organizations that were more loosely connected by their respective national institutions but were not subordinate to them. In addition to being powerful in comparison to these national networks, political parties were steadfast, meaning that it was not unusual for a party organization to maintain nearly hegemonic control over a city or county for a prolonged period of time. These local party organizations came to be known as "machines" for their streamlined efforts and powerful holds on elected positions in their respective zones, which were often Whitson 27 of 102 11 By "declining-party" and "postparty," Silbey is referring not to the overall strength of the parties as institutions inuencing elections, but rather to the direct control that party leaders once imposed upon the selection of candidates.


so tight that they stood unchallenged by the opposing party because it was understood that such an endeavor would be so strenuous and costly that the resources would be better spent in other geographical areas. Moreover, the power of party machines did not lie only in local elections. They had the capabilities and resources to unite the legislative and executive branches of local and state governments for their own ends and could exert tremendous inuence over national elections and courts (Herrnson 2002, 48-49). !In addition to this powerful external inuence, party ofcials at the higher levels of these machines, often referred to as bosses, had virtually unopposed authority when it came to selecting candidates for ofce, which was done behind closed doors. Furthermore, parties maintained a "virtual monopoly over the tools needed to run a successful campaign," (Herrnson 2002, 49). In other words, candidates depended on their respective parties for the labor, nancial capital, technological skills and media inuence necessary to run compelling campaigns. Without access to these assets in particular a strong labor force, which was an absolute requirement during this period because the technology which is so integral to contemporary elections did not yet exist ofce seekers had little to no prospects for victory (Aldrich 1995, 272). !It was an ambitious candidate s rst and foremost priority, therefore, to obtain the approval of these bosses, because without it he or she would be unable to obtain the desired nomination. Most importantly, this power structure played an essential role in shaping candidates platforms and rhetoric because they knew that they had to demonstrate a greater degree of "electability" than Whitson 28 of 102


their opponents, as well as a certain level of representativeness of the party s image, in order to gain the support of their bosses. As a result, the parties were perceived by the electorate as cohesive units which tended more toward the center of the policy spectrum than to either of its fringes (Aldrich 1995, 164). !Unfortunately for party bosses, their inuence began to see a decline toward the end of the nineteenth century, partly because members of the popular progressive movement, which had members in both parties and lasted approximately from the 1880s to the 1920s, became concerned about the potential for corruption that such overarching power made available to those who held it. Party members who sought more democratic processes within the parties themselves initiated a string of reforms over the course of the progressive era that permanently weakened the direct authority of party bosses (Herrnson 2002, 50). !First, the civil service was established in the 1880s, which opened up the hiring process for a number of government jobs, thereby restricting party bosses from appointing individuals to many powerful government positions without concern for merit. 12 Then, in the 1890s, progressives acted on their desires to reduce the level of partisan voting and to make it more difcult for parties to buy votes by enacting ballot reforms which encouraged voting ofces to use government-issued split tickets that listed the candidates for both parties (as well as independents and third-party candidates) alongside each other. Prior to this reform, parties would print their own ballots that listed only candidates Whitson 29 of 102 12 This was originally a small number, but increased over time.


representing that party, which had made it convenient for citizens to vote in a partisan manner by simply dropping the ballot from their chosen party into the ballot box. Furthermore, the new ballot format made it easier for voters to pick and choose candidates, regardless of party afliation and in a more private manner (Wattenberg 1991, 33). Later, in 1913, Congress passed the Seventeenth Amendment, which established the direct election of US Senators by popular vote instead of selection by state legislatures. !What may have been the most signicant blow to the strength of party bosses was the string of electoral reforms and new civil service regulations which together abolished the practice of party bosses appointing presidential, congressional, state and local ofce nominees in private. These were enacted from within the parties by voters, primarily progressives, who looked upon the nomination process with suspicion and desired a more transparent and democratic process for determining which candidates would represent the party. It s important to point out, however, that these reforms were not enough to create the open primary that is known today because most delegates were still elected by party ofcials, although they did potentially allow for some delegates to be elected by party voters and at the very least permitted the public and media outlets to witness these previously secretive procedures (Herrnson 2002, 50; Aldrich 1995, 281; Wattenberg 1991, 33). !Together, these reforms are believed to have made it possible for candidates to appeal more directly to the public during primaries, thereby allowing candidates the potential to become the central gures of elections. It has Whitson 30 of 102


been argued that John F. Kennedy" s candidacy, successive primary wins and ultimate election in 1960 was the rst true example of a candidate-centered election, even though his primary wins, particularly those in Wisconsin and West Virginia, were more symbolic than effective. In other words, they functioned mainly to prove to party ofcials and delegates, who still very much had the nal say in selecting candidates, that Kennedy was capable of winning a general election (Aldrich 1995, 271). !It seems then, that the progressive era reforms functioned less to democratize presidential primaries than they did to expose their undemocratic nature for public scrutiny. However, the fact that the shortcomings of the procedure were so blatant at this point helped to accelerate the shift toward open primaries that were proposed by the McGovern-Fraser Commission and instated prior to the election of 1972. The inuence of the media on electoral politics !The structural reforms that occurred in between the party era and the contemporary era that functioned to democratize the candidate selection processes of the Democratic and Republican parties allowed for an external set of actors to gradually increase its indirect role in the selection procedures. First, during the progressive era, media outlets were given the opportunity to broadcast and commentate upon the parties inner workings, thereby assisting in raising public awareness of their shortcomings. Later, the McGovern-Fraser Commission strengthened the direct connection between candidates and party voters, thereby increasing the inuence of outside actors during the nomination process, Whitson 31 of 102


including those of interest groups, activists, corporations, unions and media outlets. !The changes implemented during the rst wave of primary reforms in the progressive era did not have an immediate effect because it took time for candidates, voters, parties and the media to adapt to the new system by developing the proper technological skills and knowledge to effectively exploit it for their respective ends. However, it seems that this had occurred for the most part by the 1960s and that, from that point on, these new interests had thoroughly entrenched themselves in the nomination process. Polsby even went so far as to argue that the news and publicity media had replaced political parties as "primary organizers of citizen action and legitimizers of public decisions." He also stated that it is highly unlikely that such a sweeping transformation would have been possible over this "relatively short period of time" without powerful advancements in media technology and a steady reorientation of the public consciousness toward these new forms of communication (1996, 313). Aldrich agrees with this point, stating that, by the 1960s, "it became technologically feasible for a candidate to substitute his or her own campaign organization for the party s" and that "the effective monopoly of the old-style party of Van Buren over access to ofce was broken," (1995, 289). !It is important to note at this point that the principal form of communication technology being discussed here is television broadcasting, which evolved commercially over roughly the same period of time that had lapsed between the primary reforms of the progressive era and what is usually considered to be the Whitson 32 of 102


start of the contemporary era. To illustrate, the rst presidential speech broadcast on television was delivered in 1939 by Franklin D. Roosevelt. A little over twenty years later, in 1960, 85 percent of US households owned a television set and the number of commercially available television stations had reached 440, many of which broadcast news programs (Federal Communications Commission 2005, 2). !But what was it about the growing inuence of television that theoretically had such an effect on the voting population? Herrnson states that "the development of ... television [was] particularly inuential in bringing about an increased focus on candidate-centered election activities" and that television is "extremely well suited to conveying information about tangible political phenomena, such as candidate images, and less useful in providing information about more abstract electoral actors like political parties," (2002, 77). In addition, the growing popularity of television has had an unforeseen effect, which is a reorientation of the focus of a large proportion of the general population away from local issues and local party commissions and toward national issues, which are the main focus of popular media (Herrnson 2002, 50). !Following the implementation of the McGovern-Fraser Commission in 1972, presidential candidates truly began to use the characteristics of television to their advantage by effectively exploiting it to organize large segments of the viewing audience who were quickly becoming more empowered as participants in the candidate selection process to rally behind them. Candidates were able to do so by developing compelling media personas that Whitson 33 of 102


had the ultimate effect of differentiating their identities from those of other potential nominees. In this new electoral environment, candidates benet from technological developments in the eld of polling and survey research, which help the candidate to hone his or her platform in order to more closely reect the desires of voters within the party (Herrnson 2002, 50). If candidates are successful in winning enough votes to obtain their respected party nominations, their parties are obliged to support the candidate and to invest all of their available resources and inuence into winning the general election for that ofce in the interests of both the candidate and the party (Aldrich 1995). !In other aspects of elections, technological advancements in media technology may have had less direct implications. Bernhardt et al (2006) make the argument that the tendency of media outlets to focus their efforts on increasing protability may "lead to inefcient electoral outcomes" because "maximizing prots may involve catering to a partisan audience by slanting the news" and that this slanting can lead to omissions in news reports of information that challenges the biases of the audience. The authors further suggest that this can have the effect of causing the electorate to appear "more polarized to an outside observer, even though citizens" policy preferences do not change," (1). In this way, the authors argue, it could be said that media bias may be perpetuating partisan choices by voters who read partisan sources by omitting information in publications or choosing not to cover certain stories, thereby making these voters appear more partisan, even if their personal political beliefs do not reect this. Parties in the contemporary era: a new orientation Whitson 34 of 102


!It is clear that parties in the contemporary era no longer possess the direct inuence over local, district and state governments which they enjoyed during their golden age. This is not necessarily to say, however, that parties are "dying out," which is a common misconception of what is meant when it is said that America is currently in the midst of a postparty era. In fact, parties are more cohesive and organized than they were in 1960, but in a much different way (Bibby 2002, 43). !First, parties are far more hierarchically oriented than they have ever been. Power and resources ow down from the national level through the state, district and county levels, eventually reaching the local level. However, party inuence is now weaker at the local level and stronger at the national level a complete reversal of the previous conguration and the powerful grasp that party machines once held at the local and county levels has decreased substantially, meaning that these areas are for more likely to experience turnovers. This has occurred as a result of the great deal of internal control that was relinquished during the progressive era. Party bosses lost the majority of their authority to appoint ofcials to select government positions, resulting in loosened network afliations, decreased loyalty from representatives and increased vulnerability to opposition at the local level. This decline in direct inuence may be what prompted parties to become organizationally stronger at the national level and state level and strengthen their indirect inuence over elections. In other words, parties had lost the incentive to invest proportionally high quantities of labor and capital into local and county politics, so they shifted a Whitson 35 of 102


large portion of their efforts to where the potential benet of inuence over legislation was higher: district, state and national elections (Herrnson 2002, 50). !Second, parties now exhibit a stronger presence in the mainstream media than ever before. This is possible because, throughout the contemporary era, they have developed structures which reect those of nationalized media outlets, particularly in regards to resource management and issue orientation. Not only have parties refocused their efforts toward fundraising, but this capital is now channeled directly to the top level, where decisions are made as to how it should be spent. And since parties are now more nationally oriented than before, it follows that their interests lie in inuencing issues of national concern, which is what mainstream media outlets specialize in. Therefore, parties invest a considerable amount of their funding into publicity events which capture the attention of media outlets and ultimately potential donors, thus completing the cycle and enabling parties to maintain a consistent presence in the national consciousness (Herrnson 2002, 51). !Despite their increased media presence, parties, due in particular to their nature as conceptual entities, are not able to capture the direct attention of the public as successfully as candidates are (Herrnson 2002, 77). Furthermore, without the presence of candidates to carry out their policy desires, the parties themselves would be of little value. This is why the contemporary era has seen parties take on the responsibility of providing resources to ambitious candidates by overtaking the role of service organizations in support of their campaigns. And since candidates are now responsible, as a result of open primaries, for Whitson 36 of 102


organizing their own campaign teams early on, parties have taken it upon themselves to perform foundational tasks that include providing candidates with additional consultants and polls, mobilizing the electorate and providing additional capital and labor to substantiate campaign activities (Aldrich 1995, 282). Policy, party identication and partisanship !While the functions that parties perform in modern campaigns can still be useful to candidates, they come at a certain cost. Candidates put themselves at risk when they develop party associations because parties in the contemporary era are quick to suffer from afictions over which they have little to no control, such as economic conditions, presidential popularity and public opinion (Bibby 2002, 43). Furthermore, parties now have less control over their own respective images because their convention delegates and ultimately their candidates are selected in primary elections, which are inuenced strongly by the media (Polsby 1996, 320). !In this way, party leaders may be forced to support candidates whom they do not feel necessarily represent the party s core values, which can alter the way the party is represented in the media and perceived by the public. This effect can occasionally be observed in the words of frustrated party gureheads. During the 2010 Delaware Senate race, for example, former Senior Adviser to the President and highly inuential Republican gure Karl Rove criticized Republican nominee Christine O Donnell on Fox News, stating that "there were a lot of nutty things she has been saying that don t add up." When the host suggested that it didn t Whitson 37 of 102


appear that Rove supported the candidate, he responded "I m for the Republican," (Barr 2010). However, the candidate was offended by Rove" s remarks and later referred to them on television as "political cannibalism," (Madison 2010). This type of in-ghting exposed divisions within and therefore negative coverage of the Republican party and, although Rove no longer holds ofcial status within the party, his predicament represents a situation that any party ofcial would undoubtedly desire to avoid. !Demographic shifts that have occurred within the population of party voters over the course of the contemporary era may also contribute to these inconsistencies. Parties have seen the proportion of "purists," as they were referred to by Wildavsky (1965), or less experienced activists who are concerned primarily with achieving policy goals, drastically increase within their ranks since the 1950s. In conjunction, the number of traditional partisan volunteers characteristic of the golden age benet-seekers who desired party patronage and whose interests were therefore dependent on the success of the party itself has dwindled (Aldrich 1995, 181). !At the same time, party procedures have changed primarily as a result of the McGovern-Fraser Commission in favor of those activists who have "the most spare time, the most ideological commitment, and the most enthusiasm for one candidate above all others." This is, among other reasons, because the nomination process now encourages activity at an earlier date in the primaries "as a prerequisite of being taken seriously by the news media," which ultimately means that ideological activists "will have more to say about the eventual Whitson 38 of 102


outcome." The problem with this process is that, since these activists are not committed to the party in the same way that the benet-seekers characteristic of the party era are, they are more likely to vote for ideologically consistent candidates than those who are more representative of the party s needs as a whole (Polsby 1996, 320). !This growing preference shift may be contributing to the steady decrease in party-line voting that has been witnessed since the 1950s because it contradicts the nature of parties as enormous, encompassing institutions that must therefore represent a diverse set of opinions by electing candidates who are willing to compromise in order to do so (Wattenberg 1991, 36). In other words, there has been a reorganization of incentives to favor candidates who are willing to appeal to ideological activists by emphasizing their policy preferences over the needs of the party. In this way, parties have become more suited to advocacy, less able to "deliberate, weigh competing demands, and compromise so that a variety of differing interests each gain a little," and less likely to foster a strong sense of party identity among voters (Polsby 1996, 321). This new orientation may eventually hinder the abilities of parties to maintain internal authority. If he is correct in his assertion that "the conception of parties as agents of consensus government has begun to fade," he writes, then "more and more we can expect candidates and party leaders to raise divisive issues and to emphasize party differences rather than paper them over," (Polsby 1996, 320). Conclusion Whitson 39 of 102


!The ideological shifts, structural changes and technological advancements that led to a reconguration of the major political parties beginning in the 1960s have instigated a powerful reorganization of the way that candidates, parties and voters interact in the contemporary era by increasing the signicance of primary elections in politics. First, candidates have become the central gures of elections in the media and in the minds of voters, they have become more responsible for the establishment and successes of their own campaigns, and they have become more ideologically consistent and policy oriented. Second, the role of parties has transformed from that of a direct political "machine" to that of an institution whose main function is to provide powerful services to candidates through an increasingly complex and indirect network of inuence. Third, voters now play a more active role in determining which candidates are selected to represent their parties. All of these developments have been aided by an underlying increase in the availability of communications technologies accessible by political candidates and voters (Aldrich 1995, 272). Whitson 40 of 102


II The Political Blogging Community and Party Activism !Due to its relatively low gateway costs, the Internet has allowed for an increased number of organizations and individuals to establish conduits through which to relay political information to consumers. One platform in particular, which consists of a vast array of Weblogs, more commonly known simply as "blogs," has reduced the cost of publicly posting content online to essentially nothing and has therefore become a popular means for politically active citizens to express their views and rally in support of, or in opposition to, certain causes, candidates or both. Consequentially, a dynamic blogging community has formed and evolved into a sizable contender in the competition for political trafc online, challenging more traditional forms of media which include broadcast news, radio and print as well as the Web sites of mainstream news sources (Ekdale et al 2010, 218). The establishment of the political blog as a legitimate form of communication has occurred during an era in which candidates are recognized as the central gures of elections and external media actors play an enormously inuential, though indirect, role in party politics (Aldrich 1995). The nature of this relationship, combined with the functionality of blogs to provide citizens with a forum to gather and discuss similar political views, makes their authors potentially powerful allies to candidates in that they may be able to perform services that are usually associated with political parties. First, bloggers have the potential to participate in the vetting of candidates by writing posts dedicated to Whitson 41 of 102


explaining in great depth which candidates they believe are right or wrong for a certain position. Second, blogs may help to mobilize supporters for candidates because they attract readers who have similar political views, are likely to support similar candidates in elections and are also likely to be politically active. Third, blogs are capable of raising funds for candidates, especially in the early stages of an election, by providing a resource for potential donors to learn about more obscure candidates and possibly catalyze campaigns that otherwise may not have had the resources necessary to gain sufcient footing. !The potential for blogs to provide these services to candidates does not mean that they are replacing political parties they lack the infrastructure, resources and authority to do so but rather that they may be acting to supplement parties by offering an alternative political framework for voters who desire less traditional candidates and prefer to communicate outside of the conventions of hierarchy and bureaucracy. In other words, bloggers may make up an incohesive group of political activists and commentators, but each of its members enjoys a signicant level of autonomy that could prove powerful if used properly. A blogger with a substantial or dedicated readership, for example, has the necessary resources to undertake a personal campaign in support of a candidate, combine forces with likeminded bloggers who also support that candidate and then work to mobilize support and raise money for the candidate in the hopes of pushing him or her through the primary and general elections. !This type of behavior has been observed and analyzed before. Pirch (2009) used the 2006 Democratic primary election for the Senate race in Whitson 42 of 102


Connecticut as a case study and concluded that incumbent Joseph Lieberman s defeat by upstart and wealthy businessman Ned Lamont was assisted in a signicant way by the political blogging community, which he identied as "a ready-made nancial support system and a community of people willing to help [a] campaign," (230). In order to substantiate this claim, Pirch scoured popular Democratic blogs in search of evidence showing that bloggers took on the duties of political parties during the primary election season. Based on his ndings, Pirch concluded that, although Lamont s personal fortune likely assisted in his victory, he "won because he and his supporters had been able to use the benecial attributes of blogs to help create a statewide and national network of supporters in a period of months to help his campaign," (229). !In this chapter I plan to discuss the ways in which the growing relevance of political blogs may affect contemporary elections, specically by performing the aforementioned services of vetting candidates, mobilizing supporters and raising funds. My investigation will consist of a short literature review supplemented by my own descriptive analysis of the role of blogs in the 2010 US Senate election in Florida, conducted through an examination of posts on popular political blogs, reader comments on said posts and interviews with candidates. The following research is intended not to answer overall questions about the proposed topic but to contribute to existing literature and pose new and more specic questions for further investigation. The role of blogs in the contemporary era Whitson 43 of 102


! Since blogs tend to reject the idea of hierarchy and can be managed by either a team of writers or an individual, posts are less likely to be passed on to an editor prior to publication. Instead, the blogging community often relies on its own members readers and fellow bloggers to fulll the role of fact checker and editor. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this process is not something that can practically be measured in a quantitative manner. However, it is possible to measure the perceived credibility of blogs in the eyes of users and, since this is ultimately what determines the inuence of blogs on politics, it is a matter which has been the subject of much scrutiny in the past decade. The ndings may be surprising to those who continue to rely on traditional media outlets for political information because, despite the lack of a formal editing process, frequent blog users view them as a highly credible and reliable source. A survey conducted in 2007, for example, found that the majority of politically-interested adult Internet users polled chose blogs not only as their primary source of political information over all others but also as the most credible when compared to the online domains of other, more established media outlets including newspapers, cable television networks and broadcast news organizations (Johnson and Kaye, 2). !Credibility scores even seem to be immune to the popular argument that political blogs are overwhelmingly opinionated and exhibit less professionalism than more traditional forms of media and are therefore less trustworthy. Recent data have shown that blog readers are aware of a lack of balance in political blogs and nevertheless continue to demonstrate a strong preference for them. A 2008 survey, for example, discovered that politically-interested Internet users, Whitson 44 of 102


when asked to evaluate political blogs on a scale across several different categories, rated them lowest in terms of fairness of information and highest in terms of depth of information. In spite of this apparent imbalance, the overall ratings showed even stronger support for political blogs than the 2007 survey in that respondents judged them to be notably higher in credibility ratings than all other mainstream media outlets, with television networks receiving the lowest scores of all (Johnson et al, 100). Reliance on blogs continues to have the strongest positive relationship with measures of blog credibility (Banning and Trammell 2006, 1). This is not the sole correlation, however. Individuals who exhibited high levels of political interest, political knowledge, political involvement and political trust also rated blogs as demonstrating high levels of credibility (Johnson and Kaye 2004, 2). These ndings indicate that individuals who believe blogs to be highly credible do not do so due to a lack of knowledge about the relatively unregulated nature of blogs. On the contrary, awareness of this attribute actually appears to contribute to the trust which they exhibit, which may be an indication of their overall frustration with hierarchical institutions and the limitations that are usually associated with them. According to Johnson and Kaye (2007), t he blogging community s independence from corporate control has been shown to be an attribute which many readers nd valuable even more so than balance because they believe it allows commentators more freedom in expressing their views. The authors assert that "blog supporters perceive bias as a strength that Whitson 45 of 102


allows for a more detailed and in depth examination of issues," (114). 13 Citizens who do not identify as blog supporters, however, may not regard bias in such a positive manner. !It is possible that blogs and their tendencies toward bias foster political extremism by giving individuals with more obscure viewpoints an outlet to express them and build solidarity with others who share them a process that could ultimately lead to an overall increase in the number of ideological candidates elected to political ofce. Although there were no questions which referred specically to blogs, a survey taken after the 2010 Congressional election suggests that many Americans may harbor this sentiment. It was found that, while 54 percent of adult Web users believe that the Internet "makes it easier to connect with others who share their views politically" and 30 percent say that it "reduces the inuence of those with extreme views by giving ordinary citizens a chance to be heard," 55 percent believe that the Internet "increases the inuence of those with extreme political views," (Smith 2011, 3). Regardless of these conicting viewpoints, it is still established that political blog users trust blogs as a source of information, which means that blogging can therefore be considered a legitimate form of political communication. The question of how they can be considered a useful tool for inuencing elections, however, must still be addressed. Whitson 46 of 102 13 The same does not apply in the case of mainstream media. Past research indicates that biased reporting and commentary among more traditional media actually lowers consumers perceptions of content credibility (Metzger et al 2003, 293).


!First of all, bloggers have little incentive to refrain from expressing the strong opinions about potential candidates that they tend to harbor. Unlike party leaders, bloggers are not necessarily concerned about retaining their positions in upcoming elections and, unlike most mainstream media outlets, bloggers are not expected to hold themselves to a certain standard of objectivity. This freedom from responsibility allows them to get involved in campaigns much earlier in the election season and in a much more critical manner than party leaders and mainstream media outlets (Pirch 2009). It is not surprising, for example, for a blogger to endorse a candidate and begin to mobilize support before the candidate even announces that he or she will be running for ofce because the blogger has little to lose if the candidate is not nominated. For a party leader, this type of behavior would be dangerous because endorsing the wrong candidate so soon could jeopardize his or her career by implying a lack of understanding of the needs of voters. !Second, bloggers are able to cover very specic issues in depth because their readership is somewhat predetermined. In other words, since partisan readers are more likely to read partisan blogs than anyone else, they are also likely to be interested in the author s views. A recent survey found that this was especially true during the 2010 congressional elections, reporting that "both Republicans and Democrats were more likely than political independents to say that they typically get online political news from sources that share their political point of view." Even outside of partisan denitions, the majority 34 percent of Internet users tend to read sources that agree with their political views, Whitson 47 of 102


compared with 30 percent who most often read sites with no point of view and 21 percent who claim to get news from Web sites that do not agree with their point of view (Smith 2011, 5). This makes blogs an ideal place to discuss the potential advantages and drawbacks of certain candidates and attempt to mobilize support and raise money for preferred candidates. !Third, blogs have the potential to be interactive by allowing readers to make or respond to comments on posts, participate in discussions or publish their own blogs to express certain viewpoints. In this way, blogging can be seen as a democratic form of news media because it allows citizens to gather with those who share similar political values, ne tune arguments and promote issues that are of signicance to them. Most importantly, however, it appears that users are taking advantage of this ability. According to the Pew Research Center, 6 percent of adults who used the Internet regularly during the 2010 election "took part in an online discussion, listserv or other online group forum such as a blog, related to political issues or the campaign," (Smith 2011, 17). !In the next section, I will investigate the ways in which bloggers may have exploited these characteristics in order inuence the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida, specically by vetting candidates, mobilizing voters and raising money for campaigns. The 2010 US Senate Election in Florida !The 2010 Florida Senate general election saw the landslide victory of conservative Republican Party candidate Marco Rubio against Democrat Kendrick Meek and moderate, independent, former Republican Florida governor Whitson 48 of 102


Charlie Crist. The Democratic primary election saw the victory of Meek over his main opponent Jeff Greene, a late entry into the race. The Republican primary election originally saw Rubio and Crist in close competition for the nomination. Rubio soon overtook Crist in pre-election polls, however, and Crist abandoned the Republican Party on April 28, 2010 in the hopes of winning the general election as an independent candidate (Rasmussen 2010). !Two contests stood out in this election: the Republican primary between Rubio and Crist and an imagined Democratic primary between Crist and Meek, which later turned out to be a real competition in the general election. First, during the Republican primary, a relatively large number of outspoken conservative and Republican bloggers developed a passionate yet unofcial virtual campaign in support of Rubio that was matched by an equally passionate campaign intended to take down Crist. Second was the Democratic primary, in which a few liberal and Democratic bloggers and hundreds of readers imagined a contest between Crist and Meek and one blogger in particular tried to make it a reality; later on, in the general election, Democrats asked themselves whether or not they should vote for Crist instead of Meek in order to prevent a Republican victory. Rubio vs. Crist !It appears that Rubio took explicit steps to foster conservative blogger support early in the primary season. Rubio even went so far as to host an exclusive interview for political bloggers after a speech given at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 18, 2010 still early on in the Whitson 49 of 102


primary season in order to express his gratitude for the blogging community s support of his campaign and to share his belief that bloggers have already drastically altered the way American elections are carried out. "The notion of a political establishment," he stated, "has been redened. In many respects, [the blogging community] those independent voices who care about center-right politics, are becoming an important part of a new type of establishment in the sense that [they have] to be counted on. I think, going forward in the future, one of the things that candidates are going to be vetted for is ... how are they going to be received, how are they going to be perceived, by these very strong voices in the center-right movement that are going to have something to say in this election," (2010a). Rubio appears to be arguing that the authority possessed by political bloggers in contemporary elections is so signicant that their evaluations of candidates have become integral to the vetting process, which means that bloggers are essentially directly involved in vetting candidates. Whether or not Rubio s assessment about bloggers is correct, it appears that he was successful in gaining the support of some of the most inuential bloggers in the conservative blogging community. !Conservative bloggers were eagerly endorsing Rubio and denouncing Crist before either of them announced that they planned to run for ofce on May 5 and May 12, 2009, respectively. The rst major political blog to endorse Rubio was the conservative blog RedState which Editor-in-Chief Erick Erickson claims on its Web site to be "the most widely read right of center blog on Capitol Hill the most often cited right of center blog in the media," and "widely considered Whitson 50 of 102


one of the most inuential voices of the grassroots on the right," (Erickson 2010). According to the Internet trafc statistics Web site Alexa, as of May 9, 2011, RedState has a trafc ranking in the US of 2,951 and appeals mostly to users over the age of 45, with an audience that tends to consist of "moderately educated, childless men earning over $60,000 who browse from home." Alexa states that it has a "relatively good trafc rank" in Washington, DC where it falls at number 1,182, making it the city where the blog is most popular, although this does little to substantiate the blog s assertion that it is the leader in readership in the area (2011d). 14 Erickson s second assertion, however, does have some support. According to Ekdale et al (2010) and Perlmutter (2008), RedState has a high ranking in the blogosphere because it is frequently linked to by other blogs and it is often cited by mainstream media outlets as a representative example of political blog coverage. RedState was founded by three conservative bloggers in 2004, two of whom Ben Domenech and Joshua Trevi–o had previously worked as speechwriters in the Bush Administration (2003; 2009). The blog was originally a 527 group, which is a classication for tax-exempt, independent, nonprot organizations that fall under section 527 of the US tax code and are not regulated by the FEC or state election committees despite the fact that their primary purpose is to inuence elections on all levels of government. In 2006, the blog was purchased by Eagle Publishing, Inc. a company that also owns Whitson 51 of 102 14 These rankings are calculated based on a combination of average daily visitors to the site and page views on the site from users in the country or city over the past three months. As a point of reference, the three top ranked Web sites in the US according to Alexa are Google, Facebook and Yahoo (Alexa 2011a).


conservative publishing house Regnery Publishing and the conservative magazine Human Events and Erickson was named Editor-in-Chief Aside from popularity, the blog has gained legitimacy from its associations with Republican gures including Tom DeLay, who publish "diaries," or blog posts written by guest contributors, on the site. Erickson himself was acknowledged in 2007 as the 69th most inuential US conservative by the London Telegraph, which stated that he "epitomises the new power of the Internet. A small-government scal and social conservative based in the south, he taps into and inuences the Republican 'base' that the GOP s 2008 candidates are courting." RedState identies its political afliation in a unique, strategic manner that reects both its dedication to conservatism and its afliations with the Republican Party by claiming to be "conservatives in primaries and Republican in general elections," adding that its writers "aim to win." Even more telling of its political agenda, however, is the fact RedState touts its early endorsement of Rubio, as well as its role in supporting the failed but miraculously insurgent candidacy of Doug Hoffman for Representative of New York" s 23rd Congressional District, as evidence that "across the country," its writers "nd grassroots candidates and work hard to get them elected." It would appear that Erickson s strategy for winning elections is to use his political inuence to attempt to push conservative candidates through Republican primary elections in order to take advantage of the legitimacy associated with major party candidates in general elections. However, it is unclear whether Erickson and RedState are more dedicated to conservatism or to the Republican Party. RedState s apparent connections to the Whitson 52 of 102


Republican Party, including the fact that its founders previously worked in the Bush Administration and that Republican politicians have written diaries on the blog, raise concern that there may be stronger connections that are less obvious. It could be that, perhaps, as the Telegraph seemed to suggest, RedState and Erickson are working in conjunction with the Republican Party to mobilize its conservative base in a way that appears more "grassroots" than traditional party mobilization. This is only speculation, however. !Even the way that RedState insinuates that Rubio is a "grassroots" candidate is misleading, considering that he was the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives prior to his election as Senator and has been a member of the Florida House of Representatives since 2000. Some even argue that the key to Rubio s success has been his relationship with former Governor of Florida and powerful Republican gure Jeb Bush, Jr., who has been fostering Rubio s career since the late 1990s. Political blogger Joy-Ann Reid of the Reid Report embodies this viewpoint, writing that "though the media in Florida tends to romanticize 39-year-old Marco Rubio s rise through politics, what is often underplayed is just how thoroughly the young Cuban-American s path has been paved by Bush cronies." RedState s Rubio endorsement post, which was titled I Intend to Support Marco Rubio for the United States Senate and published by Erickson himself on March 19, 2009, before any candidates had ofcially announced they would be running, stated that "many are speculating that Governor Crist aka President Obama s favorite Republican will enter the race. But we have a chance to Whitson 53 of 102


stop that from happening." He then provided a short introduction to Rubio followed by a list of accomplishments, a favorable quote from key Republican gure Newt Gingrich, a link to a prole on the St. Petersburg Times Web site and a quote from Rubio himself. Erickson concluded his post with the statement that "Marco is the kind of young, energetic, reform-minded and unapologetic conservative we need to be blogging about. We need to stand up and be prepared to ght for a guy like Marco. I hope you will join me." In the 11 comments attached to the post, one user, "Mr_Ed," admits that, although he supports Rubio, he believes that some readers may be skeptical because Rubio endorsed former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee as a Presidential candidate in 2008. A short discussion follows in which another user, "Aaron Gardner," downplays this comment and states his belief that conservatives will support Rubio in spite of the endorsement. This type of dialogue serves as an example of how blog readers are not afraid to scrutinize candidates even after they are endorsed by like-minded political bloggers. In this specic case, it shows that the readers of RedState are likeminded in that they were essentially united in their political goals at such an early point in the election, considering that the responses unanimously supported Rubio while mocking Crist. RedState s rhetoric about actively aiding in the election of "grassroots" candidates is an ideal example of the anti-establishment attitude that many political bloggers appear to espouse despite their willingness to work within the connes of political parties in order to meet their ultimate goals of electing ideological candidates. This attitude became unmistakably clear on May 12, Whitson 54 of 102


2009, when the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) an ofcial Party group that is dedicated to electing Republicans to the Senate through fundraising, mailings and other means announced its endorsement of Crist and conservative bloggers immediately expressed their outrage that a Party organization would get involved in a primary election. This frustration is evident in the posts of less popular conservative bloggers like Robert Stacy McCain, who wrote, in a post dated May 12, 2009, "Why would any conservative ever send another dime to the NRSC after this? Marco Rubio is the conservative in that primary To hell with Charlie Crist and to hell with the NRSC. Go give some money to Marco Rubio." 15 Inuential conservative political blog Hot Air responded in a less inammatory manner. 16 A post published by Ed Morrissey on May 12, 2009 states that, "While Crist s popularity is an asset, Crist s positions on issues are going to give conservatives and even moderates some angst in the party," and asks the reader "Why is the NRSC endorsing Crist over Marco Rubio 15 months ahead of the primary?" 17 On May 24, Morrissey became more openly critical of the Republican Party by pointing out the hypocrisy inherent in spouting laissez-faire rhetoric while "interfering" in its own primary. He wrote that "the Whitson 55 of 102 15 According to Alexa, as of May 9, 2011, The Other McCain has a trafc ranking in the US of about 13,506 and its audience tends to be over the age of 45; they are also disproportionately men and college graduates earning over $100,000 who browse from home," (2011e). 16 Hot Air was established in 2006 as an independent blogging Web site but was purchased in February 2010 by Salem Communications, an evangelical Christian and conservative US media conglomerate that has a history of donating large sums of money to conservative political causes. According to Alexa, as of May 9, 2011, Hot Air has a trafc ranking in the US of about 781 and "is visited more frequently by males who are over 65 years old, received some college education and browse this site from home," (2011c). 17 Hot Air s Morrissey has been referred to as "one of the country s most inuential bloggers," (Ekdale et al 2010, 218).


national party should never have issued an endorsement in the primary, especially with their newfound emphasis on federalism and local control of government." This post is interesting because it demonstrates how much has changed since the open primary was established if the act of a political party endorsing a candidate in the primary season is outrageous, then the idea of a political party selecting its own candidate, as it once did, is unthinkable. It also shows that these conservative political bloggers are far from hesitant to criticize Republican Party organizations, despite the tension that arises from the fact that the Party is indeed the closest ally that these bloggers have in getting candidates elected who represent their viewpoints. !Although these frustrated blog posts are useful in illustrating activists willingness to openly express their disgust with political institutions, they are not the rare type that result in direct action. This can be seen, however, in further action by Erickson of RedState who saw the NRSC s announcement as an opportunity to catalyze a campaign centered around supporting Rubio. He wrote on May 13, 2009, in a post titled "Not one dime to the NRSC," that "getting behind Crist in the Florida primary is wholly unacceptable," and that "if the NRSC thinks this is smart, we must not waste our time or energy with them." He then invited his readers to join him in pledging no money, no help, no aid, and no support for the NRSC s efforts in the 2010 election cycle ," by providing a link to a Facebook group that he created which is called "Not one penny to the [NRSC]" and has had an overall membership of at least 1,400 individuals. Erickson s efforts were so appreciated by Rubio that he publicly thanked Erickson after his Whitson 56 of 102


victory, saying that RedState was "on board early. ... When the NRSC made the decision to go against me, Erick Erickson unleashed the hounds. They created that whole # not one red cent effort and it really kind of became a rallying cry nationally," (Hayes 2010). Erickson" s campaign adds to the ambiguity of the agendas that may motivate certain bloggers, such as Erickson of RedState and makes it less clear whether, despite their use of rhetoric, they are more motivated by conservatism or by a veiled loyalty to the Republican Party. Erickson" s criticism, for example, could be viewed either way: either he really doesn t care how the NRSC views him or he was unafraid to criticize it because he believed that his criticism would help mobilize support for the "grassroots" Rubio and ultimately a Republican win in the general election. Clearly, certain Republican leaders desired Crist as their nominee, most likely because he was popular and exhibited bipartisan appeal, but there was no way, according to many conservatives, that this was going to happen. After it was clear that the NRSC endorsement would not help Crist secure the Republican nomination and he announced that he would be running as an independent, conservative political bloggers softened their attack because it essentially marked the end of the primary season and vanquished any possibility that Crist would pose a threat to Rubio s campaign. Crist vs. Meek !Crist s initial decision to run for the Senate as a Republican candidate frustrated liberal bloggers as well as conservatives. Their original concern was that Crist s popularity as Governor and the quasi-incumbent status that it gave Whitson 57 of 102


him would make a Democratic win by Meek who, at the time, was the only candidate running for the Democratic ticket unlikely. In a post titled "Crist Keeps Florida Republican," published on May 11, 2009, Chris Bowers of the now-defunct Open Left referred to Crist s declaration as "very disappointing" and a "lock" to the election because he believed that Crist s powerful lead in the polls at the time would guarantee his win against Rubio in the primary election and Meek in the general election (Jaikumar 2009). Markos Moulitsas, founder of the popular and self-proclaimed "partisan blog" Daily Kos which was launched in 2002 and is owned by parent company Kos Media, LLC, also operated by Moulitsas wrote an open letter to the 527 organization and political action committee (PAC) Club for Growth on May 11, 2009, facetiously asking that they target a campaign against "moderate boogeyman" Crist so that Rubio would win the Republican nomination in the race. 18 19 "Rubio is a solid conservative wingnut in your vein. I don't know if he's viable in a Republican Party, but if not him, I hope you nd someone else. Someone like Crist has no business winning Republican primaries in your modern GOP. So I look forward to you taking him out so Democrats can pick up another Senate seat." At the time, Rubio" s poll numbers hadn t been released since he had just recently announced that he Whitson 58 of 102 18 According to Alexa, as of May 9, 2011, Daily Kos has a trafc ranking in the US of about 837 and "is visited more frequently by users who are over 65 years old, have no children, are college educated and browse this site from home," (2011b). Daily Kos was mentioned along with RedState as a popular, highly-ranked political blog that mainstream media outlets often cite as representative of the political blogosphere (Ekdale 2010, Perlmutter 2008). Moulitsas, like Morrissey of Hot Air, has been referred to by Ekdale et al (2010) as "one of the country s most inuential bloggers," (218). 19 Political action committees also fall under section 527 of the US tax code and exist to raise money to inuence elections. Unlike 527 organizations, PACs are not tax-exempt and are often associated with corporations, labor unions and other for-prot organizations.


would enter the race, but it seems that Moulitsas gured that Rubio s ideological, highly conservative platform would make him an easy opponent for the Democrats in the general election. Little did Moulitsas know that Rubio already had strong backing by prominent gures in the Republican Party and would quickly develop a devoted conservative following that would make him an almost unbeatable candidate in the general election. !Several months later, as the election progressed and it became clear that Crist s popularity was crashing while Rubio s numbers were soaring, the tone of blog posts began to change (Rasmussen 2010). Moulitsas wrote, on February 1, 2010, in a post titled "Game Over for Crist If He Stays Republican," that "Everyone I talk to in Florida tells me that Crist is the ultimate political survivor, that he'll do whatever it takes to win. Well, I don't believe, and I won't believe it until he switches to the Democratic Party. Because if he wants to win his state's Senate seat, it's the only way he has a shot at it." Although it" s not completely clear from the tone of the post whether Moulitsas was simply ridiculing Crist or sincerely suggesting that he join the Democratic Party, the statement caught the attention of bloggers. The lesser-known Booman Tribune wrote a post on the same date titled "What s With Kos Loving Crist?" that voiced his concern about the supposed invitation. "'I m somewhat mystied by Kos's decision to woo Charlie Crist over to the Democratic Party. Now, I am not a huge fan of Kendrick Meek and I don't think he has a great chance of beating ... Rubio in a head-to-head matchup. But he'd have some chance. And he's a Democrat. Maybe he's kind of a centrist Democrat, but this is Florida. I can live with that." Whitson 59 of 102


The author goes on to list several facts about Crist that he nds egregious enough to dismiss the possibility of him switching parties as an acceptable option. He concludes, "Would he be better than Rubio? Sure. He'd be better than most Republicans in Congress. That doesn't mean he should be invited to join the Democratic Party. I can make compromises to keep control of the Senate, but this one seems hackneyed and premature." !As Crist s poll numbers continued to fall, Moulitsas sharpened his critique (Taylor 2010). "If [Crist] wants to survive in politics, switching is his only hope. What's more, I'd welcome him into my party. Here's the bottom line: there are only two people who can win that seat -Crist and Rubio. I'd much rather it be the former, and Crist ain't gonna do it as a Republican," (22 Feb, 2010). On all of the posts Moulitsas published suggesting that Crist switch parties, comments were mixed and often critical. Although many readers agreed that the plan was not ideal but that it would be the preferred option overall, others dismissed it as absurd and questioned Moulitsa s punditry while still others participated in a dialogue weighing the pros and cons of the strategy. !There came a certain point where Moulitsas even abandoned the idea. In a post titled "Crist is Broken," posted on March 18, 2010, Moulitsas cited polls conducted by his own blog showing that Crist had fallen to an unacceptable level in favorability ratings and concluded that "the window of opportunity has closed" on the possibility of Crist switching parties. Daily Kos had even created a poll asking participants who they would vote for in a Democratic primary between Crist and Meek. The results were in favor of Meek, 24 against 21, with 55 Whitson 60 of 102


undecided, most of which responded "what the heck?" according to Moulitsas, because they were confused about why the question would even be asked. !A few months later, long after Crist had announced that he would run as an independent and Meek had been declared the Democratic nominee against opponent Jeff Greene, who entered the race in late April, bloggers began to discuss whether it would be better for Democrats to vote for Crist or Meek. On October 28, 2010, days before the election, Moulitsas published a post titled "Time" s Run Out for Meek, and Probably for Crist" that referenced Quinnipac polls showing that Meek was dragging in the race and that Crist was trailing more closely behind Rubio (2010). He commented, "At this point it's obvious that it's either Crist or Rubio. The only drama left is whether Democrats despise Rubio enough to vote tactically against him. It would help him signicantly if Crist promised to caucus with the Democrats." The very next day Crist promised in a desperate attempt to win over the the Democratic vote that he would caucus with Democrats if he was elected. That day, a user named allenjo published a post on the Daily Kos that included several questions: "Will you hold your nose and vote for Crist? Will you vote a straight Democratic ticket even if your Meek vote would guarantee a Rubio win? With such low poll numbers, do you feel that Meek should drop out?" This was followed by a short poll that asked readers who they planned to vote for. Twenty-one users voted in all: 14 said Crist, four said Meek, two said Rubio and one said no one. The post was followed by 244 comments that consisted mostly of users weighing the pros and cons of voting for Crist instead of Rubio and discussing whether Crist or Meek should drop out of the Whitson 61 of 102


race. A large portion of the commenters stated that they planned to begrudgingly vote for Crist and many also expressed the sentiment that Meek should drop out of the race in order to enable the lesser of two evils. !What s interesting about the posts and discussions on Daily Kos as being possibly the most popular and most in-depth source of discussion from liberal bloggers about the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida is that they are framed within an understanding of partisanship. Unlike RedState, which is a blog that rst and foremost identies itself as conservative and second as Republican, Daily Kos identies itself as Democratic and strictly partisan, writing on its Web site that its staff "recognizes that Democrats run from left to right on the ideological spectrum, and yet we're all still in this ght together. We happily embrace centrists conservatives and liberals," as long as they are Democrats. It also species that it s "not a liberal blog. It's a Democratic blog with one goal in mind: electoral victory. This site is about more and better Democrats, not necessarily in that order," nally acknowledging that "the battle for the party is not an ideological battle. It's one between establishment and antiestablishment factions." Moulitsas does not appear to have worked directly for the Democratic Party, but he is a fellow at the New Politics Institute, a think tank of the New Democrat Network, a 501(c)4 organization that was created to promote progressive Democratic candidates. 20 Daily Kos is known as a popular place for Democratic candidates and politicians to publish diaries, with notable Whitson 62 of 102 20 A 501(c)4 organization falls under section 501(c)4 of the US tax code and is a nonprot, taxexempt group that may involve itself in political activities as long as they do not become the organization s primary pursuit.


contributors that include US Senators John Kerry from Massachussetts and Barbara Boxer from California, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, former President Jimmy Carter and President Barack Obama. Because it is so popular among liberal Internet users, Daily Kos challenges the notion that political blogs are primarily vehicles of ideological activism rather than partisanship. Also, since a great proportion of the posts on Daily Kos were written during the primary election season, the blog demonstrates that partisan activists can participate and strategize early in elections even if they are not supporting a specic candidate. Conclusion !The Republican primary contest between Rubio and Crist and the imagined Democratic primary between Crist and Meek provide a unique and interesting addition to previous research on the subject of the role of bloggers and political parties in contemporary elections. !The ndings in this case reect those of Pirch (2009) regarding the Democratic primary between Lamont and Lieberman in three important ways. First, both saw moderate, popular and established candidates Lieberman was an incumbent and Crist came close to this status as Governor of the state in which the election was being held who were essentially forced out of their parties by more ideological candidates Lamont and Rubio and their dedicated supporters during the primary elections. Second, in both cases the more ideological candidates had strong support from the blogging community. Third, both cases saw political bloggers vetting additional candidates Lamont Whitson 63 of 102


and Crist for a primary election because they were unsatised with the candidates Lieberman and Meek they believed would win otherwise. 21 !According to my research, it appears that bloggers did seek to take on some of the roles of political parties in the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida by vetting and discussing potential candidates for party nominations, attempting to mobilize supporters for certain candidates, and encouraging readers to donate to certain candidates. Conservative or Republican bloggers made their presence felt by taking an early stance in support of Rubio at the beginning of the primary season and rallying against the apparent desire of certain members of the Republican establishment to nominate Crist, a moderate candidate. In order to vet these candidates, the bloggers wrote in an argumentative manner in their posts so as to explain why they believed Rubio was the candidate that deserved the Republican nomination. Furthermore, users participated often in critical discussions with each other regarding Rubio s merits versus those of Crist. They also endeavored to mobilize support by writing supportive blog posts about Rubio and assist in raising funds by providing links to Rubio s Web site. Liberal or Democratic bloggers used blogs principally to vet candidates in the primary season by discussing the possibility of Crist running as a Democrat instead of Whitson 64 of 102 21 There are a some differences as well. First, the bid in Pirch" s case was more successful in that bloggers were able to convince Lamont to run for election and because he was able to win the primary election while in this case it was unsuccessful because the bloggers were unable to convince Crist to switch parties. Second, the moderate candidate in Pirch s case was originally a Democrat while the moderate in this case was a Republican. Third, the more extreme candidate with blogger support in Pirch s case was a liberal Democrat while in this case he was a conservative Republican. Fourth, the more extreme candidate in Pirch s case had no true political experience while the more extreme candidate in this case certainly did. Finally, the moderate in Pirch s case was victorious in the general election whereas the moderate in this case was defeated.


Meek. It seems that they did not participate as actively in mobilizing support or raising money for candidates in the primary season because they did not feel that Meek, the only candidate who ran for the Democratic party during the majority of the election, was a viable candidate and expressed little enthusiasm for his candidacy. In the general election, liberals and Democrats vetted Crist using Daily Kos as a discussion platform and questioned whether they should vote for a losing candidate according to blind party loyalty or whether to vote strategically for a non-Democratic candidate who had a better chance of winning. !It appears that blogs may be becoming an inuential force in contemporary elections, although it is difcult to determine realistically. Further case studies like that of Pirch (2009), which attempt to determine the roles that blogs may have played in particular elections, should be conducted over the course of each election period because comparisons of these descriptive studies can provide powerful insights into the state of present-day electoral politics and its relationship with communication technology. Whitson 65 of 102


III Candidate Web Sites and Public Image Control !A candidate" s Web site is one of the most powerful tools that he or she has for constructing a public image in a campaign, particularly due to the fact that it is essentially the only online platform in which a candidate can completely control his or her message to potential voters. It can also be a very sophisticated tool which, in addition to informing visitors about a candidate, can allow candidates to afrm a stronger connection with already existing supporters by encouraging them to vote early, donate money to the campaign, volunteer for both online and ofine activities, network, recruit new supporters and volunteers and share information with peers online. !Running a Web site can assist a candidate in accomplishing a large number of the services once required of political parties in an affordable manner. First, building a candidate Web site is a far cheaper and more efcient alternative to more traditional methods of communicating with potential voters such as mass mailings, television commercials, billboards and lawn advertisements. Second, candidate Web sites often do not require signicant stafng it can take as little as one well-trained individual to develop and maintain a candidate s Web site, aggregate data from visitors and compile e-mail lists for further communication. Third, running a Web site can allow a candidate to establish a direct connection with voters and reinforce the individual nature of the campaign by cutting out the need for a mediator to perform important functions such as collecting donations Whitson 66 of 102


from supporters. Finally, since a candidate" s Web site is always available, it is convenient for voters to gather specic information about the policies of their potential representatives rather than having to make assumptions based on the candidate s party identication. !That being said, candidate Web sites have increased signicantly in functionality since their inception in 1994, when the rst candidate Web site was created by soon-to-be Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. At the time, it was common for a candidate Web site to exist as a single static page that reproduced basic literature about the candidate (Howard 2006, 9). However, in the span of less than two decades, during which candidates and campaign consultants have been discovering ways to more efciently utilize this method of communication while simultaneously strengthening its role in their campaigns, candidate Web sites have transformed into the visually stimulating, informative, complex and often personalized and interactive communication tools which are now the norm. Even by 2000, for example, the Republican Party was able to build a Web site in which each visitor was presented with different content, emphasizing certain policy stances over others, based on a statistical analysis of data about the user. Since then, this type of technology has become more widely available and affordable for candidates (Howard 2006, 1). !An awareness of such subtle and complex strategies brings to surface the idea that, although at rst glance it appears that the majority of candidate Web sites exhibit many similar features, there are several ways in which candidates can tailor their sites to fulll specic campaign necessities. These characteristics Whitson 67 of 102


include the frequency at which the Web site is updated, how much multimedia content is presented on the Web site, how "personalized" the Web site is, how many interactive features the Web site presents and whether or not the Web site provides links to outside sources. The necessities which determine the ways that candidates choose among these characteristics are often dependent upon several contingencies regarding the candidates themselves and the races which they are in, including the type of position being competed for, the geographical area which will be governed or represented (and therefore the makeup of the population), the candidate s nancial resources, the candidate s status (whether an incumbent or challenger), the candidate s party afliation (or lack thereof) and more (Druckman, Kifer and Parkin 2009). !The decisions that go into crafting an effective candidate Web site are complex and strategic in that candidates and their consultants must carefully consider the effects that every element of a Web site and every bit of content will have on the user s experience. In the same way that Nixon in 1968 was extremely careful in constructing his image on television by controlling every aspect of his environment, a candidate in the contemporary era must make sure not to allow any aspect of his or her Web site to compromise the intended message. The following two sections are designed to explore the ways in which the three popular candidates in the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida designed their ofcial Web sites to accomplish the goals of constructing a positive public perception, raising funds and mobilizing voters and volunteers. Whitson 68 of 102


Two-way communication !Two-way communication features promote dialogue among voters and to a certain extent mirror the democracy in which users are participating by allowing them to converse with each other in a domain associated with a specic candidate. Utilizing this feature can be advantageous to candidates in that users may interpret it as a reection of the candidate s dedication to democracy and freedom of speech. However, they do present a downside to candidates in that many of these types of features have the potential to jeopardize the candidate s message and therefore alter his or her public perception. !Druckman, Kifer and Parkin (2009) found that an average of 8.7 percent of Senate candidates utilized two-way communication features dened by the authors as "message boards, forums, and live chats," as part of their campaign Web sites during the 2002 and 2004 elections (25). They also found a three percent increase in the use of these features between the two elections among all of the Web sites surveyed (both Senate and House). They concluded that "congressional candidates have yet to fully utilize the Internet s potential for two-way communication," and that this suggests that "the desire to control the message may be quite important for candidates," (32). !What the authors didn t mention, however, is that, because message control is of such importance to candidates, these numbers are likely to hit a plateau rather than continue to increase indenitely as time passes, despite the fact that there was a slight increase in the use of two-way communication between the two elections studied. One could even go so far as to argue that Whitson 69 of 102


perhaps the novelty of these features is wearing off as time passes and candidates, rather than becoming more willing to implement two-way communication features on their Web sites, may actually be becoming more wary of using them because of the potential that they have to distract users from the candidate s message. For example, none of the ofcial Web sites of the three popular candidates for the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida exhibited two-way communication according to the denition set out by Druckman, Kifer and Parkin (2009). !Upon discovering this I decided that, rather than halting my research because of the limitations of the authors denition, I would inquire into the existence of less direct forms of two-way communication, specically those that come in the form of "comment" sections on news entries or blog posts written by the candidate or members of the campaign team. 22 Considered under this expanded denition, the Web sites did exhibit two-way communication with some exceptions. Specically, every candidate had a blog, which was regularly updated by either the candidate himself, a campaign worker or a guest blogger, but only two of the candidates Crist and Rubio allowed for users to make comments. While neither of these two blogs required users to register in order to post comments, there is a notable imbalance in the number of comments which were posted by users, with Rubio s blog displaying 315 overall while Crist displayed absolutely none. Whitson 70 of 102 22 I would like to make it clear that I am referring to two-way communication as being something that allows users to respond to what a candidate is saying and have it be read by other users, thereby enabling users to communicate with each other. I am not assuming that the candidates themselves will respond to user s comments or initiate discussions with them.


!While the explanation for this disparity is not completely clear, it is possible that part of the answer could have to do with the fact that the general population of blog users consists disproportionately of conservative individuals (Johnson et al 2006). In addition, during the campaign, Rubio demonstrated an afnity for bloggers. Finally, the fact that his blog was updated more frequently during the campaign than Crist s, could have contributed to his number of followers. Rubio s own words may be the best explanation for the popularity of his blog: "I wouldn t have had a campaign without (the independent online community). The only people ... other than ... close supporters and friends, who believed my campaign was even possible were those folks in the independent communities that are online," (2010a). !Although the majority of Rubio s blog posts displayed only one or two comments most often well wishes or expressions of support there were a few, particularly those in which Rubio outlined his own policies, in which the comments displayed a high level of involvement and criticism from supporters. There is even an example of a simulated conversation between critical supporters in which one user (Beverly Vics) referenced another user" s comment (Linda Berry), both of which disagreed with Rubio s original post (2010c). For the most part, comments were written as if they were addressing Rubio directly. For example, in a post titled "Marco s Tax Day Stand," which was published on 15 April 2010, Rubio outlined eight strategies which he believed were ideal for lowering taxes in Florida. This post received 41 comments and, while the majority were positive, many of them offered constructive criticism of Rubio" s eight points Whitson 71 of 102


and some of the commenters even went so far as to propose their own for his consideration. Some of the more courageous commenters even demanded that Rubio listen to their suggestions if he wanted their support, such as the user going by the name Dave Gell, who stated, "You" re missing some key planks in your platform. On your Issues page, you get to Health Care and stop as though it were time for you to go to take a nap or something. You want my and my wife" s support, you nish your platform. Let us know when you ve completed it," (2010b). !In more extreme cases, commenters have expressed a complete and utter lack of support for particular issue stances espoused by the candidate. The case which stands out in particular has to do with Rubio s opposition to the initial drafting of Arizona" s Senate Bill 1070 which now a law, although with some revisions requires any person to present proof of citizenship to a police ofcer if requested. In his blog post entitled "Marco on Arizona Immigration Legislation," Rubio broke with popular conservative support for the bill, stating, "From what I have read in news reports, I do have concerns about this legislation," followed by an explanation of his anxieties regarding the bill (2010c). This post prompted a backlash which included 39 responses, the majority of which expressed anger and frustration with Rubio s statements and criticized the candidate both for not supporting the bill and for basing his opinions of it on news reports. Some of the commenters even threatened to abandon the candidate as a result of the blog post. For example, a user by the name of Dyan commented, "Your conservatism was an inspiration; however, your position on the Arizona Immigration Law is, in Whitson 72 of 102


my opinion, unacceptable. It appears you either have not adequately familiarized yourself with the law or your criticism is not well thought out. I expected a more thoughtful response. As a result of your position, I will not contribute to your campaign." Another user, going by the name of Bill Howes, gave Rubio an ultimatum, commenting, "Mr. Rubio, If you don" t plan on supporting the new Arizona law, my family, friends, and co-workers, WILL NOT VOTE for you." !These types of comments have the potential to be extremely useful for candidates because they act almost as a virtual focus group to determine exactly what it is that supporters want and what actions or statements from the candidate will cause them to withdraw their support. Fortunately for Rubio, the bill was altered after he made this statement and he soon voiced his support for the redrafted version of the bill, stating that "the changes that have been made to the bill, I think, greatly improve it," and that "what Arizona is facing is different from anything Florida has ever faced," (Nill 2010). Although it cannot be determined whether or not the opposition voiced by Rubio s Web supporters regarding his stance on the original Arizona Bill inuenced his decision to come out in support of the amended version, it is likely that it played a part. !Regardless of whether or not Rubio read or considered the comments on his own blog posts while recalibrating his policy stances, the fact is that they were available on his Web site for an extended period of time for other users to read and consider. This means that commenters have been given the opportunity to not only participate in a potentially very powerful two-way dialogue with each other, but to have their own inuence over, and in tandem with, the message of Whitson 73 of 102


the candidate himself. However, as will be evident in the next few examples, relinquishing such power to anyone with access to the Internet and a Web browser can put the purity of the candidate s message at risk. !The most obvious scenario for danger in the case of blogs is the presence of comments from those who oppose the candidate s agenda. Luckily for Rubio, this occurred very infrequently, as there was only one instance of outright hostility on any of the blog posts. This could be, perhaps, because citizens who disagree with a candidate may not be spending their time reading or commenting on the blog posts on said candidate s personal Web site, but are probably more likely to be contributing their time and support to the Web sites of opposing candidates. The comment in question, written by a user with the name "William Garrison," is one which would be likely to make supporters feel uncomfortable, reading, "I notice in your rhetoric, you never mention how expensive war is to the American people. Is it your opinion that war is so protable for Republicans and businesses that deal in killing that we should start another one? Where would you like to see one next?" (2010b). !A less obvious risk for the candidate, and one which could cause even more damage to the candidate s message than outright hostility, is the presence of comments that support the candidate but convey a message which does not reect the image that the candidate would like to associate him or herself with, particularly those comments which are racist, discriminatory or derogatory. For example, underneath a post entitled "Rubio: # Of Course, We Should Stand With Israel," published on 3 June 2010 in which Rubio expounds upon his Whitson 74 of 102


support for the American alliance with Israel, a user going by the name "Isahiah62" commented, "Rubio just earned my vote & PLEASE DUMP OBAMA the muzzie lover jewhater prez," (2010d). The ethnic slurs employed by this user are clearly something which any political candidate would not want to be associated with, yet they are publicly viewable on Rubio s own Web site. !It is clear from these examples that the availability of two-way communication tools on candidate Web sites can be a powerful tool, not only for candidates and supporters, but for skeptics and critics as well. However, these tools can also present difculties to candidates when it comes to their desire to convey a particular message to users. For example, users who display open hostility towards candidates or those who demonstrate support in ways which are not socially acceptable who would not have been heard from in the past now have a free platform to deliver whatever message they choose. !It seems that the three popular candidates in the 2010 US Senate Race in Florida differed on their perceptions of the positive and negative possibilities of these tools. Meek decided not to employ two-way communication tools at all by not allowing comments on his blog posts, while Rubio was the most liberal in allowing and encouraging two-way communication on his Web site. Crist, although liberal in enabling users to communicate through his Web site, received virtually no attention as a result. Perhaps this can be interpreted as a microcosmic reection of the tendencies of activists on the Internet to gather at the fringes of the political spectrum, utilizing a seemingly unmoderated platform in order to make their voices heard. Whitson 75 of 102


Linking and positive association !The act of linking to outside sources, also referred to as outlinking, has two principal functions, which are: 1) To provide Web site users with valuable resources at little or no cost to candidates and 2) To emphasize a positive association between the candidate and an outside organization or individual, usually consisting of an endorsement (Druckman, Kifer and Parkin 2009). While the rst function is obvious in its usefulness to candidates, the second function has a more complex inuence on the relationship between candidates and parties in the contemporary era. During the party era, the decisions made by party bosses to select a candidate to represent their party served as the principal positive association which candidates leveraged in the general election because it demonstrated the party s condence in the candidate s worth, although of course it was advantageous for candidates to garner as many additional positive associations as possible. At that time, however, candidates were more dependent on press releases, brochures, news reports, television and radio broadcasts and similar methods to publicize these associations, none of which could compare to the platform that exists today to allow candidates to organize these associations and display them to voters in a constantly-updated list which can be accessed at any time. This makes it much easier for voters to keep track of a candidate s endorsements and therefore helps candidates to develop stronger identities. And although candidates who wish to represent a political party are likely to publicize endorsements from prominent gures within that party, they are under less pressure to do so, making them more likely to promote Whitson 76 of 102


nonpartisan endorsements as well. As a result, the majority of the new possibilities offered by candidate Web sites serve to help candidates develop a more powerful presence in the minds of voters. !In spite of the potential advantages, linking also has the potential, like twoway communication, to jeopardize the candidate s message, depending on where the links lead. The main risk associated with outlinking is the fact that candidates have no control over what others post on the Web sites which are being linked to and that the hosts of said Web sites have the potential to alter or add content at any time, without warning (Foot and Schneider 2006). Therefore, even if a Web site seems appropriate in terms of a candidate" s message at the time that it is linked to, it could become inappropriate at any moment and therefore become harmful to the candidate s original intentions. For this reason, it seems that candidates are usually very careful and conservative in their outlinking behavior and often prefer not to link directly to outside sources, rather posting press releases or descriptions of their association with certain organizations directly on their own Web sites. Since this type of behavior is so common, the following section will discuss instances in which candidates provide implicit associations with other organizations and individuals as well as those in which they link directly to the Web sites of said entities. !It seems that outlinking has increased in popularity, at least in the early part of the 2000s. For example, Druckman, Kifer and Parkin found a signicant increase in outlinking for the Senate and House candidate Web sites that they surveyed between 2002 and 2004, with the statistics escalating from 65.1 to 77.7 Whitson 77 of 102


percent of Web sites providing outside links from election to election. They also found that an average of 71.4 percent of Senate candidate Web sites linked to outside sources over the course of both election years (2009, 31). !The rst function of outlinking providing resources to Web site users at little or no cost to the candidate can be simplied into one main category, which consists of posting links that lead to either a voter registration Web site or a Web site that refers visitors to their respective polling locations. Since these Web sites are usually nonpartisan and refrain from endorsing any specic candidate or party, they are generally safe for candidates to link to and provide visitors with valuable and straightforward tools for registration and voting. Foot and Schneider found that about 30 percent of the campaign sites which they surveyed in 2002 outlinked to voter registration sites hosted by civic bodies or government agencies and that this number increased to 44 percent in 2004 (2006, 59). In the case of the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida, all of the candidates outlinked to a service provided by Google which enables users to locate their nearest polling location by entering their registered address. This matches the criteria described above and offers absolutely no risk to candidates. In the case of voter registration, Meek provided a link to the Florida government s ofcial Web site,, Crist provided a link to a digital voter registration form hosted on the Florida Division of Elections Web site,, and Rubio did not appear to provide a link of such kind. Whitson 78 of 102


!The second function of outlinking emphasizing a positive association with another entity can be subdivided into three separate categories, which are 1) endorsements from media outlets, 2) endorsements from nongovernmental organizations, unions and other interest groups and 3) endorsements from political parties and/or prominent partisan gures. !The rst category of positive association outlinking, the type that leads to an article in which a media source has endorsed a candidate, is a tactic which is understood to increase the credibility of a candidate in the eyes of visitors. These articles are usually available on the media source s Web sites, but it seems that candidates are often more inclined to host the articles on their own Web sites rather than link to the original publication. This could be due to the fact that news sources can revoke endorsements at any time and also have the potential to portray a candidate in an unsavory light, such as in the case of editorials. It could also be for more practical reasons, such as the uncertainty of how long an article will be available on a media source Web site. By posting a news article on his or her own Web site, the candidate is able to avoid such concerns. !In the case of the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida, only one candidate Kendrick Meek provided links to outside media sources. The others frequently posted positive newspaper articles or editorials about themselves, but always within the connes of their own Web sites. Meek" s Web site, while also posting newspaper articles in his own news section, had an "Endorsements" page in which he linked to articles that endorsed him on their respective source s Web sites. Although it is difcult to determine why Meek felt comfortable Whitson 79 of 102


outlinking to media sources while the other candidates did not, it s possible that his campaign team felt that there was more benet provided by substantiating the endorsements than there was risk involved in allowing users to navigate to these outside sources. Regardless of this, visitors who clicked his links to read the original articles may have run across information that would have been damaging to Meek s message, specically comments made by users on the Web sites of the endorsing media outlets. The St. Petersburg Times endorsement article, for example, was followed by a plethora if insulting comments, many of which insinuate that he is dishonest and not electable (2010). !The second category of positive association outlinking, consisting of endorsements from nongovernmental organizations, unions and other interest groups, can be a very benecial tool for candidates who wish to demonstrate to voters their devotion to specic shared causes. Foot and Schneider stress the signicance of such associations, stating that "when a campaign references texts produced by another political actor on its own site, such as an advocacy group s mission statement ... it may be honing its own image by ... aligning ... itself [with] that actor," (2006, 106). !All of the candidates participated in this activity. In Meek" s case, the candidate preferred to link to pages on his own Web site which described the endorsements of said organizations rather than linking to the organizations themselves. Crist s Web site did not have a page dedicated to endorsements, but did publish press releases announcing the endorsements of signicant organizations. Crist even went so far as to place a panel on his home page Whitson 80 of 102


advertising the endorsement that he received from the Sierra Club, using it to substantiate his claims to being an environmentally conscious candidate. Rubio followed a similar strategy as Meek, with a panel on his "Marco 101" page called "What People Are Saying," that scrolls through a list which includes promotions for his endorsements from the Club for Growth and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, but not directly linking to their respective Web sites. The third category of positive association outlinking consists primarily of the act of linking to the Web sites of or displaying endorsements from prominent partisan actors, organizations and/or the parties which they represent. This can be useful for candidates in that it may help to reassure visitors who are accustomed to the credibility provided by political parties. Furthermore, it provides interesting opportunities for non-party-afliated candidates to display the diversity of their appeal based on the endorsements they are able to obtain. !It is not surprising that Rubio and Meek, the two major party candidates in the election, did not hesitate to tout endorsements from major gures in their respective political parties. Meek, for example, proudly displayed endorsements from President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Senator from Florida and Former Governor of Florida Bob Graham, Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Florida CFO Alex Sink, along with those of several current Democratic representatives and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. What s most interesting about Rubio s strategy is that the overwhelming majority of endorsements which he posted came from politicians or PACs and very few from the previously discussed categories. Rubio s political endorsements include Whitson 81 of 102


George P. Bush, Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, former Senator of Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Florida Senator Carey Baker, former Florida Senate President Tom Lee, Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul, Former Governor of Massachussetts Mitt Romney, Senator from Oklahoma James Inhofe, Former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, former Advisor to Dick Cheney Cesar Conda, Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives Eric Cantor and several Republican Florida representatives. !While Crist did not have a page or section of his Web site dedicated to listing endorsements, he did widely publicize them on various sections of the site, including his home page. Furthermore, unlike the other two candidates, Crist did not have to remain faithful to either party in his endorsements and therefore was able to publicize those from major gures in both parties, including Republican and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenneger and Democrat Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, both of which were displayed on his home page. However, Crist" s decision not to dedicate a page of his Web site to endorsements made those which he did receive less obvious, since a visitor would have had to stumble upon them happenstance in order to be informed of them. This is interesting because Crist s name recognition and lack of party afliation offered advantages and disadvantages which almost seem to contradict one another in that: 1) his experience and popularity could have lessened his need for endorsements from other politicians and 2) his lack of party afliation meant that he lacked the credibility which comes from having received the backing of voters in a primary Whitson 82 of 102


election, in which case a comprehensive list of political endorsements would have proved advantageous. In spite of the numerous instances of candidates providing implicit associations with partisan gures on their own Web sites, none of the candidates linked directly to political party Web sites. While this only applies to the two major party candidates, Meek and Rubio, it still warrants further discussion. In particular, the candidates" decisions raise an important question: why would they forego linking to their respective political parties Web sites when doing so would have had the effect of strengthening party relations as well as connecting visitors to useful resources and like-minded candidates running for other ofces? The simplest reason may be that the candidates were condent that visitors would assume that they had the support of their political parties and vice-versa, and that they would most likely be in support of the other candidates representing that party. The more complicated explanation is a synthesis of two ideas, which are that 1) this behavior may be indicative of the candidates reluctance to reinforce their party identication and 2) the risks associated with outlinking (distracting the visitor, damaging the purity of a candidate" s message) outweigh any possible benets that could result. When one considers that part one of the explanation reduces the benets of emphasizing one s party afliations because this identication is now secondary to the candidate s personal appeal while part two of the explanation increases the likeliness of consequences which could result from such linking, the decision to forego linking seems to be the obvious choice. However, the implications of this logic and the conclusions which it warrants are Whitson 83 of 102


tremendously signicant when it comes to the fate of political parties in terms of their inuence on elections. Conclusion !The decisions of the candidates not to include the direct forms of two-way communication message boards, forums and live chats on their Web sites may be an indication that candidates are becoming more concerned with controlling the medium so that users cannot complicate or distract from the messages they want to convey to readers. However, the decisions of Rubio and Crist to allow the less direct but still possibly two-way in that users can initiate discussions with each other forms of communication on their Web sites may indicate their desire to convey a type of democratic openness to users but a refusal to implement anything that involves greater risk to their messages. The strategic and conservative placements of endorsements on the candidates Web sites in particular their decisions not to link to their parties Web sites and the near absence of outlinks may indicate a desire for candidates to be seen by voters as independent and unique but still to demonstrate a level of credibility that association with other candidates and certain organizations can provide. I believe that all of the decisions of the candidates in designing their Web sites are reective of the contemporary era in that they are taking every precaution to ensure that the potential voter sees the candidate as an individual who is passionate about policy and not necessarily constrained by the traditional norms of parties, regardless of whether or not he is a member of one. I think that more studies that closely inspect a small number of candidate Web sites as well Whitson 84 of 102


as those that examine a larger number in a more standardized manner will contribute to the knowledge of how candidates are using new technology to further develop a salient public image in an era of candidate-centered elections. Whitson 85 of 102


Conclusion Addressing a small room of political bloggers immediately after delivering a keynote speech at a national conservative convention, Marco Rubio stated: "I really think that what s happening in America would have been impossible ve years ago because of the inability of people to communicate with each other. In fact, we would have been at the mercy of mainstream media outlets that, quite frankly, I don" t think fully understand what s happening in America," (2010a). Undoubtedly, those in the crowd personally and politically identied with what Rubio was saying. And although the statement was likely inspired by Rubio" s own political viewpoints or at least what he wanted others to believe were his own political viewpoints it provides a powerful insight into the current state of electoral politics in America that is relevant to voters whether they are conservative or liberal. !Almost every aspect of the contemporary political process is ltered through an increasingly sophisticated array of media technologies, including traditional ones like television, newspapers and radio to more advanced ones like news Web sites, candidate Web sites, political blogs, social networking Web sites and a plethora of other online channels. Candidates learn about what issues are important to voters through polls and then try to capture the attention and loyalty of voters by broadcasting controlled, inspiring images of themselves through visual media platforms with the help of shrewd and skillful consultants. Voters Whitson 86 of 102


can learn about campaigns quickly and get involved with or support a candidate more directly and easily then before. Activists have more tools at their disposal that can potentially be used to impact elections or, at the very least, unite with likeminded activists for that purpose with little to no capital requirements. !Electoral politics and media technologies in the US have co-evolved in a remarkable way that can almost be described as a feedback loop: when one mutates, the other one does so in response, causing the rst to mutate in a new way, and so on. Most importantly, however, they both follow what appears to be one common trajectory: an increasing level of complexity. The parties have become adept at disseminating power and inuence in ways that, to the common spectator, could even appear contradictory. As the number of actors increases, so does the complicated and clandestine nature of their relationships. Media technologies have changed in a similar manner in that they are no longer oriented primarily to facilitate communication from producer to consumer. A large number of emerging technologies make it possible for information to travel back and forth between various individuals that are no longer static in their roles as either producers or consumers. !The purpose of this thesis was to attempt to investigate the relationship between new media technology and electoral politics in the US through a case study of the 2010 US Senate Election in Florida. In order to make this feasible, two actors were chosen and one tool was chosen for each actor. On one side, blogs were chosen as an interactive means for voters and activists to possibly use to inuence elections. The results were interesting but confounding because Whitson 87 of 102


it became difcult to determine the motivations behind the actions of the bloggers: were they truly passionate activists using the Internet as a means to achieve a grassroots agenda or were they crafty individuals working in tandem with political parties to make the act of furthering the interests of the parties appear to be a grassroots endeavor? The answer is not clear. What is clear, however, is that bloggers were attempting to take on some of the responsibilities that have traditionally been placed in the hands of political parties, namely vetting candidates particularly in the primary elections mobilizing support and raising funds for certain candidates. On the other side, candidate Web sites were chosen as a tool for candidates to use in order to develop a more direct relationship with voters and potential supporters. The results suggested that candidates are extremely wary when designing their Web sites so as to protect the message they want to convey to visitors from any interference or possible misinterpretation. This was evidenced in the ndings that none of the candidates outwardly provided a platform for users to communicate with each other explicitly, although two of the three candidates Rubio and Crist provided a platform in the form of their own personal blogs, where users could respond by posting their own content. In addition, two out of the three candidates again, Rubio and Crist were careful to keep visitors contained to their own sites, aside from providing tools for users to register to vote or locate their proper polling locations. !The purpose of this thesis was not to make any objective claims regarding this case but to gather some descriptive evidence of the roles that new media in particular blogs and candidate Web sites and those who use them play in Whitson 88 of 102


contemporary elections. The ultimate goal was to contribute to a growing body of knowledge so that multiple cases can be compared later by future researchers and insights can be made that will lead to improved questions and methods. Whitson 89 of 102


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