Consistent and Cautious: Congressional Campaigning on the Web in 2016 (WP-17-01)


James Druckman, Martin Kifer, and Michael Parkin

This paper explores congressional campaigning on the web in 2016. What impact did the unique nature of the 2016 election have on those involved with the creation and maintenance of congressional campaign websites? Did it cause them to alter their approach to online campaigning? Using data from a survey of campaign insiders, the researchers find that the factors that influence how congressional campaigns view and use their websites were largely impervious to the unique electoral environment. Results show that, consistent with research on previous election years, campaigns maintained a fairly uniform view of likely visitors and target audiences, and they tended to see their campaign websites as digital hubs, best used for capturing the campaign’s overall message. They also find that, as in other years, non-incumbents continued to use their websites to campaign more aggressively than incumbents. Additional analysis finds that the majority of congressional campaign websites did not mention either of the presidential candidates, although those that did were more likely to be from Democratic and female candidates. Overall, the results suggest that congressional campaigning on the web is primarily driven by stable factors that transcend technological advancements and shifts in the political environment.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Martin Kifer, Associate Professor of Political Science, High Point University

Michael Parkin, Associate Professor of Politics, Oberlin College

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