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Limits and Opportunities of Campaigning on the Web (WP-15-09)

James Druckman, Martin Kifer, and Michael Parkin

The rise of new media has transformed campaign communications. Virtually all campaigns now launch websites, post on Facebook, “tweet,” and send e-mails. How do campaigns view these technologies? What are the implications for the content of communications? The researchers address these questions with a focus on United States congressional candidate websites. They argue that, on the one hand, campaigns face clear limits since they cannot control who visits their sites; yet, on the other hand, campaigns can control the content posted. Thus, they expect homogeneity, across campaigns, in terms of target audiences, anticipated visitors, and the portrayal of overall campaign strategy, but variation when it comes to content (e.g., going negative, information about the candidate’s background, fundraising appeals etc.). Consistent with prior work, the key to this content variation lies in the candidate’s incumbency status. The researchers test their expectations with unique data from surveys of those involved with the creation and maintenance of congressional campaign websites between 2008 and 2014. The data strongly support their predictions. These results offer the first definitive portrait of how campaigns view and use websites, and what this means for congressional campaign communication.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and Associate Director and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Martin Kifer, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of the Survey Research Center, High Point University

Michael Parkin, Associate Professor of Politics, Oberlin College

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