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section heading icon     political blogs

This page looks at political blogging - blogs by candidates, elected representatives and advocacy organisations.

It covers -

section marker     introduction

Given the rhetoric about community noted earlier in this profile and almost millennarian expectations about 'new media' as something that is necessarily liberating and democratic it is unsurprising that enthusiasts and the media have argued that blogging will be a significant feature of politics in advanced economies.

Such arguments typically centre on claims that blogs will

  • enable elected representatives or potential representatives to bypass mass media, particularly media that are hostile to a particular view or that present an individual within a particular 'box' that misrepresents that person and his/her statements
  • empower politicians with a personal voice
  • enable "genuine engagement" between representatives and those they represent, in particular through feedback that is "authentic" and appears on the reprentative's blog
  • enable advocacy groups to disseminate their views to members, potential supporters and opponents
  • allow 'citizen journalists' to ask "hard questions" that would be asked by a supine, biased or merely lazy mainstream media
  • underpin online poll and 'get out the vote' campaigns by groups such as MoveOn and GetUp ("A political motivated movement attempting to enlist like-minded people who want
    to bring participation back into democracy").

section marker     MP blogs

Australian politicians are thus currently emulating peers in the US, Canada and UK who have started blogging as a replacement for or supplement to traditional sites and newsletters.

UK critic Martyn Perks commented that

There is nothing new about MPs having websites - but weblogs are websites with a difference. A typical MP's website contain speeches, articles and information about issues they think are important. The new clique of MPs dabbling with weblogs is a different breed; they realise the potential in blogging, and how it makes publishing and soliciting feedback relatively simple, without needing technical knowledge of web publishing. In reality, however, politics-by-blogging often means selling ideas to us that are uninformed, parochial and unmediated.

... by evoking a sense of participation, asking voters for ideas becomes an excuse for not thinking big and forging forward with political direction. Instead, policy is formed on the hoof and based on a knee-jerk response to the world around us.

James Crabtree had earlier argued that

Blogs Are Like Your Front Door

Your front door works best for welcoming those you already know. Of course, you front door can introduce you to new people. But people who turn up who you don’t know at all – double glazing salesmen, or jehova’s witnesses for instance - are less welcome. Blogs are a bit like this too. They work best for communicating with people who already know you, and who are already interested in what you do. Blogs are a very handy way of keeping those who already know you, and have an interest in what you do, informed, updated, and plugged in. They can also work to introduce you to those who do not know, but because they are designed around those who are engaged they can be more off-putting than a standard web-site.

For politicians this means understanding that if a constituent comes to your blog, what is up there may be confusing. Although day-to-day scribblings will be useful for those they know, they are often the most accessible introduction to an MP. So blogs are not to be seen as a replacement for web-sites, and must come with other means of communicating with people who might not understand a blog at first.

In the UK the Political Blogs - Craze or Convention report (PDF) from the Hansard Society lamented that MP blogs may be an unsuccessful byproduct of "evangelical attempts to patch up relations between representatives and constituents in the face of flagging election turnouts".

Sandy Starr asked

is this intimate, personal form of expression suitable for politicians? These are our formal representatives, and are generally also representatives of political parties. Because they bear such responsibility, we might expect them to comport themselves differently in public to the way they might in the pub. Rather than reading their offhand musings, wouldn't it be better to hold them to account more formally in the forum of public debate?

section marker     candidate and campaign blogs

The problematical nature of 'online community' has not deterred pundits from proclaiming that weblogs will drive political activism, generally construed in terms of left-of-centre young caucasians with a beef about globalisation. Neo-nazis and religious fanatics apparently won't blog for power.

In Australia few political candidates have blogged, in contrast to the US and UK where blogging now seems de rigeur as a way of demonstrating that the candidate is hip, tech-savvy and atuned to a youth demographic. The credibility of blogs from high profile contenders such as Howard Dean has been undermined by suggestions that the 'blogger' behind some blogs is in fact the candidate's staff.

William Grosso, asking "What's the point of a weblog and what does it accomplish?" in 2002, commented that

Dave Winer (and others, like Eric Albert) are gradually wandering into politics (they're at the toe-dipping stage, but the big splash seems inevitable). What they're doing is interesting: they're attempting to jumpstart the tech community to defend technology.

As the profile on internet myths suggests, we are unconvinced that "technology" needs to be defended, that the "internet is under siege" (the EFF, like the Festival of Light, is always issuing jeremiads at 5 minutes to 12) or that the "tech community" (the people tartly characterised by Borsook as the cyberselfish) is altogether altruistic.

In 2003 the US Democratic National Committee launched a Kicking Ass blog with the promise that

Blogs are popping up all over politics. Most of the Democratic candidates for president have added them to their websites.

Why? What's so different about blogs that so many people have turned to them as a source of news and community? Is this just another Internet fad (remember push media?) that will be nothing but a fond memory in a few years?

We don't think so. One of the most common complaints about politicians and political parties is that there's no real communication between those of us in Washington and the rest of America.

We put out press releases, email newsletters, fundraising appeals, form letters, and advertisements. You write letters, volunteer, and donate.

But where's the frank, one-on-one communication? Blogs make that possible. On Kicking Ass, you're going to meet real people at the DNC and hear our real thoughts. And we're going to listen to you.

We are old and jaundiced, but they would say that, wouldn't they?

section marker     virtual fireside chats and fibs

As yet, most candidates have confined their blogging to text, albeit often decorated with a picture of the loving spouse, designer children and authentically scruffy dog. We can presumably expect greater use of podcasting, as people offer audio or even video for particular audiences.

Podcasting by politicos so far has tended to recycle radio or television advertisements - explored in Edwin Diamond's classic The Spot: The Rise Of Political Advertising on Television (Cambridge: MIT Press 1992) - and canned speeches, rather than a performance specific to the net.

A carefully honed and engaging folksy fireside chat might offset voter scepticism about the authenticity of much politician blogging, which like speeches is often ghostwritten.

Outsourcing expression and ideas is probably inevitable but can damage the supposed author's credibility if not properly managed. New York candidate Fernando Ferrer for example was caught in an apparent fib on his campaign blog. Aides dealt with the problem by maintaining that Ferrer did not write the blog entry attributed to him.

An item submitted by Freddy Ferrer was inaccurately edited regarding Freddy's education. We apologize for the mistake and have corrected the entry.

That explanation was followed by a statement that the candidate did not submit a written item but rather "passed on some ideas" to an aide, who then wrote three paragraphs and posted them in his name.

This happens in political campaigns all the time," she said. "In this case he called in some ideas, and someone got a little loose with the editing.

section marker     readership

Do political blogs preach to - and energise - more than the converted? The answer to that question is contested.

In 2008 US pollster Harris claimed that most people in the US do not read political blogs. Only 22% of respondents to Harris' poll indicated that they read blogs regularly (ie several times per month). 56% indicated that they never read blogs concerned with politics. 23% read them "several times a year". Only 19% of people in the 18 to 31 age cohort and 17% of those in the 32 to 43 cohort regularly read a political blog, with Harris claiming that the generation "most likely" to read such blogs was that comprising people aged 63 or older (26% of whom supposedly read polblogs).

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version of March 2008
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics