There’s no doubt that social media is now accepted as part of the norm on the political landscape, and for many it’s an essential means of expression, with participation by not only those involved in politics, but those affected by it in their everyday lives.
With author, Antoinette Pole, offering up the statistic that there are over 100 million blogs in existence, it’s unsurprising that the word of the blogger has become a powerful weapon in the fight for parliamentary seats and in campaigns for change. But how effective is blogging, and can it transform politics and lead to increased social participation?
In a word, yes. Blogging and other forms of social media such as YouTube and Facebook are essential to the political scene because it can be undertaken by anyone, individual or political party follower.
Pole argues that although both blogging and online campaigning are important and influential in politics, it’s the former which has done most to transform the political scene in America in the past eight years.
Briefly indulging us on the evolution of media and new media, Pole lays the foundation for our understanding of where social participation in politics has evolved from, starting with the development of radio and television debates.
Concentrating on the development of the debate concept in the 1960s, when a lot of research was undertaken, she discusses the influence that such debates in the ‘new medium’ of television had, particularly with the Presidential debates between Kennedy and Nixon. Pole takes us right up to date to the current era, focussing on the development of, first, the internet, and then the evolution of political blogs and campaigns. Later chapters focus on the use of political blogging and social media in relation to various groups – such as the LGBT audience, ethnic minorities and women – and tries to both chart their development and the effect that they’ve had.
But it’s the later chapters which come into their own, offering a real insight into the effects of political blogging during the run-up to the recent US elections.
Examining both Republican and Democratic social media outputs, Pole analyses blogging activities and their influences during the Presidential Primaries. The resulting data indicates that bloggers had an influence on those who voted for the presidential candidates in both parties, an example which, Poles argues, is indicative of the increasing sway that the individual can have in political circles.
Pole goes on to claim that the parties, by becoming more politically aware, and by opening up election conventions to bloggers (and in the case of the Democrats, actually listing which bloggers were in attendance), the parties are giving the appearance of being open and transparent, and are therefore recognising the importance of the blogger.
It’s an attitude which hasn’t really taken off in the UK, with the main parties tending to look at blogging as something which goes on in the periphery of the political sphere. But it is something which we’re likely to see an increased use of in the run up to the next election, though it will be hard to measure the effect that blogging and an online presence will have on vote-winning.
The US Presidential Election in 2004, and more so at the Primaries two years ago, saw an increase in the use of political campaign blogging, particularly as more and more people were online. Overall though, it is, as Pole says, difficult to measure the impact that blogging has on campaigns, but the evidence supports the notion that it does make it easier to organise campaign efforts, and eventually mobilise voters.
The same is probably true here in the UK, with huge numbers of web literate, floating voters, who more than likely use the web to find out political information. Indeed, the web is also becoming increasingly important in campaigning by parliamentary candidates, though whether or not it replaces the traditional ‘door knocking’ method remains to be seen.
As has been said by many a commentator, the 2009 US Presidential Election was won because of Obama’s online activities, using social media extensively to attack his opponent and to solicit volunteers. It’s something which the major political parties in Britain have been slow to make use of, despite claims to the contrary.
Certainly, the Liberal Democrats have been making use of social media to engage with the electorate, particularly those internet literate floaters, but, in contrast, both Labour and the Conservatives have been slower to pursue such methods, and certainly very few of their endeavours match the ferocity of the Obama campaign. It seems almost as though British politicians seem more concerned with ‘advertising’ themselves to the electorate, rather than using social media for direct engagement.
Pole has set out to create a book which charts the rise and effects of political blogging, using contemporary and well-analysed examples. She sets out to argue that blogs are an important means of engagement, particularly with politicians, and that they have the power to change the political landscape. Her analysis of the political blogosphere battles between the Republicans and the Democrats are both interesting and incisive.
As Pole says, blogs (and other forms of social media) are no longer a novel form of communication and will remain prominent and continue growing, and so will the growth of online communities consisting of bloggers and campaigners with similar views. This is a book that’s worth a read by any blogger who seriously wishes to use their online outputs as a serious tool in the forthcoming election. As Pole herself concludes, “with more print media, namely newspapers, going out of business or transitioning to online editions only, political blogs may fill this vacuum”.
Blogging The Political is published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN: 978-0-415-96342-8. Price $29.95.
Andrew Tibbs is an Edinburgh-based freelance writer. His website can be found at andrewtibbs.com