In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Online Campaigning

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Methodological Approaches
  • 1996 Presidential Campaigning
  • 2000 Presidential Campaigning
  • 2004 Presidential Online Campaigning
  • 2008 Presidential Online Campaigning
  • Congressional and State Online Campaigning
  • Comparisons of Election Cycles
  • Britain, Canada, and Australia
  • Western Democracies
  • Non-Western Democracies
  • International Comparisons
  • Effects

Communication Online Campaigning
Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Ian Sheinheit
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0059


The research about online campaigning focuses primarily on the question of how, and whether, using information and communication technologies (ICTs) will reshape the political landscape, especially in Western democracies like the United States. Some of the research examines the ways that political campaigns are using or failing to use the Internet and its potentially democratizing affordances to engage more people more deeply in the electoral process. Other research examines the ways that citizens use or fail to use the Internet to get more involved in political campaigns. The results so far suggest a complicated picture. On the one hand, political elites, such as candidates, are increasingly using the Internet to engage supporters and mobilize them for the benefit of the campaign. On the other hand, there is evidence of increased political polarization, with those interested in politics becoming more so, and those uninterested in politics becoming even less involved and knowledgeable about politics. The research that exists focuses on established Western democracies, especially English-speaking countries. In addition, little research exists about online campaigning in countries politically organized in other ways, like dictatorships, in part because opportunities to use the Internet for political expression by elites or by citizens are limited, either because of poor Internet diffusion or because of authoritarian systems that limit free expression and dialogue between the government and the governed.

General Overviews

Several books and summary articles are available that provide useful theoretical or empirical overviews of online campaigning. For a broad overview of the Internet and politics, see Chadwick 2006. Of the more focused studies that examine campaigning online, one of the richest is Foot and Schneider 2006. Their practice-based theorizing justifies the study of online campaigning as a way to understand how such practices are changing the political environment. They examine three US election cycles—2000, 2002, and 2004—and provide a description of the ways that campaigns are harnessing the World Wide Web to inform, connect, involve, and mobilize. Other books, similarly, describe the campaign practices of given election cycles. Selnow 1998 and Davis 1999 examine the 1996 campaign, Bimber and Davis 2003 examines 2000, and Williams and Tedesco 2006 examines 2004. Theoretical perspectives of online campaigning have focused on the ways campaigning will change or are changing because of digital technologies. Early scholarship from Selnow 1998 identified features of the Internet that could be used to promote a strong democracy in the United States. Others have not been as optimistic. Margolis, et al. 1997 and Davis 1999 argue that online campaigning is unlikely to democratize, but instead to “normalize,” establishing the same hierarchical structures and disenfranchised groups that existed in the pre-web era. Howard 2006 takes an even more dystopic view, examining the ways that campaigns will harness technologies to micro-target voters in ways that may harm democracy. Bimber and Davis 2003 takes a more nuanced view, suggesting that online campaigning holds the potential to mobilize the politically engaged while simultaneously contributing to political polarization. Much of the scholarship about online campaigning focuses on the US context. There is a sizable body of research, however, that examines online campaigning within and across countries in various parts of the globe. Ferdinand 2002, which is based on a special issue of the journal Democratization and serves as a foundational primer, examines online campaigning and democratization in countries such as Indonesia, Germany, and the United States; on continents such as Africa; and in repressive regimes such as that of the Taliban. Taken as a whole, this wide body of scholarship on online campaigning suggests an active research area that focuses on essential questions of the interrelations and communication technology of political society.

  • Bimber, Bruce, and Richard Davis. 2003. Campaigning online: The Internet in U.S. elections. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book details the practices and effects of online campaigning. Situated within the 2000 election, the study content analyzes campaign websites, surveys voters, and experiments with different configurations of online campaign messages. The results suggest that online campaigning is subtly shifting the nature of campaigning.

  • Chadwick, Andrew. 2006. Internet politics: States, citizens, and new communication technologies. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Examines many aspects of the Internet and politics, including examining policy, governance, civic participation, and social movements, as well as online campaigning.

  • Davis, Richard. 1999. The web of politics: The Internet’s impact on the American political system. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book examines the many ways the Internet and its uses affected politics in the 1990s. One chapter takes up presidential campaigning in 1996, describing the ways that the 1996 presidential candidates used e-mail and the web through a systematic content analysis of presidential and state races.

  • Ferdinand, Peter, ed. 2002. The Internet, democracy and democratization. London: Frank Cass.

    This edited book situates the diffusion of the Internet within a global political context, examining the ways that its uses are shaping governments, political systems, and involvement in politics by citizens in countries such as Indonesia, Tibet, Germany, Afghanistan, and the United States, and across the African continent.

  • Foot, Kirsten A., and Steven M. Schneider. 2006. Web campaigning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Provides some of the richest theorizing and description about online campaigning. Authors use practice-based theory to examine political campaigns by observing campaigns’ websites as artifacts that are indicative of a political and organizational system. They study political “Web spheres,” conglomerations of topically related websites.

  • Howard, Philip N. 2006. New media campaigns and the managed citizen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This ethnography traces changes in campaigning with the adoption of ICTs. With large-scale databases of voter information, campaigns micro-target voters more aggressively and efficiently. A note of caution is raised about the practice of political redlining, the identification of people deemed less likely to vote who are then actively ignored.

  • Margolis, Michael, David Resnick, and Chin-chang Tu. 1997. Campaigning on the Internet: Parties and candidates on the World Wide Web in the 1996 primary season. International Journal of Press/Politics 2.1: 59–78.

    This article maps out the authors’ “normalization” thesis. They analyze the campaign and political websites of the 1996 election season and conclude that the Internet will not have a democratizing influence on politics and that the Internet is unlikely to bring new actors to the political stage.

  • Selnow, Gary W. 1998. Electronic whistle-stops: The impact of the Internet on American politics. Westport, CT: Praeger.

    One of the first books to examine the ways in which politics is changing. Examines changes in journalism and civic participation, and also details the ways that political campaigns will change or have changed, using e-mail to coordinate activities within the campaign, for example, and increased interactivity to keep supporters on the website.

  • Williams, Andrew Paul, and John C. Tedesco, eds. 2006. The Internet election: Perspectives on the web in campaign 2004. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    This edited collection provides an in-depth examination of the 2004 online presidential campaigns, examining female candidates’ online representations, how the web and e-mail were harnessed for political organizing, the role of blogs, and the effects of young voters’ Internet use and political efficacy.

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