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Online media usage for political campaigning

Investigating the usage of online media for professional communications in the

context of the US election campaigns 2008

by Thomas Euler

27th March, 2009


Abstract

The purpose of this report is to help developing an understanding of how the internet and

its multitude of different communication platforms, also known as ‘Web 2.0’ or ‘Social

Media’, influence political campaigning. In order to achieve this, a closer look is taken on

political online campaigning in general and the 2008 US election campaigns in particular.

Data of two surveys that were conducted after the 2008 elections is analysed in order to

identify the mindset of political Social Media users, to make predictions about their usage

of different online channels, and to uncover the role Social Media plays in citizens’ decision

making process about whether or not they volunteer for a campaign. At the end, the author

will conclude which implications the findings have on Public Relations for political

campaigns and recommend topics for future research.


Acknowledgements

To begin with, I want to thank my supervisor Habte Selassie for his guidance through this

project.

Furthermore, I’d like to thank Klaus Eck for introducing me to the topic of political online

campaigning 2 years ago and SurveyPro for their prompt and friendly support with all

technical issues.

Finally, I want to thank my girlfriend for her patience and love.


Table of Contents

LIST OF TABLES .............................................................................................................. iii


LIST OF FIGURES .............................................................................................................iv
1. Introduction ............................................................................................................... 1
2. Literature Review ....................................................................................................... 2
2.1 Setting the framework ................................................................................................... 2
2.2 An introduction to online campaigning ......................................................................... 4
2.3 Areas of campaigning affected by the internet ............................................................. 5
2.3.1 Segmentation .......................................................................................................... 6
2.3.2 Delivering the message ........................................................................................... 7
2.3.3 Activating Citizens ................................................................................................. 11
2.3.4 Online Fundraising ................................................................................................ 13
3. Methodology............................................................................................................ 14
3.1 Description, justification of method and sampling ...................................................... 15
3.2 Research design: The survey set-up............................................................................. 15
3.3 Limitations.................................................................................................................... 16
3.4 Information on the 2008 Post Election Survey ............................................................ 18
4. Findings ................................................................................................................... 21
4.1 Analysis of different online channels ........................................................................... 21
4.2 The mindset of political Social Media users................................................................. 25
4.2.1 Political interest and decision-making criteria...................................................... 26
4.2.2 Perceived importance of the internet for the public sphere ................................ 26
4.2.3 Critical judgement of sources ............................................................................... 27
4.2.4 Government trust and satisfaction ....................................................................... 27
4.2.5 Summary ............................................................................................................... 29
4.2.6 Statistical difficulties ............................................................................................. 29
4.3 The influence of online campaign measures on the decision to actively participate in a
campaign ............................................................................................................................ 30
5. Conclusions and Recommendations .......................................................................... 30
5.1 Segmentation ............................................................................................................... 31
5.2 Delivering the message ................................................................................................ 32
5.3 Activating citizens ........................................................................................................ 33
6. Bibliography ............................................................................................................. 34
7. Appendices .............................................................................................................. 37
Appendix A - The Online Media Usage Survey’s questions ............................................... 37
Appendix B - Pre-test ......................................................................................................... 45

ii
LIST OF TABLES

Table

1 Overall Participant Statistics 18

2 Information about the November elections on sources 21

3 Traditional media online users 22

4 Use of other online services for campaign related activities 23

5 Overall satisfaction and dissatisfaction crosstabulation 28

6 Trust in government crosstabulation 28

iii
LIST OF FIGURES

Figure

1 Political online information sources 24

iv
1. Introduction

The aim of this report is to help developing an understanding of how the internet and its

multitude of different communication platforms, also known as ‘Web 2.0’ or ‘Social Media’,

influence public relations in the context of political campaigns. Some research has already

been carried out in this field; however, almost none of it provides a public relations angle

on the topic but derives from disciplines such as political sciences, social sciences or even

from technical disciplines. Therefore, this study aims to lay the ground for future PR

research in the field of political campaigning.

In order to achieve this, a closer look is taken on political online campaigning in general and

the 2008 US election campaigns in particular. After setting the theoretical framework in

which the study at hand is settled, the reader will be introduced to political campaigning

from a communications and public relations point-of-view and, thereupon, the internet’s

influence on several realms of political campaigns is addressed.

The specific interest of this report is the voter and how he uses Social Media in a political

context. Data of two surveys, which were conducted after the 2008 elections, is analysed in

order to identify the mindset of political Social Media users, to make predictions about the

usage of different online channels or tools and to uncover the role Social Media plays in

citizens’ decision making process about whether or not they volunteer for a campaign.

Finally, the author will conclude which implications the findings have on Public Relations in

a political campaign context and recommend topics for future research.


2. Literature Review

2.1 Setting the framework

Public Relations and politics are interlinked literally since the first mention of the term

‘Public Relations’ in 1807 by US President Thomas Jefferson (Davis, 2007). Actors on the

political playground were and are one of the largest groups of those who demand Public

Relations and professional communication (Moloney, 2006). To be sure, the field of Public

Relations can not be narrowed precisely. Too many different academic disciplines influence

PR theory and in praxis, too, PR work has many facets making Public Relations a complex

field that can not easily be defined (Davis 2007; Fawkes 2008). As early as 1976 Harlow was

trying to come up with a general definition of Public Relations and found almost 500

different definitions of the term during his research. By today the number can be expected

to be even higher. This variety of definitions origins from a range of different views scholars

and practitioners alike have on PR (Davis, 2007), from seeing it primarily as a marketing

function to considering it as a valuable contributor to the process of balancing interests

within a society (Fawkes, 2008). Consequently, the author won’t define the term ‘Public

Relations’ but instead will approach the topic by demonstrating the necessary theoretical

angle on PR in a political campaign context.

When talking about Public Relations in this context a concept to consider is the public

sphere model from Habermas (1989). Simplified, he describes the public sphere as the

realm where private individuals come together to discuss political and other issues of public

interest in order to formulate a public opinion or will. This process demands the flow of free

and relevant information that can only be guaranteed with free press or media respectively.

Even though this concept has its limitations as, amongst others, Wood and Somerville

(2008) point out, the public sphere lays the foundation on which Public Relations happens,

especially in a political context. Here, PR has the objective to be an organisation’s

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‘spokesperson’ that expresses and advances its views within the public sphere in order to

enable the public sphere to make informed decisions and, on the other hand, reports the

public opinion to the organisation so it knows about the current state of public opinion and

can adequately react to it.

This thought is also reflected by the fourth type of Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) model of Public

Relations practise, the two-way symmetric communication. It describes organisational

communication that is foremost interested in balancing the organisation’s and its

stakeholder’s interests by relying on dialogues. It is based on mutual respect among all

parties and aims to create inter-party understanding, rather than trying to convince the

stakeholders of the organisation’s opinion.

For democracy being almost exactly like the formerly described, namely the attempt to

balance interests in order to achieve the best possible result for society, this model of

Public Relations can be considered an ideal and desirable state of political communication

where PR plays a major, contributing role in the democratic process (Cutlip et al., 2000).

However, in contrast to general political communications - as the communication of elected

administrations with the public -, for campaign communications - as the communication of

those who try to convince the constituency in order to become elected - , two-way

symmetric communication might not be the best practise. This is due to the inherent

competitive nature of election campaigns. Necessarily a campaign seeks to convince the

public of its campaign object (e.g. the candidate) being the best of all choices.

Accordingly, Two-way asymmetric communication better suits the object. As Grunig and

Hunt (1984) describe, this type also is bidirectional but communication is always in favour

of the sender, who wants to win recognition. Clearly, this type can be considered the basis

of election campaign communications. Whereas the campaign must listen to public opinion

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– from supporters and opponents alike - in order to maintain relevance and the ability to

respond, the major task is to stimulate advocacy and thereby winning the elections.

2.2 An introduction to online campaigning

According to Blumler and Kavanagh (1999) we have, by now, entered the third age of

political communication. Compared to the traditional, television-based, mass-

communication campaigns that dominated the 20th century, nowadays campaigns have

changed drastically. Modern communication technology affected first the media, which

became more fragmented and personalised, and then campaigning, which in 2004 for the

first time became more narrowed, less centralised and took feedback from citizens into

account. The main driver for this change was and is the internet and its widespread usage

(Vaccari, 2008).

Presidential campaigns use the Internet as an instrument since 1996. From then on, online

campaigns became an increasingly normal part of any political campaign on any

governmental level and their use and importance increased steadily (Druckman, Kifer and

Parkin, 2007). Whereas the first online efforts consisted of not more than a website, used

as an online brochure, nowadays online campaigns deploy a large range of technical

possibilities the internet offers. Hence, the campaign websites include a larger number of

multi-media features, start to become interactive and are designed to appeal to different

classes of voters at the same time (Vaccari, 2008). In 2008, as Smith and Rainie (2008, p.2)

couch, “the internet has moved from the periphery to the center of national politics”.

Farrel and Webb (2000) argue that as campaigns became more professional over the years,

not least because they didn’t flinch from spending high amounts of money and resources to

investigate and incorporate new communication technologies, they changed in certain

areas: Instead of deploying ad-hoc communicated messages, campaigns became almost

permanent and increasingly emphasised personal contacts in order to reach the voters.

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Plus, they were run by professional communication agencies or consultants who adopted

principles from corporate marketing and PR to politics. Moreover, Farrel and Webb (2000)

identified the trend to decentralise the campaigns’ organisation. The latter development

has increased even further thanks to the internet. Instead of, for instance, organising

supporter meetings in central campaign offices, the campaigns provided volunteers with

the tools to organise themselves - an approach first seen in 2004, when the Dean campaign

made use of meetups.com, which allowed supporters to arrange local meetings with like-

minded people. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign developed an own tool that fulfilled the

same purpose and included it into the MyBO (My Barack Obama) Social Network.

Successfully, it seems: 35,000 groups of volunteers held 200,000 offline events (Lutz, 2009).

Moreover, campaign websites began to include features that aimed to activate the users,

meaning they were asked to contribute to the campaign in any possible way. The term

grassroots campaigning refers to those kinds of campaigns which are largely based on

activism from the ground. In a political context that describes citizens who perform

voluntary work for a campaign they support. The Internet offers many different

opportunities to mobilise citizens in order to stimulate this active participation in a

campaign (Klotz, 2007; Vaccari 2008). This issue will be discussed in more detail later on.

2.3 Areas of campaigning affected by the internet

The Internet affects the whole process of working in professional communications. As

Breakenridge (2008) points out, it changed almost every area that PR – and therefore

campaigning as well – is concerned with, from research and monitoring to spreading the

message amongst several target audiences etc. In the following part the author is going to

address some areas of political campaigns that have been influenced by the internet.

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2.3.1 Segmentation

As with any marketing or PR campaign for a product, proper segmentation of the target

audience is a critical success factor in campaigning too. Since the key to segmentation is the

data or information it relies on, digital technology is a gift for every campaigner because it

made the collection and distribution of relevant information much easier (Howard, 2005).

According to Howard (2005), the amount and - more importantly the detail - of available

political information about citizens has drastically increased thanks to new media. For

instance he mentions polls, voter profiles and social networks as sources for this

information. Therefore, the degree to which it is possible to tailor messages is significantly

higher. As a result, today’s campaigns aim not to mass communicate their messages

anymore, but narrowcast them. This means, targeting particular people with particular

messages which are based on the profile information that has been collected beforehand

(Howard 2005; Vaccari 2008). The increasingly popular technique of narrowcasting also

supports Farrel and Webb (2000), who argue that political campaigns decreasingly try to

convince voters of their opinions but would rather design ‘products’ (e.g. programs,

messages, etc.) that fit the voters demand a priori. By tailoring messages to much narrowed

sub-segments of voters, it becomes easier to provide them with relevant, customised

information.

In the 2008 election period the Obama campaign executed segmentation and

narrowcasting to a degree not seen before. One key tool of the campaign was the use of

emails, sent to registered supporters. The email list contained more than 13 million

subscribers and over 1 billion emails were sent during the campaign. But instead of sending

standardised emails to all subscribers, the campaign created over 7000 different email

variations which were targeted at different subsets of the supporters (Vargas, 2008). Those

were identified based on criteria like habitation, number or height of donations, age or

realms of political interest (Gensemer, 2009). In summary, the campaign tried to send only
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relevant information to its supporters in order to keep the engagement on a constant level

or even increase it.

With segmentation and narrowcasting having such a big importance for political

campaigning, it is surprising that little is known about psychographics and mindsets of

social media users in terms of political attitudes. Do they judge based on a candidate’s

personal appeal or his political program? Are they more interested in political topics than

other citizens? Such questions shall be answered with this study. Accordingly, the first

research question this work seeks to answer is: “What is the political mindset of social

media users and does it differ from other citizens’?”

2.3.2 Delivering the message

One major objective of any political campaign is to deliver the key messages of its

candidate. Online, a campaign can use a variety of different tools and channels to reach this

goal. Of course, the central spot to find information about a candidate’s political program is

his or her website, which offers information in certain degrees of depth in order to attract

several different types of visitors (Vaccari, 2008). However, online-content is increasingly

diffused and no longer centralised (Gueorguieva, 2008). Videos can be found on Youtube,

profiles on Facebook or MySpace and information about what someone is doing right now

on Twitter. On blogs people publish articles and engage in conversations of their interest

(Thevenot, 2007). All these platforms have been utilised for the 2008 presidential

campaigns. What all of them have in common is the fact that they aren’t unidirectional

communication tools but allow users to give feedback. Therefore, they are not easily

comparable to the classic media (TV, radio, print) because they enable a far broader group

of people to produce and publish content. Hence, campaigns can engage with audiences to

a degree impossible with the old media (Howard, 2005).

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In the past, academics and popular writers alike blamed political communications and

marketing in particular for being responsible for lower political interest and less political

engagement throughout society. They argued that by using professional mass marketing

techniques the direct and personal contact between citizens and their representatives

decreased (Norris, 2000). However, as Farrel and Webb (2000) pointed out, modern

campaigns follow a trend back towards more direct interaction. This development must to

a large degree be attributed to the internet, which is a bidirectional communication tool

and almost forces campaigns to use its inherent possibilities of interactive communication.

On the other hand, it has been suggested that the relatively slow adoption of two-way

communication features in past political campaigns is due to the candidates’ need to fully

control their messages (Druckman, Kifer and Parkin, 2007). Indeed, this communication

principle of One-Voice Policy hardly matches the conditions of the digital communication

environment, where the phenomenon of Social Media enables and motivates every user to

participate in online conversations (Beal and Strauss, 2008). Thus, the resulting lack of

control when using Social Media for one’s campaign might well represent a risk for strategic

communication. Even though the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama choose to

incorporate a large degree of Social Media and was very successful in doing so, future

research is advised to develop a model for risk analysis of using or not using Social Media in

campaigns with critical messages.

However, since social media becomes increasingly popular amongst internet users it is hard

to imagine that future campaigns will be able to ignore it. Hence, it is necessary to find out

which channels must be considered when planning a campaign and to identify in which way

different channels can be used most effectively. Is the micro-blogging tool Twitter for

example a good tool to spread short, persuasive political statements or should it rather be

used to inform supporters about the campaign? The resulting second question to be

answered with this research is: “Which channels should be used and for which purpose?”
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According to Carr and Stelter (2008) the online communication environment also

influenced how traditional media companies had to work in order to cover the campaigns

in a way that appeals to modern users who employ a variety of channels for gaining

information. In the 2008 elections the boarder between online and offline, as well as

between other media forms, diminished. Traditional media outlets like the TV networks

incorporated online content to a large degree in their news coverage plan. Online they co-

existed and competed with all kinds of information outlets like blogs, video-hosters and

information presented directly by the campaign. As a result, they did not any longer have

the monopoly of serving as the gatekeeper for information between the campaign and the

public. As Louden (2008, quoted in Carr and Stelter 2008, p.1) stated: “The role of

gatekeepers and archivists have *sic!+ been dispersed to everyone with Internet access.”

Moreover, political information is not increasingly consumed unfiltered. This means,

according to research by Smith and Rainie (2008) that citizens use the opportunities given

by the internet to access content that was not edited by media gatekeepers beforehand.

Their research showed that 39% of those adult Americans who have internet access looked

at unfiltered political documents, for instance speeches, debates or position papers. Based

on those findings they suggest that more political decisions are based on the voters own

interpretation of unfiltered political information, rather then relying on the meaning given

to it by mainstream media.

Indeed, this can be perceived as a desirable result because it reverses a development called

media malaise - for example described by Blumler and Gurevitch (1995). They argue that

the increasingly adversarial appearance of political communications, for instance

manifested in form of messages that are often reduced to catchy slogans, influences mass

media coverage of politics and campaigns in a way that the public debate about serious

political issues decreases in quality in exchange for more attention-catching, dramatised

stories with a popular appeal. Even though not yet fortified by research, it can be assumed
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that people who grapple with thematic political information online have an increased

knowledge about the political agenda, hence can make better, more informed decisions

and contribute to quality debates about political issues and to the public sphere

accordingly. Similar causalities have been discovered for broadsheet newspaper reading

and, on a lower level, watching television news by Newton (1999), who argues that not the

form but the content of a medium defines how recipients are finally influenced. The effects

the relatively easy access to extensive political information online and to unfiltered political

documents in particular has on the state of the public sphere are recommended to become

subject of future research.

In summary, the internet and Social Media in particular influence how messages and

information are delivered to and looked for by citizens. There is a high diversity of websites,

from Social Networks to news websites to official campaign websites, where users can find

information. Most of these platforms provide some opportunity or another for user

interaction, making the internet a conversational medium rather than a static one for

pushing out messages. Also, the form of content presented online can vary, as the internet

allows publishing content from simple text to video and many other forms. Moreover, the

web influences how traditional media outlets work. This has implications on how

information should be presented to them by professional campaign communicators. Finally,

surely a key attribute of the internet, is the easy access to publishing tools for everybody

who uses the internet. The traditional gatekeepers don’t solitarily give meaning to political

issues anymore nor are they the only people to play a critical role for a campaigns success.

During the 2008 elections a number of stories broke on the internet or was reinforced by

online events that influenced the course of the campaigns (Smith and Rainie, 2008).

Therefore, campaigns have to find ways to increase the amount of favourable content and

make sure it can be found easily. In short: the communication environment online is highly

complex and demands an integrated strategy to deal with it.

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2.3.3 Activating Citizens

"The overall point is that election campaigns matter not only in their ability to influence

individuals’ levels of information, attitudes, and vote choices, but more importantly in their

capacity to activate and mobilize political talk among citizens." (Pan et. Al., 2006, p.???)

Pan et. Al. (2006) argue that informal political talks are part of the democratic process and

that such talks are stimulated by political campaigning. Thus, campaigns directly contribute

to the vitality of Habermas’ (1989) political sphere. However there are indicators for these

informal talks being not only important for the democratic opinion-forming process.

General marketing research indicates that word-of-mouth information about products is

one of the most influencing forms of communication - sometimes even more powerful than

the personal opinion (Myers and Robertson, 1972). The Edelman Trust Barometer 2008

(Edelman, 2008) found that the most credible source is ‘a person like yourself’. Therefore,

the next question that is set to be answered with this study is: “Is political Information

received from a personally known source during an informal online conversation more

credible than other information?”

In addition, online campaigns try not only to stimulate talks among citizens but also to

activate citizens, meaning they start to do voluntary work either online, offline or both. As

Vaccari (2008) points out, a typical campaign-website visitor might already agree to the

candidate’s program and ideas. Now, the website’s objective is to push him to the next

stage of becoming a supporter who actively engages in the campaign and tries to convince

others. This engagement is not restricted to the digital space, where activists send letters to

editors or friends, place banners on their websites or write supporting blog posts etc.

Instead, it is a campaigns objective to transform this effort into the real life as well, where

activists for instance make phone calls, go door-to-door or place signs in their garden (Klotz

2007; Lutz 2009). "Campaigns saw it as their task to coordinate volunteers so that relatively

small individual efforts helped achieve a mass scale of mobilization." (Vaccari, 2008; p. 657)
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To accomplish this, campaigns use the benefits of online communication for easy and, more

importantly, cost-effective organisation by providing the necessary communication

infrastructure to the volunteers (Vaccari, 2008). Such features were already adopted by a

majority of Senate candidates’ websites in the 2004 election cycle (Klotz, 2007) and both,

McCain and Obama used them on their websites in 2008 (Project for Excellence in

Journalism, 2008). Because these tools are cheap and easy to use, Vaccari (2008) argues

that participation in general becomes easier and less time-consuming, which leads to a

lower threshold for becoming active. According to him this creates a win-win situation for

the activists as well as the campaign officials because the former can invest just the amount

of time and energy that they can afford and the latter have the opportunity to direct

information and resources almost in real-time. Overall, the degree of participation from

volunteers has increased thanks to the higher flexibility online campaigns offer to their

activists (Vaccari 2008; Klotz 2007)

In order to actually turning campaign supporters into activists, campaigns must engage

them. Vaccari (2008) found, that it is necessary to create a feeling between citizens and

campaign staff of knowing each other personally. An example given by Vaccari is that mails

have to be personally signed by high-profile campaign officials, so that emotional and

relational bonds develop between the activists and the campaign. Gronbeck and Wiese

(2005) pointed out that the 2004 elections showed such signs which they call

repersonalisation. This refers to the reversion of the trend of constant decline of personal

interaction between presidential candidates and voters as well as between voters and

political institutions, spotted during the 20th century. The re-established personal

interaction was mainly driven by digital technologies, which supported interactive

communication between voters, candidates and campaigns. This new, direct way of

communicating with each other has also influenced the citizens’ expectations regarding

politicians and their behaviour after the elections. A study from Smith (2008) for the Pew

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Internet and American Life Institute shows that 51 percent of those people who registered

online as a supporter of Barack Obama during the 2008 elections, expect some kind of

ongoing communication directly from the new administration, for example via email or

status updates on a social network (e.g. Facebook). Furthermore, 68% of those people who

voted for Obama and engaged online during the election campaign plan to support

Obama’s policy agenda in the next year by pressing others to support it too. This indicates

that relations between politicians and their supporters can last longer than the campaign

itself.

2.3.4 Online Fundraising

Another major objective for today’s online campaigns is to raise funds. For the first time we

discovered the potential of online fundraising for political campaigns in 2000 when McCain,

running to become president elect, raised over a million dollars online (Lutz, 2009). Then, in

2004, Kerry raised 82 million dollars online compared to Bush’s re-elect campaign that only

collected 17 million on the Internet (Vaccari, 2008). This discrepancy strongly indicates that

there might be effective and less effective ways to collect funds online. Surely a very

effective approach was chosen by Obama’s campaign in 2008. 3 million people donated 6.5

million times online for Obama adding up to a sum of over 500 million US Dollars in online

donations (Vargas, 2008).

The Obama Campaign was the first campaign to instrument online and social media for

reaching objectives from fundraising to interconnecting supporters that elevated the online

part of the campaign to its top-level. It draw lessons from some former campaigns-

especially McCain’s in 2000 which was the first campaign that conducted successful online

fundraising and the 2004 Dean campaign which made use of meetup.com to arrange offline

meetings of local supporter groups- and is considered as a groundbreaking example for

excellence in online campaigning (Lutz, 2009).

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To conclude, the aspect of activating citizens is a major objective of political online

campaigns. However, little is known so far about the initializing moment, when a person

who is interested in a campaign decides to become an active part of it. The findings of the

discussed research prove that campaign officials successfully use the internet as an

important tool to co-ordinate volunteers and collect funds. Also, campaign websites have

done a good job in collecting sign-ups for voluntary work and - by making this process

easier - helped to increase the total number of volunteers. Still, it can only be speculated if

the campaign websites (or any other online campaign-activity) was pivotal for making the

decision to support the campaign actively. Therefore, the fourth research question to be

answered with this study is: “Have online campaign measures influenced a significant

amount of citizens in a way that they decided to volunteer for a campaign?”

3. Methodology

Now, that the theoretical and practical environment in which the research takes place is

clarified, in a next step the author is going to outline the approach of this study to answer

the research questions that are:

1. What is the political mindset of social media users and does it differ from other citizens’?

2. (As a part of the first question) Is political Information received from a personally

known source during an informal online conversation more credible than other

information?

3. Which channels should be used and for which purpose?

4. Have online campaign measures influenced a significant amount of citizens in a way that

they decided to volunteer for a campaign?

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3.1 Description, justification of method and sampling

All research questions relate directly to attitudes, mindsets and behaviour of citizens who

use the internet as a source for political or campaign information. Since the US elections in

2008 were the most recent, nation-wide elections that have shown signs of a large amount

of online campaign deployment, they are an ideal object of investigation. Accordingly, the

author set up an online survey targeted at US citizens that were 18 years and older at the

time of the US elections. In order to compensate a lack of responses to this survey, raw

data of the 2008 Post Election Survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project

(2009) was analysed as well.

3.2 Research design: The survey set-up

A set of 23 questions in 10 blocks was designed in order to receive the necessary

information to answer the research questions. The most important questions are going to

be explained in the next paragraphs. The complete questionnaire can be found in the

Appendix A.

After an introduction text that, as Bradley (2007) proposes, included information about the

researcher, the topic and a privacy statement, the survey started with a filter question. It

was implemented for qualification purposes in order to assure that only US citizens being

18 or older would participate. Who did not match this criterion was directly transferred to

the end of the survey.

In the next question participants were asked to rate ten items on a five-pole Likert-scale in

terms of their agreement. The items represented short statements reflecting on attitudes

and self-evaluation of the participants toward certain realms, for instance their political

interest, the personally perceived importance of the internet as source for political

information or the trustworthiness of information found within online Social Networks, to

name a few. This question was chosen to be the start of the survey since it does not ask any

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daunting questions but some that might stimulate the participants’ interest by asking for

their opinion on potentially interesting subjects.

After this, participants were asked to select the media types they used as source for

political information. As Bradley (2007) suggests, the survey software was set up to present

these items in a random order to minimise the order effect and the tendency of less

accurate answers given towards the end of a list due to participants’ boredom and a loss of

concentration. Whereas no detailed differentiation was made between traditional media

channels (e.g. no different networks or different programmes), online channels were

investigated in more detail compared to most former surveys, which most often asked

about use of ‘the internet’ – a practice that just started to change in recent years and didn’t

accommodate the variety of channels that were subsumed in the term ‘internet’. However,

such differentiation is necessary for this study on online campaigning.

In the follow-up question the formerly selected sources of political information should be

rated in terms of credibility. Items not chosen in the former question were filtered. The

scale used for the ranking is a Likert-scale extended to 7 poles in order to allow for a more

differentiated judgement, especially important in cases when participants use a large

variety of different information sources.

3.3 Limitations

Three major limitations regarding the set-up of the survey must be mentioned. First of all,

in order to recruit a representative sample of participants, it is not an unproblematic and

completely valid approach to simply put a link to the survey on a website and ask users to

participate. Berekoven, Eckert and Ellenrieder (2006) describe the problem of this approach

called self recruiting: To start with, it is impossible to collect data about non-respondents.

Furthermore, it is likely that those individuals who decide to participate are more

interested in the topic than the average of the population is. This leads to problems

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concerning a study’s representativeness. Therefore, a widespread and valid approach is the

n-th-visitor method, where a pop-up is presented to every n-th visitor of a website, asking

him to fill in the survey. Another valid method is based on ePanels that are compiled

according to the survey’s targeted population in order to find a representative sample

(Synovate, 2001).

However, applying these methods demands resources – either money or a large database

of individuals – that were not available to the author. Several attempts asking companies,

which offer ePanels, for support failed also. Therefore, the author had to distribute the

survey on his own. 50 blog or online newspaper editors were emailed with an info-text

about the study and the plea to publish a link to the survey. Moreover, links to the survey

were posted on a variety of internet forums, Facebook groups as well as in blog comments

and on Twitter. In order to reach individuals from a broad field of interests, blogs and

forums where chosen whatever their topic was. Still, it must be assumed that the

participants recruited in that way are not representative for the overall population of US

citizens of 18 years and older and might have an increased interest in the surveys topic

compared to the average.

This directly relates to the second limitation. For finding results that are representative for

the population, especially in the context of online campaign influence, the internet is not

the ideal medium. According to data from the Pew American Internet and American Life

Project, 25% of all Americans don’t have any internet access, neither at home or at the

workplace. Therefore, it is not possible to reach those 25% with the survey. Telephone

interviews would have been the better option but due to a lack of resources they were not

realisable.

The third limitation is at the same time the most important one: Even though many

different efforts were taken to promote and distribute the survey among US citizens, no

17
significant sample size could be achieved as table 1 indicates. Therefore, the data collected

with the survey cannot be considered representative.

Table 1. Overall Participant Statistics


Viewed 491
Started 67
Completed 45
Completion Rate 67.2%
Passed Qualification 29
Qualified Completed 15
Qualified Completion Rate 51.7%

3.4 Information on the 2008 Post Election Survey

However, to solve this problem the author chose to use the data collected from the Pew

Internet and American Life Project (2009) with the 2008 Post Election Survey. The survey

focuses on internet usage during the 2008 elections race and has many similar questions to

the Online Media Usage Survey designed for this study. Data from the relevant parts of the

2008 Post Election Survey questionnaire was used to substitute the lack of representative

and valid data that results from the small number of participants in the survey designed for

this project.

An excerpt of the study’s methodology will provide the necessary information to put the

results into context:

“The results in [...] are based on data from telephone interviews

conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between

November 20 to December 4, 2008, among a sample of 2,254 adults, 18

and older. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95%

confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects

is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. For results based Internet users

(n=1,591), the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage

18
points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical

difficulties in conducting telephone surveys may introduce some error or

bias into the findings of opinion polls.

The sample [...] is a random digit sample of telephone numbers selected

from telephone exchanges in the continental United States. The random

digit aspect of the sample is used to avoid “listing” bias and provides

representation of both listed and unlisted numbers (including not-yet-listed

numbers). The design of the sample achieves this representation by random

generation of the last two digits of telephone numbers selected on the

basis of their area code, telephone exchange, and bank number.

New sample was released daily and was kept in the field for at least five

days. The sample was released in replicates, which are representative

subsamples of the larger population. This ensures that complete call

procedures were followed for the entire sample. At least 10 attempts were

made to complete an interview at sampled households. The calls were

staggered over times of day and days of the week to maximize the chances

of making contact with a potential respondent. Each household received at

least one daytime call in an attempt to find someone at home. In each

contacted household, interviewers asked to speak with the youngest male

currently at home. If no male was available, interviewers asked to speak

with the youngest female at home. This systematic respondent selection

technique has been shown to produce samples that closely mirror the

population in terms of age and gender. All interviews completed on any

given day were considered to be the final sample for that day.

19
Non-response in telephone interviews produces some known biases in

survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different

subgroups of the population, and these subgroups are likely to vary also on

questions of substantive interest. In order to compensate for these known

biases, the sample data are weighted in analysis. The demographic

weighting parameters are derived from a special analysis of the most

recently available Census Bureau’s March 2007 Annual Social and Economic

Supplement. This analysis produces population parameters for the

demographic characteristics of adults age 18 or older, living in households

that contain a telephone. These parameters are then compared with the

sample characteristics to construct sample weights. The weights are derived

using an iterative technique that simultaneously balances the distribution

of all weighting parameters.”

(Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2009b)

Of course, both studies are not absolutely equal and therefore a lack of representative data

exists in some areas that are crucial for answering this research’s questions. Hence, the

author is going to deploy a two way approach in the findings section. The results of the

analysis of the relevant data from the 2008 Post Election Survey are referred to as

representative findings, whereas the results of the data analysis of the Online Media Usage

survey designed for this research are called trends to underpin the fact that they are not

representative. Analysis was conducted with SPSS to deploy several statistical methods. The

raw data of the 2008 Post Election Survey can be found on the website of the Pew Internet

and American Life Project (2008).

20
4. Findings

The findings educed from the 2008 Post Election Survey show that the internet played an

important role during the 2008 elections. 1591 or 70.6 percent of the participants use the

internet at least occasionally for surfing and/or sending emails. Of those, 74.5% are online

political users, who used the internet for any activity related to the 2008 campaigns –for

finding news or information about the campaign and/or communicating with others about

the elections, politics or the campaigns. This represents 52.6% of the overall US population.

4.1 Analysis of different online channels

First of all, a closer look is taken at the media channel consideration. In the 2008 Post

Election Study online political users were asked if they had received information about the

November 2008 elections via a variety of different online channels. Table 2 shows the

results of the frequency analysis of this data.

Table 2 (data from 2008 Post Election Survey). Did you happen to get any news or
information about the November elections from the following online sources? [Base “online
political users” n=1186]
Source Value Frequency Percent Cumulative
Percent
Portal news services like Google News or Yes 591 49.8 49.8
Yahoo News No 590 49.7 99.6
Don’t know 5 0.4 100.0
Network TV news websites such as CNN.com, Yes 712 60.0 60.0
ABCnews.com, or MSNBC.com No 469 39.5 99.6
Don’t know 5 0.4 100.0
Websites of major national newspapers such Yes 382 32.2 32.2
as USA Today.com, the New York Times.com, No 800 67.5 99.7
or the Wall Street Journal online
Don’t know 4 0.3 100.0
Websites of local news organizations in your Yes 518 43.7 43.7
area No 663 55.9 99.6
Don’t know 5 0.4 100.0
Issue-oriented websites Yes 283 23.9 23.9
No 876 73.9 97.7
Don’t know 27 2.3 100.0
The websites of state or local governments Yes 294 24.8 24.8
No 887 74.8 99.6

21
Don’t know 5 0.4 100.0
The website of alternative news organization, Yes 123 10.4 10.4
such as AlterNet.org or NewsMax.com No 1056 89.0 99.4
Don’t know 7 0.6 100.0
The website of an international news Yes 257 21.7 21.7
organization, such as the BBC No 922 77.7 99.4
Don’t know 7 0.6 100.0
The website of a radio news organization, like Yes 239 20.2 20.2
NPR.org No 941 79.3 99.5
Don’t know 6 0.5 100.0
News satire websites like The Onion or The Yes 201 16.9 16.9
Daily Show No 981 82.7 99.7
Don’t know 4 0.3 100.0
Fact-checking sites such as Snopes.com, Yes 232 19.6 19.6
FactCheck.com, or Polifact.com No 948 79.9 99.5
Don’t know 6 0.5 100.0
From blogs that cover news, politics, or media Yes 292 24.6 24.6
No 884 74.5 99.2
Don’t know 10 0.8 100.0
Read someone else's commentary or Yes 452 38.1 38.1
experience about the campaign or political No 725 61.1 99.2
issues on an online news group, website or
Don’t know 9 0.8 100.0
blog

In the next step, the variables ‘did get info from network TV news website’, ‘did get info

from national newspaper website’, ‘did get info from local news organisation website’, ‘did

get info from radio news organisation’ and ‘did get info from international news

organisation website’ were combined to the variable ‘did get info from a traditional media

organisation website’. All respondents that ticked ‘yes’ for at least one of the sources were

counted as users of traditional media organisation websites. Table 3 shows the result for

this calculation.

Table 3 (data from 2008 Post Election Survey). Traditional Media Online Users. [Base
“Online Political Users” n=1186]
Value Frequency Percent Cumulative
Percent
Used traditional media organisation Yes 898 75.7 75.7
website? No 288 24.3 100.0

22
Henceforth, frequency analysis was conducted for the use of other online sources or

services respectively, based on data that was collected in other parts of the questionnaire.

Were necessary, more complex scales that asked for use frequency were recoded to simple

Yes/No nominal scales.

Table 4 (data from 2008 Post Election Survey). Frequencies: Use of other online
sources/services for campaign related activities [Base “Online Political Users” n=1186]
Value Frequency Percent Cumulative
Percent
Campaign website visited? Yes 497 41.9 41.9
No 689 58.1 100.0
Social Network used? Yes 380 32.0 32.0
No 806 68.0 100.0
Received official campaign Email? Yes 576 48.6 48.6
No 610 51.5 100.0
Watched official campaign or news Yes 556 46.9 46.9
organisation online video? No 630 53.1 100.0
Watched campaign related video Yes 478 40.3 40.3
from other sources? No 708 59.7 100.0
Used Twitter? Yes 99 8.3 8.3
No 1087 91.7 100.0

Based on those calculations it is possible to create a ranking of the most consulted political

online information sources, visualised in figure 1. The online outlets of traditional media

sources like newspapers, TV networks or radio stations were the most commonly

frequented sources amongst political online users for finding news and information on the

2008 elections and campaigns with 75.7% of them using it. Media online outlets are

followed by news portals as Google News (49.8%), official campaign emails (48.6%) and

online videos officially from the campaign or news organisations (46.9%). The most broadly

used sources that can be considered as Social Media are private videos related to the

campaign (40.3%) and someone else’s commentary on an online newsgroup, website or

blog. Social Networks were used in a political context by 32% of online political users.

Dedicated news, politics or media blogs reached 24.6% of them and the often hyped

23
microblogging service Twitter, which was just founded in 2006, was already used by every

12th (8.3%) political online user in a campaign related way. This data can be considered as

valid and representative.

Figure 1. Political Online Information Sources


100 Use by Political Online Users in % [n=1186]
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0

Henceforth, based on the data of the Online Media Usage Survey some more specific

investigation on the ways different online tools were employed by users. Participants were

asked if they used different channels only to get information on one campaign only or on

two or more. This approach allows making predictions regarding the use of an online

medium in terms of partisanship. In other words: are those users who connected

themselves with the campaign on a particular medium likely to be supporters of that

campaign or are they rather neutral information seekers that do not exclusively expose

themselves to one campaign’s content.

Of those participants who subscribed to at least one candidate’s website RSS feed, 25.0%

only subscribed to one candidate’s feed whereas 75.0% subscribed to the feeds of two or

24
more candidates. RSS subscriptions are therefore, as the non-representative data suggests,

rather a source for information than an expression of partisanship.

Email newsletter subscriptions and even following a candidate on the highly personal

Twitter are, probably contrary to some expectations, also no indicators for support of a

campaign or candidate respectively – at least when relying on the data of the Online Media

Usage survey. For subscribers of campaign email newsletters, 50.0% subscribed to at least

two campaigns’ newsletters and for Twitter followers of a candidate, 60.0% subscribed to

the updates of at least two candidates.

In contrast, friends on a Social Network like Facebook or MySpace and subscribers to a

YouTube channel can more likely be considered partisans of a campaign. Of all users that

had befriended at least one candidate on a Social Network, 71.4% added only one

candidate as friend and, moreover, every single subscriber to a campaign’s or candidate’s

Youtube channel in the survey sample subscribed only one channel.

To conclude, traditional media organisations are still the leading source for political news

online. However, they lost their position as information monopoly and compete with a

multitude of other channels, some of them highly driven by user generated content. The

2008 campaigns integrated many of these new channels into their communications mix and

were able to reach a large amount of citizens. However, these attempts are still in a period

of trial and error. In case the data about the relation between online activities and

partisanship can be verified in former research, assumptions on how some online tools are

utilised by users must be rethought and online communication strategies and tactics

adjusted.

4.2 The mindset of political Social Media users

In order to investigate social media users’ mindsets, those users who can be considered

political Social Media users were identified first. Based on the Online Media Usage Survey,
25
participants were classified as political Social Media users if they met specific criteria1.

These cases were selected and then analysed to achieve the following (non representative)

trend results.

4.2.1 Political interest and decision-making criteria

The majority (71.4%) of political Social Media users considers itself as being politically

interested, whereas only 14.2% of them do not think so. Furthermore, most political Social

Media users (57.1%) agree or strongly agree that the political program should be more

important than the personality of the candidate when making a voting decision. 14.3% are

undecided and 28.5% disagree. This trend to a program- rather than personality-based

decision making process is underpinned by the results for the statement “The personal

appeal of a presidential candidate is my most important criteria when making a voting

decision for or against a candidate”. A significant 64.3% of political Social Media users

disagree, 35.7% even disagree strongly. Only 14.3% agree or strongly agree. To test if this

attitude is manifested in actual behaviour, participants were later asked to choose criteria

from a multiple-choice list on which they had based their voting decision. The item with the

most mentions is the political program of a candidate, which was ticked by 91.7% of the

participants that voted in the 2008 presidential elections.

4.2.2 Perceived importance of the internet for the public sphere

Having the possibility to involve in online political dialogues is important for most (64.3%)

political Social Media users whereas only 14.2% don’t consider this opportunity as

important for themselves. Moreover, a vast majority (71.4%) of online Social Media users

think that the Internet enriches the political discussion because they can find more

opinions. Only 21.4% do not agree with that thesis and further 7.1% are undecided. These

1
Participants of the Online Media Usage Survey were considered as political Social Media users if
they had used either blogs, online videos or microblogging services as a source for political
information or had subscribed to at least one candidate’s Twitter feed, befriended at least one
candidate on a Social Network or had subscribed to at least one candidates Youtube channel.
26
findings indicate that users esteem the internet since it makes participation in the public

sphere relatively easy. Plus, participation itself is also important to them.

4.2.3 Critical judgement of sources

While the trend data suggests that the communication opportunities related to the internet

are highly appreciated by online Social Media users and perceived as positive, those users

don’t consume online content uncritical. Only 28.6% of them state that they trust the

political information found within their online networks (7.2% agreed strongly and 21.4%

agreed). On the other hand, 50% don’t trust their peers implicitly in political matters.

However, since the statement (“I trust on the political information I find within my online

network”) is rather undifferentiated and general, it would be a mistake to assume that

those information are generally not trustworthy. Instead, users are careful whom they trust

online, just as they do offline. Correspondingly, 42.9% judge political information as more

credible if received from a personally known source than otherwise. Another 42.9% neither

agree nor disagree. Even though it improves the credibility of a source if it is personally

known, political Social Media users don’t trust it automatically. It can be assumed that

other criteria like the perceived competence or knowledge of the source is taken into

account as well when judging a source’ credibility.

4.2.4 Government trust and satisfaction

The 2008 Post Election Survey did not measure attitudes to a large degree, so the amount

of information that can be educed from it regarding the mindset of political Social Media

users is limited. Only two questions were asked that measure attitudes. Those are “Overall,

are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country today?” and

“How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do

what is right?”. The answers to these questions where compared between political Social

Media users and non-users via cross tabulation in order to find out if significant differences

exist in their attitudes regarding those items (see table 5 & 6 for the results).
27
Table 5 (data from 2008 Post Election Survey). Overall, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the
way things are going in this country today? * Social Media Users Crosstabulation
2
Social Media User? Total
No Yes
[n=1278] [n=976]
Q1 Overall, are you Satisfied 193 161 354
satisfied or dissatisfied Dissatisfied 1010 763 1773
with the way things are Don’t know
going in this country 53 37 90
today?
Refused 22 15 37
Total 1278 976 2254

Table 6 (data from 2008 Post Election Survey). How much of the time do you think you can trust
the government in Washington to do what is right… just about always, most of the time, or only
some of the time? * Social Media Users Crosstabulation
Social Media User? Total
No Yes
[n=1278] [n=976]
Q2 How much of the time Just about always 47 22 69
do you think you can trust Most of the time 186 156 342
the government in Only some of the time 817 686 1503
Washington to do what is
Never 147 85 232
right… just about always,
Don’t know
most of the time, or only 61 19 80
some of the time?
Refused 20 8 28
Total 1278 976 2254

The degree of satisfaction is low for Social Media users (16.5%) as well as non-users

(15.1%), without a statistically significant difference. Accordingly, dissatisfaction is at a high

level for both groups with 78.2% amongst Social Media Users and 79.0% amongst non-

users.

Trust in government decisions (total of “Just about always” and “Most of the time”

answers) is similarly low for both groups, 16.8% for non-users and 18.2% for Social Media

users. A statistically relevant difference between the two groups can be identified for

scepticism in government decisions (total of “Only some of the time” and “Never” answer

options). Whereas 79% of Social Media users are sceptical towards the government only

2
Similar to the approach chosen for the Online Media Usage Survey the variable ‚Social Media User‘
consists of all survey participants who stated to use at least one of the online tools or services that
can be considered Social Media. This is: Online video, Twitter, Blogs or Social Networks.
28
75% of non-users are. A possible interpretation is that Social Media users are in general

quite critical, as suggested based on the trend data from the Online Media Usage Survey as

well.

4.2.5 Summary

As already stated, the findings based on the Online Media Usage Survey – that is most of

the presented information about Social Media users’ attitudes - are not based on

representative data and accordingly have a limited informative value. Therefore, before

being able to make definitive statements the data would have to be validated by means of

a second conduction of the Online Media Usage Survey, based on a larger, representative

sample. However, assuming the findings would indeed be certified, some information

about the mindset of political Social Media users can be educed from it.

First of all, they are likely to have a high interest in politics and prefer to make political

decisions based on the matters of a candidate rather than on his personality. Moreover,

they consider the online conversations about politics as a highly positive development.

They care for the political debate and think the internet is a valuable medium because it

allows for a broader participation in political talks. However, they are critical when deciding

which information or source to trust and don’t consume information without questioning it.

4.2.6 Statistical difficulties

Due to the small sample size, especially for non Social Media users, no statistical

comparison methods could be deployed based on the data from the Online Media Usage

Survey. However, when replicating the study and collecting a larger sample, correlations

between being or not being a political Social Media user and the value of different attitude

variables should be measured. Further statistical methods that were not deployed because

of the small sample size are discriminant analysis to find out if there are significant

differences between political Social Media users and non-users, as well as cluster analysis

29
based on the attitude measurement questions within the set of political Social Media users

in order to identify different sub-segments3.

4.3 The influence of online campaign measures on the decision to

actively participate in a campaign

In order to identify if online campaign communication did have an impact on citizens’

decision to volunteer for a campaign we asked participants of the Online Media Usage

Survey who stated that they had contributed to a campaign, how they had been

encouraged to do so. The identified trend, even though not representative, allows

suggesting that internet communication played indeed a major role in activating citizens.

Of those who contributed to a campaign, 33.3% stated they did so because they had been

regular volunteers in former campaigns and thus contributed naturally to the 2008

campaign. However, the other 66.7% claimed that it was some kind of online information

that encouraged them to participate. 16.7% became active after they received an email

newsletter in which they were asked to volunteer and another 16.7% found suggestions for

engagement on a candidate’s website. Finally, 33.3% stated they found information about

contribution possibilities on a Social Network and decided to participate as a consequence.

5. Conclusions and Recommendations

This study aimed to increase the understanding of political online campaigning, a relatively

new field that is, so far, only insufficiently covered by academic research. It is evident

throughout the report at hand that the media internet, and especially the interactive area

of Social Media, influences many realms of campaigns; from organisation to communication

to activating citizens for the campaign. The 2008 campaigns, especially Barack Obama’s,

pointed out which direction the development might take. Based on the assumption that the

3
Two-step Cluster Analysis was conducted based on the collected data but due to the small sample
size only one cluster was identified.
30
internet will continue its success and transform the traditional media landscape even

further, this study was conducted in order to supply the academic discussion and campaign

professionals alike with knowledge about the focal point of every political campaign, online

and offline alike: the voter. More precisely: The voter who uses new or social media in any

way related to politics or the campaign.

5.1 Segmentation

To begin with, this study represents a first attempt of investigating the mindset or

psychographics of those citizens that use Social Media in order to find information on

politics, elections or campaigns. Since those users add up to a significant amount of the

overall electorates, evaluating their attitudes and expectations regarding political

communication is necessary to identify a) how campaign professionals should deal with

those individuals and b) to empower further, in-depth research to identify implications on

the political debates in the public sphere. Even though the achieved sample size does not

allow making representative statements, the data at least indicates a direction.

The political Social Media user, as identified in this report, is highly interested in politics,

rather critical and likely to have a large political knowledge, on which his decisions are

grounded. Plus, he calls for opportunities to participate in political discussions. Therefore,

agents of the media malaise thesis who claim to have identified a decrease of political

interest amongst western democracy citizens and a political sphere that plays by the same

rules as the publicity-driven celebrity society seem to be wrong - at least in case of the

growing population of Social Media users.

For campaign professionals this means political Social Media users can not easily be

influenced by artificially created images. Therefore, online campaign communication should

take another direction. It must provide clear, fact-based information about candidate and

program. Moreover, as a result of the political Social Media user’s demand for online

31
conversation, campaigns should offer a space where discussions and dialogues can take

place online. It doesn’t really matter if this space manifests as discussion board, blog or chat

but it should exist and be easily accessible. Otherwise, it must be expected that the user

will find another place for opinion expression that is not as easily controllable as a

campaigns own platform.

5.2 Delivering the message

As addressed in the literature, there is a multitude of different channels online that can be

integrated in a communication strategy and then be employed by a campaign

(Gueorguieva, 2008). Based on the data of the 2008 Post Election Campaign the study at

hand identified which channels were the most commonly used and therefore provides a

worthy tool for practitioners and academics when having to judge a channel’s value.

Moreover, the study attempted to identify how different online tools are employed by

users. The discovered lack of a correlation between connecting with a campaign on

particular channels and partisanship for that campaign is an interesting finding. It indicates

that a large part of those users who connect to a campaign do so only for information

purposes without necessarily expressing their support for the campaign. Future research

must test this thesis for its validity. In case it will be verified implications result for

campaign practice. Tools that show a low partisanship-correlation are more effective when

being used in order to convince users of the campaign whereas those with a high

partisanship-correlation can effectively deployed for support and activism activation.

In addition, the study showed that information is perceived as being more credible if the

sender is personally known by the recipient. Accordingly, the repersonalisation of political

campaigns, identified by Gronbeck and Wiese (2005) is not only positive for the vitality of a

democracy but also can improve the credibility of campaign messages. However, it is not

that simple in practice. The research results also suggest that political Social Media users

32
are critical when deciding which source they trust in particular, even if they know it

personally. Therefore, campaign online activities can not simply reach out to randomly

chosen influencers in the Social Media sphere (e.g. Blogger, Twitter-users, Social Network

celebrities), hoping they spread the campaign’s messages to their peers and those will

believe. Such an approach most likely wouldn’t work. Instead, campaign communicators

must evaluate the political credibility of different Social Media influencers beforehand and

then pick only the most credible ones as mediators.

5.3 Activating citizens

Former research had already pointed on the internet as a new area for activism (= online

activism) and also indicated its ability to stimulate campaign contributions because it

simplified the process. Now, this research presented some hints for Social Media in general

and Social Networks in particular often being the impulse for individuals’ decision to

contribute to a campaign. This point of view adds a new dimension to the formerly

identified use for Social Media tools in recruiting volunteers: Until now the internet was

mostly seen as a tool that stimulates participation because it simplifies activism and thus

can mobilise those citizens, who did not yet participate in campaigns because of their

limited time or other resources. However, this report found leads that Social Media is also a

major tool for persuasion and can convince people to become active. Therefore, Social

Media can be considered as an important factor of influence on the ability of campaigns to

mobilise volunteers. Future Research is recommended to verify these findings.

33
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36
7. Appendices

Appendix A - The Online Media Usage Survey’s questions


Even though you will find all questions here, it is more comfortable to access the original
online survey questionnaire at http://bit.ly/mediause.

Thank you for participating in this survey. This survey is part of an academic project and, therefore,
has no commercial purpose. It will take you approximately 5-10 minutes to complete the
questionnaire.Your participation in this study is completely voluntary. There are no foreseeable risks
associated with this project. However, if you feel uncomfortable answering any questions, you can
withdraw from the survey at any point. It is very important for us to learn your opinions.Your survey
responses will be strictly confidential and data from this research will be reported only in the
aggregate. Your information will be coded and will remain confidential. If you have questions at any
time about the survey or the procedures, you may contact me by email at the email address specified
below. At the end of the survey you have the opportunity to enter your email address in order to
receive a summary of the results as soon as the research is completed. Of course, your email address
won’t be linked to the given answers and entering the address is completely voluntary. Thank you
very much for your time and support. Please start with the survey now by clicking on the Continue
button below.Thomas Euler

Are you a US citizen and 18 years or older?


1. Yes
2. No

Please judge on a scale from 1 to 5 (1=strongly agree, 5=strongly disagree) to which degree you agree
to the following statements

1=strongly 2 3=neither 4 5=strongly


agree agree nor disagree
disagree
I consider myself as a politically interested person
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
I think the internet enriches the political discussion
because I find more opinions ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
The political program should be more important than
the personality of the candidate when making a ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
voting decision
Traditional media like newspapers and TV are the
best source for political information ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
I trust on the political information I find within my
online network ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
During the presidential elections 2008 I found some
news on-line which strongly influenced my voting ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
decision
Without the internet I most probably wouldn’t have
contributed to the campaign ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
The personal appeal of a presidential candidate is my
most important criteria when making a decision for or ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
against a candidate
I think political information is more credible when I
know the source personally ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Having the possibility to involve in a political
dialogue on-line is important for me ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏

37
Did you vote on the presidential elections 2008?
1. Yes
2. No
3. n/a

Who did you vote for?


1. Barack Obama
2. John McCain
3. Chuck Baldwin
4. Cynthia McKinney
5. Bob Barr
6. Ralph Nader
7. other
8. n/a

On which of the following did you base your voting decision (multiple answers allowed)
1. The candidates political program
2. The candidate’s personal appeal
3. The candidate’s party
4. n/a

On a scale from 1 to 7 (1=very high; 7=no knowledge), rate your degree of knowledge about the 2008
presidential candidates’ political programmes.
1. 1 = Very high knowledge
2. 2
3. 3
4. 4
5. 5
6. 6
7. 7 = no knowledge

From which of the following sources did you get information about the political programmes?
Multiple Answers allowed
1. TV spots
2. Newspapers
3. Candidates’ websites
4. Newspaper websites
5. Weblogs
6. Candidates’ brochures
7. Party websites
8. TV programmes (eg political debates)
9. Microblogging Services (eg Twitter, Jabber)
10. Email
11. On-line videos
12. Radio spots
13. Radio programmes
14. Personally from campaign supporters
15. Other (please specify)

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Please judge the credibility of each of the following sources you have used in order to gain
information about the political campaigns and programmes on a scale from one 1 (very high
credibility) to 7 (no credibility).

1 = very 2 3 4 5 6 7 = no
high credibility
credibility
TV spots
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Newspapers
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Candidates’ websites
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Newspaper websites
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Weblogs
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Candidates’ brochures
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Party websites
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
TV programmes (eg political debates)
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Microblogging Services (eg Twitter,
Jabber) ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Email
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
On-line videos
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Radio spots
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Radio programmes
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Personally from campaign supporters
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Other (please specify)
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏

39
Please rank your used information sources in relation to each other in the order of use frequency. Rate
your most frequently used source with 1 and the least used with 14. Put the other sources in between
in your felt order.4

4
The design of the scale appeared to be somewhat problematic. Usually one would use an

ordinal scale with answer options like ‘every day’, ‘3 to 6 days per week’, ‘1-2 days per

week’ etc. However, since some tools like email or twitter were expected to be used every

day by a significant amount of participants, such a scale would not have allowed for

differentiation between such tools, even if in reality a Twitter-user might look for updates

several times per hour whilst checking emails only twice a day. Hence, such a scale did not

seem to fulfil the purpose. The next option was to use a ranking scale starting from ‘1’ for

the most frequently used tool and then counting. But due to the fact that only those items

had to be rated that participants selected beforehand out of a large list, this approach

would not have allowed finding valid results. Because for a participant using 5 different

information sources the value ‘5’ would represent the least used source, compared to a

participant who selected 10 different sources where ‘5’ would represent medium use-

frequency.

As a result, a different and rather unusual approach was chosen. The participants were

asked to rank the frequency of their use for each source in relative relation to the other

sources. To avoid the problem that a variable number of items could lead to a also variable,

non-valid scale length, a 14-pole scale was given and participants were asked to rank the

most frequently used source as ‘1’, the least frequently one as ‘14’ and place the other

items in between, depending on their relative interrelation. Therefore, the results won’t

inform us about absolute usage of different sources nor will they enable us to make

conclusions which source was used with the highest frequency in absolute terms. Instead,

the data will show us a relational trend regarding use frequency for different information

sources in relation to each other.

40
1= 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 =
most least
freque used
ntly sourc
used
source
TV spots
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Newspapers
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Candidates’ websites
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Newspaper websites
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Weblogs
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Candidates’ brochures
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Party websites
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
TV programmes (eg
political debates) ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Microblogging Services
(eg Twitter, Jabber) ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Email
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
On-line videos
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Radio spots
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Radio programmes
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Personally from campaign
supporters ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Other (please specify)
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏

Did you inform yourself equally about at least two candidates’ programmes?
1. Absolutely
2. Almost
3. Clear dominance of one program
4. Only one program

Have you subscribed to one or more candidates’ Twitter feed?


1. No
2. Yes, to one Twitter feed
3. Yes, to two or more Twitter feeds

Have you subscribed to one or many candidates’ websites and/or blogs RSS feeds?
1. No
2. Yes, to one RSS feed

41
3. Yes, to two or more RSS feeds

Have you become friend with one or many candidates on a social networking site (eg Facebook,
MySpace, etc.)?
1. No
2. Yes, with one candidate
3. Yes, with two or more candidates

Have you subscribed to one or both candidates’ email newsletters?


1. No
2. Yes, to one email newsletter
3. Yes, to two email newsletters or more

Have you subscribed to one or many candidates on-line video channels (eg on YouTube)?
1. No
2. Yes, to one candidates video channel
3. Yes, to two or more candidates video channels

Have you in any way contributed to one of the campaigns? This means for example donated,
supported the campaign trail, made phone calls, wrote to other people, made a supportive blog post,
etc.
1. Yes
2. No
3. n/a

Please select what exactly you have done as campaign contribution.


1. Donated
2. Placed yard signs
3. Wrote letter/email to friends
4. Made phone calls
5. Sent emails to editors
6. Made a supporting blog post for one candidate
7. Hosted a reception
8. Helped at headquarters
9. Went from door to door
10. Placed bumper stickers
11. Placed banners on my website
12. Placed electronic buttons or logos on my website
13. Linked to the campaign on my website
14. Other (please specify)

How have you been encouraged to contribute to the campaign? If more than one item applies choose
the one which you would consider had the biggest impact on your initiative.
1. I was asked to support the campaign by relatives, friends, neighbours or other people I know
2. I received email newsletters and was asked to become active
3. I visited the candidates’ website and followed the suggestions for easy campaign contribution
4. I received a phone call and became active afterwards
5. I found information about contribution possibilities on any social media platform (eg
facebook, twitter, a weblog, or others) and became active afterwards
6. I watched a on-line video and became active because of the information or ideas I found there
7. I am a regular volunteer for political campaigns and hence contributed naturally
8. Other (please specify)

42
Besides the presidential elections, how regular do you use the following media in general on a scale
from 1 to 7 (1=Very often; 7=Never)

1 = Very 2 3 4 5 6 7 = Neve
often
Newspapers
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Newspaper Websites
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Weblogs
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Social Networks
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
On-line videos
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
TV
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Radio
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏
Microblogging Services
❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏

You are almost done! Finally, please answer a few questions about yourself.
How old are you? Please choose the group you fit into.
1. 18-24
2. 24-34 years
3. 35-44 years
4. 45-54 years
5. 55-64 years
6. 65-74 years
7. 75+ years
8. n/a

Are you male or female?


1. Male
2. Female
3. n/a

Please select the state you currently live in.


1. Alabama
2. Alaska
3. Arizona
4. Arkansas
5. California
6. Colorado
7. Connecticut
8. Delaware
9. Florida
10. Georgia
11. Hawaii
12. Idaho
13. Illinois
14. Indiana
15. Iowa
16. Kansas
43
17. Kentucky
18. Louisiana
19. Maine
20. Maryland
21. Massachusetts
22. Michigan
23. Minnesota
24. Mississippi
25. Missouri
26. Montana
27. Nebraska
28. Nevada
29. New Hampshire
30. New Jersey
31. New Mexico
32. New York
33. North Carolina
34. North Dakota
35. Ohio
36. Oklahoma
37. Oregon
38. Pennsylvania
39. Rhode Island
40. South Carolina
41. South Dakota
42. Tennessee
43. Texas
44. Utah
45. Vermont
46. Virginia
47. Washington
48. Washington, D.C.
49. West Virginia
50. Wisconsin
51. Wyoming
52. n/a

What is the highest level of education you have completed?


1. Less than High School
2. High School/GED
3. Some College
4. 2-Year college degree (Associates)
5. 4-Year college degree (BA, BS)
6. Masters degree
7. Doctoral degree
8. Professional degree (MD, JD)
9. n/a

44
Appendix B - Pre-test
Before distributing the survey publicly, it was pre-tested among a group of ten Public

Relations students. Feedback was collected for the questions:

 Does the survey technically work without mistakes?

 Are questions problematically worded and would therefore possibly influence the answers?

 Are the questions easily understandable?

Problems occurred for 3 items on the Likert-scale in question two because they did seem to

stimulate central tendency bias. Accordingly, the wording was changed in order to increase

the statements ability to discriminate. In a second test amongst the same pre-test group

the questions appeared to work.

Also the 14-pole rating scale in question 9 seemed to provide for some confusion.

Therefore, the instructions were written again in a more precise form. As a result, the

question and scale were understood correctly in the second pre-test.

45