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Developing a New Media Communications Strategy to

Increase Political Participation

Rachel Louise Dodsworth

University of Denver University College

Capstone Project


Master of Professional Studies

Organizational and Professional Communication

November 8, 2010


Traditional forms of political participation, including the act of voting,

have steadily decreased in the United States since the 1960s. This Capstone

project explores whether or not political campaigns could motivate new

forms of political participation by incorporating a new media strategy into

their overall campaign marketing plans and communications. After

conducting primary and secondary research, this Capstone concludes that

political campaigns need to promote opportunities for participation in the

election process by developing new media strategies, sharing relative and

interesting information, monitoring popular issues, engaging in transparent

and consistent online conversations, and motivating participation by calling

constituents to action.

Table of Contents

Abstract .............................................................................................ii  

Introduction ....................................................................................... 1  

Problem Statement ..................................................................... 2  

Statement of Goals and Objectives................................................ 4  

Review of Literature ............................................................................ 4  

Voter Turnout ............................................................................ 5  

The Internet & Social Media ......................................................... 9  

New Forms of Political Participation ..............................................14  

Successful New Media Communication Strategies ...........................16  

Design and Implementation.................................................................18  

Work Plan, Methods and Procedures .............................................18  

Quantitative Survey ...................................................................19  

Results .............................................................................................20  

Discussion ........................................................................................28  

Develop a New Media Strategy ....................................................30  

Share Information .....................................................................31  

Monitor & Engage ......................................................................33  

Motivate Participation .................................................................36  

Measure Results ........................................................................37  


Areas for Further Research..................................................................40  

Strengths & Limitations ......................................................................41  

Conclusion ........................................................................................42  


Appendices .......................................................................................49  

Appendix A: Informed Consent Form ............................................49  

Appendix B: Complete Survey Questions ......................................51  

Appendix C: Full Electronic Survey Results ....................................58  



Political participation is the foundation for creating and maintaining a

truly representational and successful democracy. In the United States, voter

turnout has been steadily declining since the 1960s at a rate of 1.2 percent

every four years (Wattenberg 2002, 6). Many scholars argue this decline is a

danger to American democracy because “the nation that prides itself as

being the best example of government of, for and by the people will

continue to drift towards a government of, for and by the interested few”

(Doppelt and Shearer 1999, 12). A study by the United States Department

of Commerce reveals the “least interested few” and indicates that the

decline in voter turnout can be largely attributed to factors related to age,

education, income, and race (1991). Low turnout by these groups results in

high underrepresentation relative to their percentage of the total voting-age

population in the United States.

If high voter turnout is the key to an effective and representative

democracy, why are political campaigns not developing new communications

strategies to motivate increased political participation of voting age citizens,

including those in underrepresented groups? Active political participation is

essential to the electoral process, but many Americans fail to take advantage

of their right to vote. What new technology and social media tools could

political campaigns use to communicate with potential voters in order to


motivate active political participation in the midst of overall declining voter


For the purposes of this Capstone project, “motivate” is defined as the

process by which political campaigns could provide more relevant, updated

information with improved communication through the use of new

technologies and social media tools, so they can help establish positive social

changes to increase active political participation and voter turnout.

Campaigns traditionally could dictate one-sided information to the public

because voters were viewed as inactive participants in political

communications. Now, campaigns must utilize new technologies and social

media tools to provide potential voters with greater transparency, education,

and engagement, while also allowing potential voters to become active

participants in the electoral process in order to stimulate increased political


Problem Statement

Political campaigns need to develop new media communication

strategies to effectively facilitate positive, active participation of the public in

order to increase voter turnout and representation. Low voter turnout is a

problem because it leads to unequal representation of certain demographics

in the United States, which creates policies that are more partial toward the

active voters. Political strategists Burkhart et al. (1972) reason that one of

the key effects of low voter turnout and “apathy toward political participation

is that the political process tends to be dominated by, and run for the benefit

of, a small minority… (2). This leads to the further isolation of low voter

turnout groups in the electoral process, because policies and campaigns are

not geared to the underrepresented needs. Doppelt and Shearer (1999)

researched voter turnout in the United States trends, and argue the reason

younger, poorer, and less educated people vote less is “because the political

system tends to isolate them, to cause and entrench apathy” (9).

The increased political participation during the 2008 presidential

election is attributed to many factors, but largely correlated with the Obama

campaign’s effective use of online and social media communications to

promote political participation and information sharing. A report on the

Obama for America campaign by strategists DiJulio and Wood (2008) found

that the groundbreaking new media program “was truly impressive, resulting

in an email list of 13 million individuals, five million friends on various social

networks and half a billion dollars raised” (4). The Obama campaign made it

easy for the typically inactive youth to communicate, organize, and find the

information needed to participate politically and vote.

Research highlights these online and social media tools have the

potential to increase political participation for a number of reasons including:

online interactive capacities that allow certain forms of political activity to be

conducted more easily; vast amounts of political information could have the

effect of lowering the costs of acquiring political knowledge and stimulating


political interest; online capacities to facilitate mobilization to take political

actions; they allow larger, diverse groups to form and mobilize (Smith et al

2009, 13). As traditional forms of political involvement are decreasing,

political campaigns need effective online and social media communications

strategies to stimulate new forms of active participation and motivate

typically inactive voters.

Statement of Goals and Objectives

The intention of the current Capstone project is to research how

political campaigns could utilize new technologies and social media tools to

create new communications strategies that could improve information

sharing and motivate citizens to be more active in political participation. To

do this, the Capstone focuses on three major topics: First, how political

campaigns generally communicated with voters and how new technologies

and social media tools change the dynamics of these communications;

second, why political campaigns must utilize these new tools and how this

could help increase active political participation, especially with regard to the

underrepresented groups; and third, what recommendations can be made

for developing new strategies to utilize these new technologies and social

media tools.

Review of Literature

This review of literature contains an analysis of political participation in

the United States and the new online and social media tools that promote

new forms of participation. To understand and advance political participation

in today’s environment, it is important to examine the role and scope of

online and social media communication strategies. The emerging trends

show that online and social media tools allow political campaigns to develop

new communication strategies to successfully motivate new forms of political

participation. Successful campaigns integrate online and social media tools

with their overall communication strategy.

For the literature review, numerous types of sources were consulted,

including national studies, polls, news articles, online journals, books, and

government reports. The main ideas to be addressed in this review of

literature are the effects of voter turnout, what online and social media tools

are, how political participation and communication are changing, and

successful political campaign communications strategies that utilized online

and social media tools.

Voter Turnout

Information sharing and political participation are the pillars to a

successful democracy. In fact, most political and government scholars argue,

“Citizens’ engagement in democratic processes is a necessary condition for a

healthy, function democracy” (Scheufele 2001, 20). Voting is the foundation

of citizenship in a democracy, but many Americans do not participate in this

fundamental aspect of the electoral process. United States citizens are

reminded each election cycle that fewer voters are turning up at the polls as

compared to most other democracies. Political scientist Robert Putnam

states that the United States voter “turnout rate ranks us just above the

cellar—narrowly besting Switzerland, but below all twenty-two other

established democracies” (2000, 31). In fact, voter turnout has been

steadily declining in the United States since the 1960s.

Political scholars have examined trends and patterns associated with

voter turnout and have reached a general consensus on why Americans

currently fail to vote. A report by the Census Bureau (1991) found that voter

turnout is related to the following characteristics: likelihood of voting is

higher with age; chances of voting increases with education; persons with

higher incomes are more likely to vote; the Midwest leads the way;

homeownership and length of residence make a big difference; the gap

between whites and blacks has closed; and most workers employed in the

public sector vote. Political researchers Doppelt and Shearer (1999) note

that reasons for not voting include, “few real choices, time, too many

elections and jurisdictions, elections on the wrong day, inadequate civics,

the tone of the campaigns, media focus on the horse race, the decline of

political parties, and a reluctance to serve on juries” (11). Political scholar

Bruce Bimber reasons that low voter turnout results from the resonation of

problems in the United States including the following: “the distortions of

money and campaign finance arrangements, low public trust, a political

culture dominated by marketing and polling, and the profound influences of


one particular technology, television” (2003, 1). Low voter turnout is often

associated with people’s feelings of disenfranchisement in the political


One of the impacts of low voter turnout is that underrepresented

groups vote in numbers disproportionate to the size of their group (United

States Census Bureau 1991). For example, information from the United

States Census Bureau demonstrates that, in the 1996 presidential election,

18 to 24-year-olds comprised 13 percent of the adult population and those

65 or older made up 16 percent (1991). However, 18 to 24-year-olds only

made up seven percent of all voters, while the 65 and older population

accounted for 20 percent (1991). U.S. Census Bureau information from the

2008 presidential election highlighted that 18 to 24-year-olds made up 13

percent and those 65 and older made up 16.5 percent of the adult

population, while during the 1996 election 18 to 24-year-olds made up 10

percent of all voters, while the 65 and older population accounted for 19

percent (2009). These statistics illustrate the potential shift in voter turnout

that could allow for greater voter proportionality for the typically

underrepresented groups compared with the overall populations.

A recent Gallup Poll found if young people were to vote at about the

same rate as older people, election outcomes would be affected (Moore

2010). The United States Census Bureau reported “voters 18 to 24 were the

only age group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout,


reaching 49 percent in [the] 2008” presidential elections (2009). Young

voters preferred Obama to McCain 68 percent to 30 percent, and this

afforded him the highest share of youth votes for any candidate since 1976,

when exit polls began reporting by age (Dahl 2008). Dahl (2008) quoted

John Della Volpe of the Harvard Institute of Politics, who stated, “The youth

vote is turning states that Obama would’ve lost or barely won into more

comfortable margins” (2). The 2008 presidential election exemplified the

success of information sharing and providing voter education for garnering

support and participation from the typically inactive, young, and

underrepresented voters.

Many political researchers argue that this voter turnout decline is a

problem and should not be happening because the United States has

improved and changed in ways that should be increasing and simplifying

political participation. Political scholar Scheufele argues that increasing levels

of participation could have been expected “based on an increasingly rich

information environment, including recent technological advances in

electronic communications” (2001, 21). He further asserts, “given levels of

education among the American people, participation could have been

expected to rise substantially between 1960 and 1996” (2001, 22). Political

scientists reason that government policy, specifically the National Voter

Registration Act of 1993, should have increased voter registration and offset

turnout decline. These generational changes related to technology,


education, and laws were expected to increase political participation to

historical levels.

Although it is well known that the United States has low voter turnout

compared to other democracies, the true problem is American voter turnout

compared to its own past. Most political scientists reason that the decline in

voter turnout has been gradual and part of generational changes related to

demographics. Political scientist Putnam (2000) argues that voter turnout

decline resulted from generational changes; he states, “Beneath the ups and

downs of individual elections, however, virtually all the long-run decline in

turnout is due to the gradual replacement of voters who came of age before

or during the New Deal and World War II by the generations who came of

age later” (33). These generational changes impact voter turnout based on

group demographics, and older groups are typically the most active toward

political participation.

The Internet & Social Media

The rise in Internet access and use of social media tools has facilitated

new and simple ways for people to engage in political participation and

communications. Internet use, electronic communications, and online social

media tools continue to grow, driven by commerce, networking, information

sharing, and communications. Internet and social media tools have the

ability to close the gap between the characteristically active and non-active

voter demographics by allowing these groups the chance to easily find


information about the civic process and communicate in ways that influence

the tone of the campaign, the media focus, and group mobilization. The

Internet has paved the way for new forms of electronic communications to

evolve, and it has grown into a tool that facilitates the quick, global spread

of communications. Political scientists Hart and Daron (2001) reason that

the Internet can provide greater amounts of mobilizing information than

traditional media because “the Internet is essentially unlimited by space or

time constraints, constrains that impinge heavily on traditional media like

newspaper and television” (29). The Internet makes it easier and cheaper to

share and gather large amounts of information, while also making it more

accessible to numerous, diverse people.

Each of the internet’s inventions brought with it greater advancements

toward improving the electronic communications of that time period,

because each development made sharing and gathering large amounts of

information easier, cheaper, and more accessible to numerous people. It is

generally agreed by most that the Internet facilitates communication

flexibility by “allowing individuals to choose what information to access and

when to access. It also permits users to exchange large amounts of

information quickly regardless of geographical distance” (Tolbert and McNeal

2003, 175). After the 1980s, commercialization of the Internet helped grow

the Internet’s accessibility. Analysis of data collected from International

Telecom Union’s Internet usage report reveals that the number of Internet

users almost doubled between 1998 to 2000 to 142.823 million users, and

rose eighty-five percent between 2005 to 2010 to 239,894 million users

(International Telecom Union 2010). The 2010 figures reveal that roughly

77.3 percent of the United States population is comprised of Internet users.

This accessibility allowed the Internet to grow quickly in popularity as a form

of communication, and this gave it the power to greatly influence and impact


Multiple forms of electronic communications and information sharing

forums evolved from the Internet. E-mail is extremely common and often

the most preferred type of communication. According to BBC News (2010),

at the time of writing there were close to 247 billion e-mail messages sent

per day. According to Alexa (2010), the web information company,, a search engine, was the number one visited website in the

world and was roughly visited by 45 percent of the world’s Internet users

each day. Scholars generally agree that “information-oriented use such as

information acquiring and exchange on the Internet provides users with

opportunities for civic recruitment and further encourages political

participation” (Zhang et al. 2009, 78). Until recently Google and other

search engine sites held the top spots for the most visited websites on the

Internet. In March 2010, Facebook overtook Google to become the most

visited website in the world; this marked a shift from information sharing to

social network communications as the top tools used on the Internet

(Pepitone 2010).

Social media encompasses blogs, microblogs (e.g., Twitter), social

networking sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn), social bookmarking

sites, social news sites, and video/photography sites. The key difference

from traditional marketing is that social media allows for personal

communications, allows for easy online participation, and stimulates

information sharing. Social media marketer Tamar Weinberg (2009) asserts

that social media “helps facilitate communication about ideas that users are

passionate about, and connects like-minded individuals throughout the

world,” and “relates to the sharing of information, experiences, and

perspectives throughout community-oriented websites” (1). David

Greenberg (2008), a professor in Journalism & Media Studies, further

supports this idea and wrote:

The use of social media as a marketing tool has quickly become

prominent in the modern business world, and it can be an extremely

effective way to promote your products and services to a targeted

audience. Websites function as a static billboard to promote your

products, services, or ideas, but social media has created an

opportunity for dynamic dialogue with your audience. The dialogue

allows for interaction and personal connection (8).


These differences, coupled with the rise in Internet access, have allowed

social media to evolve and become extremely popular.

Social media has quickly become the most popular way to spend time

online and has rapidly evolved into a largely used marketing tool due to its

ability to target, personalize, and share information to a considerable

number of people. In fact, “people in the United States continue to spend

more time on social networking and blog sites as well, with total minutes

increasing 210% year-over-year and the average time per person increasing

143% year-over-year in December 2009” (Nielsen Wire 2010). This is

especially true for the young voters that are not typically active in traditional

forms of political participation. Political and technological researchers Zhang

et al. (2009) wrote, “social network sites may be bringing in new voters,

particularly the young, to get involved in the political process” (75-76).

Political campaigns should make sure to take advantage of providing and

sharing information through social media, because it is easily attainable by

the typically inactive, youth voters that heavily use social media. This is

supported by the fact that “users under 35 represent 72% of those users

who make political use of social networks” (Lardinois 2009, 2). Social media

has provided a new way to facilitate communications amongst large, diverse

groups of people who may not have been active participants in other forms

of information sharing and communications.


New Forms of Political Participation

Political campaigns generally communicate with potential voters to

share campaign information with the goal to increase political participation.

Political participation generally concerns “the activities that aim at directly or

indirectly influencing the selection of elected officials and/or the

development and implementation of public policy” (Zhang et al. 2009, 76).

The increasing role of the Internet in the United States has created new

forms of participation. This assertion is supported by political scientists

Homero Zuniga, Aaron Veenstra, Emily Vrage, and Dhavan Shah who wrote,

many “scholars have reflected on the potential of the Internet to promote

distinct informational and interpersonal dynamics that may reinvigorate the

democratic process online and offline” (2010, 38). These online tools provide

new and simplified means of facilitating political participation.

Political campaigns have the ability to close the gap on reasons not to

vote by communicating, sharing information, and engaging voters, especially

the inactive demographics, as active participants in the electoral process

with these new online and social media tools. Tolbet and McNeal (2003)

argue, “While a long tradition of research documents the demographic and

psychological determinants of political participation, there is also evidence to

suggest that changes in communication technology may play an important

role influencing electoral behavior” (175). These new online and social media

tools have the ability to motivate increased political participation because


they can improve voter information and communications. Voters need

information to participate and online and social media tools provide new

forms for political participation.

With more and more people easily accessing the Internet and the

continuous increase in social media use, the overall percent of total

population using these tools will continue to rise. In fact, a report by Aaron

Smith, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry Brady (2009)

found the number of active participants in online and social media political

communications to be quite significant out of the overall population: “one in

five internet users (19%) have posted material about political or social

issues or a used a social networking site for some form of civic or political

engagement. This works out to 14% of all adults—whether or not they are

Internet users” (Smith et al. 2009, 5). The Pew Research Institute August

2008 survey also found:

Thirty-three percent of internet users had a profile on a social

networking site and that 31% of these social network members had

engaged in activities with a civic or political focus—for example, joining

a political group, or signing up as a “friend” of a candidate—on a social

networking site. That works out to 10% of all Internet users who have

used a social networking site for some sort of political or civic

engagement. In addition, 15% of internet users have gone online to

add to the political discussion by posting comments on a website or


blog about a political or social issue, posting pictures or video content

online related to a political or social issue, or using their blog to

explore political or social issues (2009, 5).

This research highlights the high number of social media users and points to

the opportunity political campaigns have to share information that motivates

users and garners support.

Successful New Media Communication Strategies

The evidence in the extant research suggests that political campaigns

must use online and social media in today’s world to connect with people,

share content, collaborate, build relationships, and turn Internet users into

supporters in order to be successful. Prior to the 2008 presidential election,

new media was not typically integrated into campaign’s overall marketing

plan. Even after 2008, digital marketer and advertiser Kate Kaye (2009)

declares there are still many reasons why political campaigns do not focus

on new media or spend money for online marketing: political media

consultants are conditioned to buying TV; they don’t understand how to buy

or target online ads; they don’t think their audience is online; web ads are

relatively inexpensive; they don’t believe online advertising can be used for

persuasion; they make far more commissions on TV ads than they do when

buying Web ads (23-24). These reasons point out the importance of

dedicating a staff person or team to its new media efforts, and examples of

successful new media strategies highlight this importance.


Most political and social media experts agree that Barack Obama’s

2008 presidential campaign was the most successful online and social media

marketing campaign ever. David Greenberg (2008) even goes so far to say,

“There is no doubt in anyone with a brain cell that part of the reason Barack

Obama won the 2008 Presidential election was due to an extraordinary

internet presence and a solid policy for engaging his potential constituents in

ways that made them feel they were part of history” (2). The online focus of

the Obama campaign allowed it to gain increased participation and

communications through information sharing, connections, organization, and

collaboration. Specifically, the campaign made the point to education its

constituents by providing them with online information “to promote voter

registration and get out the vote efforts to younger people” (Kaye 2009, 5).

The Obama campaign successfully engaged social media tools as part of its

overall campaign strategy to capture voters.

Social media strategist Brent Leary and Obama for America Campaign

Director David Bullock (2008) contend that the campaign was able to

strategically leverage social media tools to “organize and energize millions of

people at the grass roots level. Engage people who have not participated in

the political process to be active members. Raise hundreds of millions of

dollars—much of it coming from ordinary citizens” (10). Political

communication strategists generally agree that the Obama camp certainly

understood communication targeting since its messages “were standardized,


shunning issues, and aiming to build grassroots support. Ads asked voters to

‘Sign Up for Initiations to Campaign Events’ and promoted them to join other

campaign supporters” (Kaye 2009, 35). Social media tools allowed the

Obama campaign to effectively target engagement and communications with

potential voters in a way that promoted participation.

Another successful political campaign’s use of social media was the

2010 special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat of the late Ted

Kennedy. The election was stacked in Attorney General Martha Coakley’s

favor, but the unknown Scott Brown ended up winning. Most political

strategists credit Brown’s win to the fact that social media allowed him to

turn his “shoestring campaign into a much broader political movement” that

allowed others to use technology to organize “the passion and drive and

power of an idea” (Yan 2010, 3). This election demonstrated that online

tools help candidates gain name recognition, party awareness, connections,

and fundraising dollars.

Design and Implementation

Work Plan, Methods and Procedures

I conducted primary and secondary research to develop a

comprehensive analysis and strategy. The primary research was in the form

of a quantitative survey that asked eligible voters about their own uses of

online and social media tools and inquired about the behaviors and

perceptions held by users who participate with political campaigns through


these new technologies. These questions sought to determine if new online

and social media tools have improved or deterred new forms of political

participation. The secondary research came from different studies, reports,

articles, and books relevant to the Capstone topic. The quantitative survey

gathered data to fill in the holes of the secondary data and allowed me to

gather answers to specific questions from a large-scale audience in a shorter

amount of time.

Quantitative Survey

I used a quantitative survey to gather information about respondents’

part and current beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors about voting, political

participation, and campaign communications. The survey questions

investigated the correlation between social media use, the types of political

participation, and the quality of communications between political campaigns

and potential voters. Questions in this research focused on both how new

technologies have changed voter participation and why people participate

with political campaigns through social media tools. Identifying factors

related specifically to the effects on voter information, ease of participation,

and communication remained a priority for this portion of the research.

To do this, I shared the survey online to participants via a web-based

survey site called Zoomerang. I shared this survey via a hyperlink in a

message post to individuals within my e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and

LinkedIn networks and to others in my workplace, classes, volunteer


organizations, club memberships, and hobby groups to which I belong so

that these groups could distribute the survey to other members I do not

know. My friends and family members also shared the survey link with

others. All of the responses were anonymous to protect the identity of

respondents. The survey included text from the Informed Consent Form

(Appendix A)—which explained the research study’s purpose, the process for

assuring anonymity, and associated risks for engaging in the survey. The

survey included an introduction, multiple-choice and Likert-scale questions,

and a closing statement (see Appendix B for complete list of questions).

Participants were offered a copy of my research findings by sending me an

e-mail request containing a common code, which was provided in the closing



In the course of distributing the survey, 136 people responded to this

data (see Appendix C for complete survey results). Ninety-two percent of

respondents were registered to vote in the United States. Three percent of

the responders reported that they were not eligible to register to vote

because of citizenship issues. One percent reported both that they do not

know how to register and are uniformed of the electoral process.

Respondents were asked what types of elections they have voted in. Ninety-

seven percent of respondents reported voting in a presidential general

election, but only thirty-five percent reported voting in a runoff election.


Sixty-six percent reported voting in a mid-term general election, just slightly

ahead of the sixty percent who reported voting in a presidential primary

election. Fifty-four percent reported voting in a mid-term primary election,

and forty-six percents reported voting in a special election.

The third question asked respondents all the reasons why they vote, besides

the fact that are registered. Personal right was the top reason, reported by

eighty-nine percent of respondents (Figure 1). Other reasons included beliefs

that vote counts. The fourth question asked respondents to provide multiple

answers for where they research and gain information about who or what to

vote for in elections (Figure 2). Other responses included receiving

information in-person from politicians.

Figure 1. Reasons registered voters vote in an election.


Figure 2. Where registered voters gather information.

The fifth question asked if respondents have participated in certain

political forums in person (Figure 3). One person reported running for office

as “other”. The following question asked respondents if they have

participated in the same political forums, but online instead of in person

(Figure 4).

Figure 3. In person political participation.


Figure 4. Online political participation.

The seventh question asked if respondents have participated in certain

political special networking activities, such as Facebook, MySpace, Ning,

LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Flicker, etc. Fifty-six percent of the respondents

reported receiving political information on a social networking site (Figure


Figure 5. Political participation on social networking sites.

The eighth asked respondents what types of online and social media tools

they most use frequently (Figure 6). Five percent reported “other” with each

respondent naming Twitter.


Figure 6. Most frequently used online and social media tools.

The ninth question asked how often respondents used online and social

media tools. Zero percent of the respondents reported “never” and “seldom.”

Sixty-four percent reported using these tools very frequently (multiple times

per day). Thirty percent reported frequently (every day to once a week).

Three percent reported occasionally (once every few weeks). Two percent

reported very rarely (one every six months). One percent reported rarely

(once every month) using these tools.

The tenth question asked the reason why respondents use political

campaigns’ online and social media tools (Figure 7). Sixty-five percent of the

respondents reported to gather candidate information, compared to twenty-

one percent reported that they do not using political campaigns’ online and

social media tools.

Figure 7. Uses of political campaigns’ online and social media tools.

The next question asked respondents to rate political campaigns’ use

of online and social media tools in terms of facilitating their participation in

certain activities. Forty-nine percent of the respondents reported that online

and social media tools are moderately important in getting them to

participate. Twenty-six percent reported that the tools are very important in

getting them to participate. Thirteen percent reported that the tools are of

little importance, and twelve percent reported the tools are unimportant in

getting them to participate. The final question asked respondents if their

ability to use online and social media tools increased their participation with

political campaigns. One percent of the respondents reported it has

decreased their participation. Twenty-seven percent reported it has not

increased their participation. Twenty-two percent reported it has increased

their participation very little. Thirty-three percent reported it has increased

their participation somewhat. Seventeen percent reported it has increased

their participation a great deal.


This section of the Capstone encompasses an overall summary of what

was learned from the research data and proposes recommendations for how

political campaigns can boost their new media strategies to improve their

information sharing and improve political participation. Political campaigns

are not using new media strategies as well as they could be and, as a result,

have not stimulated new forms of information sharing that could motivate

political participation. As stated in the introduction, limited knowledge about

the electoral process is one factor for the decline in voter turnout that has

led to the disenfranchisement of certain voter-aged demographics. These

demographics are not voting as proportionately to the overall voting age

population as they could be and as a result, have continued to perpetuate

decreased voter turnout since the 1960s.


In order to reverse this attitude and trend, primary and secondary

research supports that a political campaign needs to develop and integrate a

new media strategy into the overall marketing plan to provide new forms of

communication and information sharing through new media in order to

motivate voters to become more active in the political process. The data also

reveals that online and social media tools are frequently used by a

significant number of the voting age population in the United States, and are

quickly become the preferred method of information sharing and

communications. Therefore, based on the survey data and secondary

research, the remainder of this section of the Capstone proposes

suggestions that political campaigns can take to develop new media

strategies that increase new forms of political participation.

In order to conduct a successful new media effort, integrating this

strategy with the campaign’s overall marketing and communication plan is

essential. Once a political campaign decides to integrate a new media plan,

this Capstone proposes five suggestions that need to be taken: develop a

new media strategy that aligns with the overall marketing plan, participate

in information sharing, monitor online communications and engage

constituents, motivate participation by calling for action, and measure the

results of the new media strategy.


Develop a New Media Strategy

From the survey results, it is apparent that although many political

campaigns have quickly adapted to using new media tools, they are not

being maximized through the development of new media strategies that are

consistent with the campaign’s overall goals. Online and social media tools

are rapidly evolving with new technology, but there are underlying new

media trends that will continue to be well-suited for political campaigns in

promoting their messages and motivating political participation among the

potential voters. A decision to develop and set a new media strategy to the

campaign’s overall marketing and communication efforts require knowledge

of the campaign’s business and marketing goals, the target audience, and

the finances available to create a viable, workable program. This assertion is

supported by Kaye (2009), who emphasizes that John McCain’s 2008

presidential campaign’s online strategy “was not necessarily on message

with the McCain campaign…it was as if Internet advertising existed as a

separate silo within the campaign” (4). It is difficult to create a new media

strategy without understanding the campaign’s overall goals, target market,

and resources. The new media strategy needs to be developed as part of the

overall campaign strategy with an understanding of the campaign’s target

market, marketing goals, and current use of new media.

In addition to developing a strategy, the political campaign must also

dedicate resources to the implementation of the new media strategy.


Dedicating resources to the implementation of the new media strategy is

crucial because many political campaigns have not traditionally had staff or a

department dedicated and formally assigned to new media functions. It

should be this person or department’s responsibility to manage and

accomplish the steps outlined in the proposed new media plan. This

assertion can be seen by the number of resources dedicated to new media

programs by successful campaigns, and is supported by Nicole Russo,

legislative aide to New York State Senator Kemp Hannon, as quoted in a

Mashable article by Matt Silverman (2009):

Do not leave your social media networking up to an intern. Many

organizations make a page and then forget to update or allow

someone that is unqualified to update it for them. You really need

someone who knows when and what to post in order to capture an

audience that will benefit your organization.

The main point is that a political campaign needs to understand that its

online and social media should be a specialty that is the focused job of a

staff member.

Share Information

From the survey results, it is apparent that many people access

political information and news through online and social media sources. This

is why a political campaign must actively share interesting and relevant

information as part of its strategy if it desires to achieve new media success.


Information sharing needs to be persuading enough to motivate

participation, and this requires the campaign’s new media strategy to

incorporate and promote information about the candidate, campaign issues,

voter information, relevant news and press releases, and other information

potential voters find important. A political campaign must make it easy for

people to find the information they are looking for, and political scientist

Daron Shaw (2001) agrees with this assertion: “People must have access to

political information for it to have an effect” (11). Information sharing, for a

political campaign, creates the opportunity for users to share this

information and increases the campaign’s online presence.

The primary and secondary research lists voter uncertainty and limited

knowledge of the electoral process as two of the top reasons why people do

not vote or participate in politics. Information sharing helps erase voter

uncertainty by providing knowledge of the candidate and the political

process. Political researcher Lynn Vavreck supports this assertion (2001) and

asserts, “Voters cannot learn what candidates do not tell them. If candidates

do not take positions on issues during campaigns, if they provide little clarity

what they believe and why, it is not surprising that voters will have high

levels of uncertainty about candidates” (101–102). Political campaigns must

communicate with potential voters to provide relevant information that has

the ability to motivate political participation. In other words, political

campaigns must communicate with potential voters to share information


about the election, the campaign, and their candidates’ opponents to help

limit voter uncertainty and to stimulate favorable political participation.

Information sharing as part of the new media strategy can help

political campaigns use these online and social media tools as effective ways

to manage information and communicate with groups that are typically

inactive eligible voters. A political campaign can use these online and social

media tools to share relevant information about the candidate, issues, voter

information, news, and other updates. By setting a proper new media

strategy, a political campaign can share information as a way to encourage

all demographics to participate politically, while providing the opportunity to

become more involved.

Monitor & Engage

It is essential for a political campaign to take information sharing a

step further by monitoring and engaging with its constituents through its

online and social media channels. This requires regular listening and

monitoring in order to know what people are saying about the campaign. It

is almost guaranteed that people will be talking about the political campaign

no matter what, and it is crucial for the campaign to take control of its

message and engage these online conversations. A successful new media

plan must include monitoring and engagement, because “conversations

about your product are happening online regardless of whether or not you

are participating in them” (Weinberg 2009, 15). Monitoring online


conversations should include tracking the candidate’s name, the opponent’s

name, relevant issues, popular trends, news articles, videos, users, and

common topics. This allows the campaign to understand how constituents

view its image and reputation.

According to the primary and secondary research, people are more

likely to vote and participate in politics depending on their feelings toward

the candidate and his or her response to important issues. Monitoring and

understanding the campaign’s online image and reputation is crucial,

because “the heart of political communication is the way voters see

candidates and their government” (Shaw 2001, 13). It is essential for

political campaigns to monitor and use this information to effectively engage

with its constituents, because this type of engagement ensures people will

return to the campaign’s online and social media channels for the latest

information, instead of going to other sites. Weinberg (2009) supports this

assertion: “Staying silent is a good way to shun your followers and cause

them to turn to another provider for the same (or similar) services” (307). If

the monitoring reveals that people are talking about certain issues or

referring to other sites for information, the campaign must address these

issues by engaging users and providing them with the desired information as

part of its new media strategy. Engagement should include publishing

updates, Tweets, direct responses, or press releases related to the online

conversations. The campaign should make sure engagement is based off its

monitoring, so that it shares messages and posts in a manner that drives

popularity. This may include posting breaking news as it happens, instead of

waiting for the traditional press release.

According to primary and secondary research, this type of engagement

with online users will allow them to see that they are being heard by the

campaign and that their opinion matters. This will promote new relationships

and communications between the campaign and its constituents, while

allowing the campaign to appear more authentic with its message. Most

social media marketers believe:

While you can pay to market politics online, it’s arguably better to

engage your network of supporters and let them spread the message

for you. Their reach and trust value far outweigh anything you could

broadcast or pay for. Once you have their attention, little calls to

action can go a long way (Silverman 2009).

Engaging constituents in a tailored manner will encourage users to continue

using and sharing information from the campaign’s online and social media

channels. Political scientists support this assertion and reason, “when a voter

feels that a particular candidate will respond meaningfully to pressing issues,

and his own political involvement will prod the government to respond, he

will be more likely to participate” (Burkhart et al. 1972, 13). Monitoring and

engaging important issues through new media allows a political campaign to

understand what potential voters find important, so it can adjust its message

according in order to provide information that motivates people to

participate, and ultimately get out to vote.

Motivate Participation

The primary and secondary research highlights that political campaigns

must provide new ways for potential voters to participate in the political

process. Furthermore, political campaigns must motivate potential voters to

become supporters by promoting opportunities for them to volunteer, donate

money, attend an event, meet other supporters, or perform some other

action that helps the campaign. A political campaign should ensure its online

and social media channels promote a specific way for how people can easily

participate in the political process and help the campaign win the election. As

quoted by Matt Silverman (2009), Julielyn Gibbons, president of an online

strategy consulting firm, says, “Political campaigns aren’t much different

than traditional marketing campaigns, with a few exceptions. Whether you’re

selling a product, an idea, or a candidate, you’re ultimately trying to

convince the public to embrace something.” This is why it is crucial for a

political campaign’s new media strategy to include actions for users to take

after hearing the campaign’s message.

It is essential for a political campaign to motivate potential supporters

if it wants to achieve real, measurable results, such as increased voters

registration or turnout. The use of online and social media tools effortlessly

facilitates “several forms of political activity—including making donations,


forming a group of like-minded people, contacting public officials, and

registering to vote” (Smith et al. 2009, 14). The campaign can share all the

information it wants, but for it to be effective and earn real results the

campaign must direct and motivate people to perform a specific action after

learning about this information. Strategic political consultants stress, “the

more successful organizations, or at least those that are seriously interested

in winning elections or in effective favorable public policy, are the ones that

recognize and take advantage of social motivation” (Burkhart et al. 1972,

27). Providing calls to action is a crucial part of having a solid new media

and communications strategy that provides motivational opportunities that

ultimately increase political participation.

Measure Results

The secondary research highlights that successful political campaigns

make sure to measure the performance of their new media strategies. Iis

essential for a political campaign to measure its social media strategy if it

wants to ensure its use of online and social media channels are achieving the

campaign’s goals. First, a political campaign should measure how many

people are willing to join and connect with its online and social media

networks. A campaign should count, track, and compare its your total

number of Facebook “Fans”, Twitter “Followers”, YouTube subscribers, and

other social network friends over time. Second, a campaign should measure

interactions with the campaign on its social media channels. Analyzing this

will allow the campaign to see how people use and share its social media

channels. The campaign must look at how many people comment on status

updates, post comments, and share interesting links to campaign

information with others. This will help determine if people are using the

online and social media tools in a way that helps spread the word of the

campaign. If the channels are not having much activity, the campaign needs

to change the way it uses these tools by posting more interesting, up-to-

date, relative, and informative information that people want to share with

their friends.

Next, the political campaign must measure the traffic of its online and

social media tools, because traffic evaluates how often people are visiting

the campaign’s site and social media channels. It is crucial for campaign’s to

measure traffic, because it will allow the campaign to see how users find the

site, where users come from, how long users stay on the site, what pages

are consumed the most, and how many people actually visit the channels.

This will help determine if the campaign is utilizing its social media channels

in a way that drives people to want to learn more and gather information

from the campaign’s online and social media channels. It will also allow the

campaign to see if certain dates garnered more traffic, because surges

reveal what type of information people are most receptive to so the

campaign change its social media strategy to post in a similar manner that

drives increased traffic. Fourth, the political campaign should measure how

many people click through the campaign’s online and social media channels

to perform a certain action. The most important conversion for political

campaigns to measure include how many people sign up for campaign

communications, click for volunteer information, and make donations. This

will help determine if the campaign makes it easy and inviting for people to

perform these actions.

Finally, the political campaign should measure the influence of its

online and social media tools. Influence evaluates how many people actively

share and promote the campaign’s information versus glance and leave to

find information elsewhere. Analyzing this will allow the campaign to see if it

is providing the information people are looking for or if people are going to

other channels for information. The campaign must look at how its messages

are influencing online communications, if its messages are popular, and if its

messages are showing up in search results. This will help the campaign

determine if people find other sites or online tools to be more informative

and up-to-date than the campaign’s online and social media channels. It will

also allow the campaign to determine if it is using its online and social media

tools in a way that provides people with the information they are searching

for. Measuring online and social media performance is a key suggestion for

political campaigns to make sure its new media strategy is promoting new

forms of political participation.


Areas for Further Research

The research presented in this Capstone could lead to many other

areas of study. Primarily, a study about online and social media use related

to age and other demographics could be conducted to see if use is related to

or correlated with certain demographics. Such a study could reveal, for

example, which demographics using these tools are growing the fastest, and

how this growth could impact the types of online political participation. Such

a study could lead to political campaigns utilizing these tools to create a new

media plan that targets and markets certain demographics toward a specific

form of political participation.

This Capstone also explored the new forms of political participation

that some campaigns have engaged and employed. This topic will continue

to be of interest to all political campaigns and those interested in using

online and social media tools. There are many political campaigns that use

online and social media tools, and this could represent the beginning of a

major change to political campaign strategies and operations. The shift could

represent a change to the way people share information and engage with

others, which could change the way people participate in politics and with

political campaigns. More research needs to be conducted on this topic to

see if it will impact voter turnout by motivating eligible voters to participate

in the new forms of online and social media political activities.


Strengths & Limitations

With every Capstone, there are limitations and strengths regarding the

research. There are a few changes that would have strengthened the

project. After evaluating the electronic survey data that was collected, it

would have been more useful if respondents were asked to provide their age

or another demographic. There are numerous demographics among all of

the eligible voters, and these groups participate, communicate, and

understand the political process differently from each other. Additionally, it

would have been beneficial to distribute the survey in forms other than

solely online because this research is based on results from a community

that is arguably more active online and using social media; therefore, there

is the potential for sample bias. This research also was conducted during a

heated mid-term election year, and this could have some bearing on the

political attitudes and levels of political participation of the survey


However, this Capstone also possesses several strengths in terms of

what it offers for motivating and increasing political participation. Political

participation, especially the act of voting, is vital for a successful democracy,

and this Capstone contributes to strengthening this democratic act. This

research will benefit any political campaign wishing to utilize online and

social media tools to motivate new forms of political participation through

better, more tailored information sharing and communications. People


always talk, most often complain, about the electoral process, and political

campaigns need to be part of these conversations by monitoring topics and

engaging users accordingly through online and social media tools. The

strength of this research is that it provides a roadmap that campaigns can

follow to motivate increased political participation.


The purpose of this Capstone was to study whether new technologies

and online tools used by political campaigns as part of its overall strategy

and communications could help motivate eligible voters to participate in the

political process and, ultimately, to vote. The primary and secondary

research conducted for this Capstone project demonstrates that there is a

strong case for political campaigns to integrate a new media strategy as a

vital part of its traditional marketing and communications in order to

motivate new forms of political participations. The plan proposed by this

Capstone project will help political campaigns effectively communicate with

eligible voters and promote opportunities for participation that are facilitated

by these online and social media tools.

With online and social media tools, political campaigns can easily share

information and educate eligible voters about the electoral process. A new

media strategy will also enable political campaigns to monitor what others

are saying about the campaign and what issues people find most important.

Understanding how people perceive the campaign will allow for more

transparent engagement by providing consistent, yet tailored, messages that

address the popular topics. In additions to controlling its message, this

strategy enables political campaigns to keep better control of its image and

reputation. Without these efforts, political campaigns will fail to take

advantage of new technologies and trends. The research suggests that the

implications of failing to incorporate new media into a campaign’s overall

marketing strategy will likely result in people turning to find information

somewhere else, or worse, continue to feel disenfranchised from the political

process and not participate.



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Appendix A: Informed Consent Form

You are invited to participate in this study investigating social media

and political campaigns, which is being conducted by Rachel Dodsworth to

fulfill the requirements of a Capstone Project. Rachel Dodsworth can be

reached at 720-248-7224/ This project is supervised by

the student’s Capstone Advisor, Dr. Allison Friederichs, University College,

Denver, CO, 303-871-3155/

Participation in this study should take about 5-10 minutes of your time

and is strictly voluntary. The risks associated with this project are minimal.

If, however, you experience discomfort you may discontinue the interview at

any time. We respect your right to choose not to answer any questions that

may make you feel uncomfortable. Refusal to participate or withdrawal from

participation will involve no penalty or loss of benefits to which you are

otherwise entitled.

Your responses will be identified by code number only and will be kept

separate from information that could identify you. This is done to protect the

confidentiality of your responses. Only the researcher will have access to

your individual data and any reports generated as a result of this study will

use only group averages and paraphrased wording. However, should any

information contained in this study be the subject of a court order or lawful

subpoena, the University of Denver might not be able to avoid compliance


with the order or subpoena. Although no questions in this interview address

it, we are required by law to tell you that if information is revealed

concerning suicide, homicide, or child abuse and neglect, it is required by

law that this be reported to the proper authorities.

If you have any concerns or complaints about this survey, please

contact Denise Pearson, Assistant Dean, University College at 303-871-

3964. If you do not understand any part of the above statement, please ask

the researcher any questions you have.

Completing this online survey implies consent with the following

statement: I have read and understood the foregoing descriptions of the

study called “Developing a New Media Communication Strategy to Increase

Political Participation.” I have asked for and received a satisfactory

explanation of any language that I did not fully understand. I agree to

participate in this study, and I understand that I may withdraw my consent

at any time. I have received a copy of this consent form.


Appendix B: Complete Survey Questions

1) If you are not registered to vote in the United States, check all of the

applicable reasons for why you have not registered?

a) I am registered to vote

b) Missed registration deadline

c) Not enough time

d) Not eligible to vote

e) Do not want to serve jury duty

f) Do not know how to register

g) Not interested in voting

h) Not encouraged to register

i) Did not know registration was needed to vote

j) Uniformed of the electoral process

k) Other

2) Which of the following types of elections have you voted in? (Check all

that apply.)

a) Presidential general elections

b) Presidential primary elections

c) Mid-term general elections

d) Mid-term primary elections

e) Runoff elections

f) Special elections

3) Which of these reasons describes why you vote, besides the fact that

you are registered to vote? (Check all that apply.)

a) Personal right

b) Time available

c) Candidate choices

d) Election importance

e) Tone of the campaigns

f) Media focus on the race

g) Political party loyalty

h) Campaign platform

i) Social issues

j) Ability to find information

k) Other

4) Which of the following do you use to research and gain information

about who or what to vote for?

a) Politicians’ websites

b) Secretary of State Elections Division

c) Federal Election Commission

d) Television ads

e) Attend or watch rallies and debates

f) News sites online

g) Television news

h) Social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Ning, YouTube,

Twitter, etc.)

i) Magazines or newspapers

j) Friends and family

k) Other

5) Have you participated in any of the following political forums in


a) Signed a petition

b) Contacted a national, state or local government office about an


c) Worked with citizens in your community to solve a problem

d) Attended a political meeting on local, town, or school affairs

e) Become an active member of a group that tries to influence

public policy or government

f) Attended a political rally or speech

g) Sent a letter to the editor

h) Worked or volunteered for a political party or candidate

i) Made a speech about a community or local issue

j) Attended an organized protest

k) None of the above

l) Other

6) Have you participated in any of the following political forums online?

a) Signed a petition

b) Contacted a national, state or local government office about an


c) Worked with citizens in your community to solve a problem

d) Attended a political meeting on local, town, or school affairs

e) Become an active member of a group that tries to influence

public policy or government

f) Attended a political rally or speech

g) Sent a letter to the editor

h) Worked or volunteered for a political party or candidate

i) Made a speech about a community or local issue

j) Attended an organized protest

k) None of the above

l) Other

7) Have you participated in any of the political social networking activities

listed below (through social networking sites such as Facebook,

MySpace, Ning, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flicker, Twitter, etc.)? (Check all

that apply.)

a) Posted comments about a political or social issue

b) Received political info on a social networking site

c) Wrote about political or social issues in a blog


d) Started/joined a political groups or cause on a social networking


e) Became friends with a candidate on a social networking site

f) Posted political news on a social networking site

g) Posted pictures online about a political or social issue

h) Posted video online about a political or social issue

i) None of the above

j) Other

8) What type of online and social media tools do you use most

frequently? (Check all that apply.)

a) News Site (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, etc.)

b) Search Engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc)

c) Facebook

d) YouTube

e) E-mail

f) Photo sharing sites (Flicker, Picasa, etc.)

g) LinkedIn

h) MySpace

i) Group scheduling sites (MeetUp, FriendFinder, etc.)

j) Social bookmark sharing sites (Reddit, Digg, Delicious, etc.)

k) Chat rooms or decision boards

l) None of the Above


m) Other

9) How often do you use online and social media tools, such as those

listed in question 8?

a) Very frequently (Multiple times per day)

b) Frequently (Every day to once a week)

c) Occasionally (Once every few weeks)

d) Rarely (Once every month)

e) Very rarely (Once every 6 months)

f) Seldom (Setup and account, but do not use it)

g) Never

10) For which of the following reasons do you use political

campaigns’ online and social media tools? (Check all that apply.)

a) To gather candidate information

b) To donate money

c) To sign up for email updates

d) To sign up for phone calls

e) To sign up for text updates

f) To sign up for mailing lists

g) To find volunteer information

h) To find events

i) To stay connected in campaign communications

j) To support a candidate on a social media site


k) To find how to help the campaign in person

l) None of the above

m) Other

11) How would you rate political campaigns’ use of online and social

media tools in terms of facilitating your participation in activities such

as those listed in question 10?

1) Online and social media tools are unimportant in getting me to


2) Online and social media tools are of little importance in getting

me to participate

3) Online and social media tools are moderately important in

getting me to participate

4) Online and social media tools are very important in getting me to


12) How has the ability to use online and social media tools, such as

those listed in question 10, increased your participation with political


1) Has decreased my participation

2) Has not increased my participation at all

3) Has increased my participation very little

4) Has increased my participation somewhat

5) Has increased my participation a great deal


Appendix C: Full Electronic Survey Results

Zoomerang Survey Results

Political Participation & Internet Use

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