The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Tomkova: Internet and MEPs' constituency work: Measuring impact using an empirical offline-online approach

Paper presenter: 
Tomkova, J., Social and Political Sciences Dept, European University Institute

Little is known about how Members’ of the European Parliament (MEPs) service and cultivate relations with their constituencies (Farrell & Scully: 2005) but even less is known about the extent to which their Internet usage affects the latter.

The proposed paper empirically examines the impact of Internet usage on three dimensions of Members of the European Parliament (MEP)’s constituency outreach:

i) casework,

ii) explaining their political work, and

iii) interactivity (Fenno 1978; Mayhew 1974; Johannes 1983; Wilson and Gronke 2000).

By defining impact as the observed difference(s) in MEPs’ offline and online behaviour as per the three dimensions, the paper adopts a comparative online-offline approach and tests two - the full impact and partial effects - hypotheses.

Based on data from the author’s on-line survey of 159 MEPs serving in the 6th European Parliament (2004-2009) and the coding of their respective website(s), the study’s results offer several insights. Using OLS regression and logistic analyses, support is found for the partial effects rather than the full impact hypothesis. Significant effects in MEPs’ Internet usage show to be present in the interactivity dimension but not in the casework nor explaining work dimensions. In other words, MEPs were found to be more interactive with their constituents online than offline, but Internet usage made no difference in MEPs taking on casework or in explaining their political work to their constituents. The results further show that though MEPs are keen to delegate the interactive aspects of their jobs online (e.g. serving the utility functions for less meetings, building an image of being techno-savvy and responsive) their use of communication media is conditioned by the communication preferences of their constituents. The latter prefer to use website more for information seeking and email, telephone and face-to-face meetings for interacting with their MEPs. This finding challenges the status quo notion that websites are used as visual showcases rather than platforms for interaction by political elites (Bentivegna 2002; Coleman & Gotze 2001) and points to a more complex understanding of the functional utility value of the online platform for different users. Moreover, in addition to the questions of supply-demand and functional (rather than normative) reciprocity the paper further distinguishes between soft and hard impacts of Internet usage on MEPs' constituency work.