This paper analyzes how political parties are using digital communications to connect supporters with campaign objectives in the 2010 UK elections. While party membership is said to be declining across most of the Western industrialized democracies, campaigns have increasingly turned to digital media, in the hope that new technologies will allow them to create new and more productive relationships with supporters. This is especially true with recent research indicating the continuing potency of door-to-door campaigning as a tool for influencing election results (see, for example Pattie, Johnston and Fieldhouse, 1995). Digital media are said to create new pathways for participation in electoral politics. Email reduces the costs for campaigns in reaching larger numbers of supporters while also decreasing the costs for supporters in contacting campaigns. Campaigns have invested considerable time and resources professionalizing their use of interactive digital architectures including campaign websites, powerful databases, social networking sites, video sharing sites, blogs, and Twitter. With its growing role in politics, it is hardly surprising that scholars have been documenting the use of digital media by campaigns and their supporters.
However, these analyses tend to focus on digital media from the perspective of input politics: that is, the communication of support and identification. Little light has been shed on the campaign’s output politics: that is, how campaigns use this technology to mobilize supporters and transform supporters from audiences into activists, connecting their energies and creativity to the production of the campaign.
This paper addresses that gap collecting detailed content analysis data on the structure of campaign websites, social networking sites, Twitter feeds, and offline direct communications from the campaigns in the 2010 UK elections from the three major parties. The analysis considers the level of entrepreneurialism the campaigns permit supporters within through their use of digital media and how much they acknowledge that creativity when it occurs, the level of interaction between campaigns and supporters, as well as the rhetorical framing of the supporter with respect to their role in the campaign. These communication streams will be considered with respect to the opportunities for interaction and roles created through digital media for party supporters. Our analyses will be further evaluated through post-election interviews with campaign IT staffers regarding stated campaign objectives.
The results of our research will contribute to our understanding emerging structures of campaign organization and changing relationships between campaign supporters, candidates, and parties.