Political communication and campaigns have historically embraced new technologies, but never before those new technologies have been so diverse and ubiquitous than today. Indeed, new technologies went from a separate operation in previous campaigns to be at the core of all campaign divisions during the 2000s election cycles. Such growth of new communication technologies in the political process brought with it a new element to political communication in particular: the internet that has been touted as a revolution and a great communication tool.
By 2009 the internet became far more sophisticated and used for a much wider variety of reasons: as a means of dispensing information to the voters concerning the candidate views on policy issues so as to affect visitors´ opinions, for fundraising, to recruit campaign volunteers and communicate with supportive groups, or, lastly, to attack the opponents. Furthermore, such growing role in politics is likely to grow exponentially in view of the number of people resorting to new technologies for political purposes as well as the resources and attention directed to them by candidates, media and political parties. Although indisputable the potential of internet as truly effective political communication vehicle, now maturing into a decisive political medium, questions remain as to its true power.
Against this background, this article assesses if and how online tools have been employed in the 2009 legislative election campaigns in Portugal and to what extent these developments have affected the national political communication landscape. This will allow testing whether increased attention to the internet by the media as well as internet outreach translated into the increased utilisation of the web and or changed patterns of information access and consumption by the audiences. Although it is commonly said that new media adopt the forms of the old, there is a need to understand how changes from old media to the new media are taking place and to what extent online politics are complementing offline politics, altering the communicative environment and generating new political forms or genres which may affect the media business.
This will be done by resorting to a combination of experiments: a survey conducted among the Communication Science students of the Porto University complemented with another on-line survey posted on a major Portuguese news-website, both performed in the week preceding the legislative elections (September 22-29). Bearing in mind the relevance of the topic and the dearth of inquiry between new media and political campaigns in Portugal, the study proposes an unprecedented study of the nature of on-line communication in political campaigns during the period of explosion of the e-campaigns. Indeed, apart from exploring the value that members of electorate place on the internet and testing whether the patterns of information access and consumption by the audiences have changed during the recent campaign, it is revealing of how traditional and new tools co-exist in the national political communication landscape.