Graeme Baxter, Rita Marcella – Bravehearts or tim’rous beasties?
A decade of research into online election campaignsin ScotlandBravehearts or Tim’rous Beasties?Graeme Baxter and Rita MarcellaDepartment of Information Management, Aberdeen Business School,Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK
“A new sort of democracy…an open,accessible Parliament”(Consultative Steering Group on the ScottishParliament, 1998)“It should aspire to be an example ofbest practice in Parliamentaryinformation systems”(Expert Panel on ICTs, 1998)“MSPs are intensive and competentusers of ICTs… ICTs are embeddedinto their parliamentary activities…”(Smith & Webster, 2004)Scottish Parliament formed in 1999Image: Scottish ParliamentWould those seeking to gain election to the Parliament also takeadvantage of the opportunities offered by ICTs?
§ Scottish Parliament elections,2003, 2007 and 2011§ UK Parliament election 2010(Scottish constituencies only)Four studies conducted, 2003 to date
§ Content analysis of all party websites§ Sample of 11-12 candidate websites§ Analysis during four weeks precedingpolling day§ Content analysed in terms of the ways inwhich the websites:Ø provided policy and candidate information;Ø provided up-to-date campaign news;Ø tried to engage the support of users; andØ provided opportunities for interaction and debate.Methodologies (1)
§ Online enquiry responsiveness test, measuring speed and extent ofresponse§ Covert research, where researchers posed as potential voters§ Created special email accounts and (in 2010 and 2011) social mediaaccountsMethodologies (2)
§ In 2010 and 2011, content analysis of parties’ andcandidates’ Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and blogs§ Analysis of all posts made during four-week campaign period§ Posts analysed in terms of the topic(s) being discussed, andthe nature of the communication taking placeMethodologies (3)
§ 2011 research included a study of voters’online information behaviour§ Hosted by Rosemount Community Centre,Aberdeen§ Recruited 64 participants, from a range ofage groups and socio-economic classes§ Used laptop and mobile broadband ‘dongle’§ Used the ‘interactive, electronically-assisted interview’ methodMethodologies (4)
§ Manifestos prominent on partywebsites§ Recent move towards providingadditional, more concise policydocuments§ Policy commentary lesscommon on candidates’websitesParty Manifestos and Other Policy Statements
§ Provision of candidateinformation on party websitesinconsistent and illogical§ Lack of candidate contactdetails§ Lack of links to candidates’personal sitesCandidate Information
§ Larger parties better atproviding regular, up-to-datenews§ Slight move towardsproviding real-time feedsfrom social media sitesCampaign News
§ Vast majority of parties andcandidates have providedsome method of onlinecontact§ But other opportunities foronline engagement have beenlimitedCommunication and Engagement
§ Video clips have becomestandard on websites oflarger parties§ In 2007, some experimentswith live online TVbroadcasts, but neverrepeatedAudiovisual Features
§ Since 2007, a decline in theprovision of information inalternative formats or languages§ During 2011 campaign, criticismfrom disability charitiesAlternative Languages and Formats
§ Since 2003 campaign, adramatic increase in the useof the Internet for resourcegenerationMembership and Donations
Social Media Enquiry Response RatesYear Facebook Twitter2010 50% 0%2011 35% 30%
§ Keen to be seen embracing newsocial media tools§ But lack of meaningful policycomment§ Most followers and ‘likers’appeared to be personal friendsor party activists§ Reluctance to interact withwider electorate§ Primarily the one-way‘broadcast’ of informationScottish Politicians’ Social Media Use, 2010 and 2011
Parties2010 UK Election: Scottish Party Twitter Sites(n = 857 posts)81.3%ElectoratePrimary Broadcast14.6%Secondary BroadcastEngagement & DialogueUnreciprocated Engagement2.6%? 1.4%
§ Need for concise policy documents§ Need for local policy commentary§ Wish to see more online dialogue§ Unimpressed with social mediaefforts:“trivial”, “shallow”, “superficial”§ Majority felt campaign sites serveda useful purpose§ But, for 94%, they had no influenceon their voting intentionsUser Study 2011?
§ Incremental growth in use of Internet§ Technologies have changed, but natureof their use remains the same§ Primarily one-way broadcast§ Politicians unwilling to answer ‘difficult’questions and engage with voters§ Dichotomy between provision andvoters’ information needs§ SNP’s claim that “online swayed thevote” in 2011 is questionableOnline Elections in Scotland, 2003-2013ConclusionsPhoto: Wolverhampton Express & StarImage: No Tosh
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