Analysis of the Influence of the Internet on American Politics

Modern technology challenges scholars to reevaluate their old definitions, re-test them and perhaps rewrite them. The use of Internet has reshaped the American life and drifted the political landscape. According to a research conducted by Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2012, more than 73 million Americans have been using the Internet to publish their views and respond to others, share files, post pictures and otherwise contribute to the explosion of the Internet content. Email trees, Twitter and Facebook posts keep individuals abreast of political actions at lower cost as compared to standard mail and public rallies. Candidates are able to reach their supporters in a more efficient and customized manner. Legislators and their constituents communicate through Internet on a more regular mode.     

In the past decade, publications on political participation in America and globally at large have been increasingly paying much attention to the influence of technology, particularly the Internet, on political activities of the general public. Instinctively, many Americans believe that the Internet has a significant impact on political campaigns. If television initiates the candidate-focused campaigns, it goes without saying that the Internet must do the same altering some crucial dynamics of the US electoral campaigns.  

Identifying, monitoring and evaluating the shifting of the Internet dynamics is an overwhelming challenge, an issue that the research fraternity can barely control. In comparison with the traditional means of campaigning such as printed media, the Internet politics analysis agenda is just in a pre-paradigmatic and fledging phase. The Internet environment has unleashed a surge of small-scale-donor fundraising. It is also tied to the emergence of rigorous testing and experimentation activities that provide more precision and authority to the campaign experts. Currently, the Internet used for campaigns seems to advantage the Democratic Party, although it is still debatable how universal this advantage will be. 

All this is happening on the background of transforming social media environment, triggering some deep normative concerns on the comparative advantages of deliberation and vis-a-vis participation. Beside these various facets of developing the Internet research, the Internet also evokes some exceptionally steep methodological hitches as a continuously and disruptively changing medium.

The current paper provides an analysis of literature of the central Internet dynamics within the US political fraternity. It also examines the practical challenges that separate this field from other more conventional research fields that attempt to address political campaign issues. The paper concludes with an agenda of productive research questions that need to be answered as we approach 2016 elections.

 

Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign

Like many other Internet innovators, the Obama presidential campaign 2008 did not invent anything entirely different. Instead, by building together social networking programs in a structure of a movement, the Obama campaign experts created an unanticipated force to raise funds and organize fight smear rallies and eventually got out the ballot that enabled them to topple Clinton political machinery and later John McCain and the Republicans.   

For this particular reason, Obama’s 2008 presidential race became politically innovative and revolutionary, using the Internet in a way the American public had never experienced before. Scholars have evaluated Obama’s campaign strategies from the start to the end, identifying the impact the Internet and social media had over the Obama constituents. In some ways, Obama’s success in his two terms may be attributed to an array of new, incredibly speedy and cost-effective internet tools, which included email, Facebook and Twitter to run grassroots campaigns that contacted individual supporter in customized encounters on a near daily basis. 

Obama was able to apply Internet to not only disseminate information but also encourage activism. During Obama’s first term presidential campaign, he was given $55 million dollars in donations through his social media and through his account at MyBo. The call to action and application of Internet resources ultimately placed Obama’s fundraising and went far beyond previous use of Internet during all other campaign. Study from PEW Internet Research Center indicated that in 2008, 46 per cent of Americans used Internet, text messaging and email on their mobile phones and other devices to access information regarding campaigns, mobilizing others and sharing opinions.

Obama’s supporters during his campaigns made up a significant amount of his team. A notable 39 per cent of the US voters were using the Internet to access unfiltered campaign resources, including speeches, videos on debates, political manifesto transcripts and other forms of Internet announcements. In addition, in 2008, Presidential election incorporated other media and technologies that were rarely applied during other campaigns. 

During a period of few months before the Presidential election, about 35 per cent of Americans admitted that they had watched political clips online, 7 per cent of American voters had made apolitical contribution through Internet and about 10 per cent used social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to collect information regarding candidates and engage in their campaigns. Internet users less than 30 years old include a significant part to these groups: Two-thirds of them have an established social online profile and out of those, 50 per cent use their profiles for engaging in political processes and obtaining political information.    

Polarized Push among Small Donor Cohort

In the recent past, the regulators of campaign funding have established that in the 2012 Presidential elections Obama campaign managed to source more than $200 million through Internet by supporters who contributed as little as $200, whereas the Romney team is estimated to have generated about US$57 million from the same cohort. Going with ActBlue, online funding platform, small financiers have generated more than US$400 million in donations towards the Democratic Party and its candidates since its launch in 2004. 

The Internet driven campaigns are focused on registering congressional contestants, supervising donors, finances and Internet resources to ensure nationwide competitive priorities in campaigns. 

Simply illustrated, the Internet campaigns have resulted into cropping of small donors propelling political policies that introduce thousands of small donors into the campaign funding mobilization platforms. In addition, practical observation evokes serious issues regarding the inspiration of these emergent small donors cohort. It is indicated that campaign donations from these small donors is of great concern for the biased political and teasing appeals. The structured small donor cohorts such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee on the left and tea party supporters on the right comprise of the extremely biased and enthused partisans. Citizen policies preference should fit nearly normal curve distribution, where the American voters who are the targets of Internet campaign are distributed on both tails of normal distribution curve. 

The political aspirants targeted mostly by Facebook likes, YouTube visits and followers on their Twitter accounts are regarded as the most polarized aspirants. Joe Wilson yelled in agitation at the President Barack Obama “You Lie!” during his State of the Union speech. He was showered with more than $2 million by Internet donors who seem to share his viewpoint. 

There are normative questions regarding whether giving incentive to arrogant partisan behavior has any positive influence on the US democracy. The discussion on the Internet costs and paybacks incurred or gained by participating citizens still continues. 

The ideal of American population engaged in Internet campaigns, informed population is an opaque ideology, the ideology that the Americans voters have never and may never attain or attempt to attain in the existing political sphere. A strong public sphere ought to believe in the interests of polarization. The polarizations of political circles have been encouraging the American public by highlighting the risks of political domain. On the other hand, the already engaged voters’ cohort may develop owing the Internet-derived information that would result into Internet-balkanization. There have been well searched signs that there are some lines of consideration that may insecurely increase voters’ mistrust, while other forms of consideration may create political cohesion. Based on these arguments, it remains to be demonstrated which line of consideration will succeed in current biased Internet political spaces. Both experimental and normative issues ought to be researched even in the midst of continuous Internet developments.  

Internet and Mobilization of Masses

Starting with Howard Dean’s (2004) campaign and four years later (2008) with Barack Obama’s US presidential campaign, the Internet garnered popularity as an effectual campaign tool. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs have served as significant platforms applied to mobilize groups to action. Unlike other media, in the Internet, the receiver cares to know much about the sender and has a chance to seek more information regarding them, increasing the opportunities for activism.

These emerging social media outlets are critical to politicians in the US and their causes, allowing them to gather support, encourage participation and facilitate a continuous and open dialogue. Most significantly, the Internet and associated platforms allow the highly motivated citizens to create a framework more easily in which the scarcely motivated individuals may be effective without having to participate directly on their own, establishing an environment that is perfect for politicians to use.   

The emerging relationship between the developing social media and the public and its political impact has begun to change the political tactics and campaign process. In present days, politicians are applying Internet and social media and, in turn are facilitating an emerging arena of proletarian politics. Voters no longer reach decisions barely according to information that is available through conventional means of activism through their mobile and computer devices. Scholars have also established that mass media such as Internet platform applications are positively correlated with the individuals’ voting behaviors. Principally, the more they consider social media and mass media for information, the more are the chances that constituencies will vote.

Finally, Internet platforms simplify the word of mouth and accelerate collaboration in a more cost-effective and influential manner and as various scholars have indicated, the Internet is reaching Americans who are likely to be mobilized to aggressively take part in the political dynamics.  

Conclusion

The literature on the use of the Internet in American political campaigns still remains at its developing phase. There is still a lot that needs to be researched. This makes it a sensational field of research, where scholars are grappling with crucial issues of a new puzzle, while at the same time orienting themselves towards this dynamic field.

While the Internet’s role continues to transform within the political arena, there are definitive connections to be researched between politicians’ application of the Internet and public’s perceptions. Twitter and Facebook have allowed Americans to access public icons to an unprecedented degree; political campaigns no longer rely merely on traditional media to share information with their constituents without risking to overlook emerging voters who are using the Internet as an integral part of their daily decision making. The accessibility and inclination to post private and honest content benefits both politicians and constituents in the US.

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Oct 23, 2019 in Socioligy
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