The Digitalization of the West European Party Systems
Carlos Cunha (Dowling College, USA) and Gerrit Voerman (University of Groningen, The Netherlands)
Copyright © 2008.
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American politics has been at the forefront of World Wide Web use. In the early 1990s political parties and candidates started to employ Web sites to spread their message. President Bill Clinton’s second-term campaign for the 1996 election was the first time the Internet appeared as a pervasive presence in American Politics, and in which all presidential candidates had Web sites (Rash, 1997). After some time, European parties and politicians followed the lead. In this article, we intend to describe the emergence of Web sites of political parties in West European nations. Reaching out to the Web required allocating limited resources. What advantages did parties hope to reap by creating a Web site, and what disadvantages might they have encountered once the sites were in place? Ideally, a comprehensive analysis would include all political parties in every West European nation. Given the complications regarding collection of data from multiple nations, however, we focused on the parties which were represented in parliament. At the same time, not all nations are currently included in this assessment. The data set consists of information provided by country experts that kindly responded to an expert survey, which included categorizing their national parties by party family (ideologically).1 To facilitate comparative analysis, we have organized the existing data into four chronological lists (tables) and two figures such as the level of Internet penetration in countries, as well as party family, size, and ideological characteristics: 1. “Complete Chronology” provides the data according to party Web site inauguration for all parties and all nations. The calendar year is divided into three-month quadrants. Is there a correlation between the spread of party Web sites in national party systems and the emergence and development of Internet connections within individual countries? 2. “Party Family Chronology” categorizes site emergence regardless of nationality by ideological divisions ranging from “Nationalist/extreme-right” toward the left ending with “Other” (mainly regional parties). Did ideology influence parties’ decisions to initiate Web sites? 3. “National Chronology” arranges Web site emergence by individual nation. Did party size (small, medium, or large) influence the Web site creation decision? 4. “National Initiator Chronology” lists only the first political party in each nation to initiate a Web site. We also include figures that consolidate the data from the lists to portray potential patterns behind party Web emergence. Our content analysis of the digitalization of Western European parties is limited only to their decisions and motivations for initiating a Web presence. We do not intend to systematically look at other facets of digital activity such as internal uses of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) by political parties for data management (archiving or membership lists) or communication (newslists).