What a Difference a Download Makes: Political Advertising in the Digital Age

What a Difference a Download Makes: Political Advertising in the Digital Age

Lauren Reichart Smith (Auburn University, USA) and Kenny D. Smith (Samford University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-792-8.ch030

Abstract

The Internet has captured the attention of the media, the government and much of the public. It has changed the way Americans receive information and communicate. With a number of political candidates creating MySpace profiles, YouTube videos and Second Life avatars it appears that the Internet and web 2.0 technologies have been leveraged for political advertising and campaigning. In the early literature the Internet and its role in politics had been purely speculative, with research only making vague guesses as to where the Internet would lead politicians in their political ambitions. The following chapter first outlines a historical perspective of political advertising, then examines contemporary forms and avenues of political advertising.
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Introduction

“Thanks for the add!” This statement is not a polite acknowledgment from a constituent to a politician regarding a political advertisement. Rather, in the world of Web 2.0 campaigning, it’s a comment from a political candidate’s friend on MySpace, thanking the politician for adding that person as a friend. Today, the Internet has captured the attention of the media, the government and much of the public. It has changed the way Americans receive information and communicate. Even the term “Internet” has long since become interchangeable with a variety of expressions, such as new information highway or information superhighway (Pavlik, 1998). A 2006 survey done by Pew/Internet reported that 70% of American adults were Internet users (Lin, 2008).

Beyond going online for information and serving as a way to stay in touch, people are using the Internet to increase their knowledge about politics. During the 2000 election, Web sites became interactive and integrated campaign elements, helping to raise money, communicate with supporters, provide positions on issues, organize grassroots supporters, and turn out the vote (Fose, 2002). Fose then went on to say:

The Internet's importance in the political process will increase as more voters learn to use it as an avenue for activism and an opportunity to get information about the candidates. Because of this, candidates will continue to look to the Internet as a way to communicate their message, organize supporters, and raise money (pg. 1).

Of a reported population of 128 million Internet users in 2004, 40% indicated using the Internet for political information during that year’s presidential election (Rainie, Horrigan & Cornfield, 2005). Candidate websites flourished in the 2004 election, but as is the ever-changing nature of the Internet, 2008 offered something new–the addition of political candidates–both presidential and local politicians–logging on to social networking sites and developing MySpace and Facebook pages.

In the early literature the Internet and its role in politics had been purely speculative, with research only making vague guesses as to where the Internet would lead politicians in their political ambitions. The future of American politics had been called an “age of Internet democracy” and the residents of the new political system were hypothesized to be known as “netizens.” The new medium was predicted as the beginnings of true direct democracy - a vehicle for enabling common citizens, rather than distant elected representatives, to make ongoing policy decisions (Davis, 1999).

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