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Digital Politics in Western Democracies

A Comparative Study

Cristian Vaccari

Publication Year: 2013

Digital politics is shorthand for how internet technologies have fueled the complex interactions between political actors and their constituents. Cristian Vaccari analyzes the presentation and consumption of online politics in seven advanced Western democracies—Australia, France, German, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States—from 2006 to 2010. His study not only refutes claims that the web creates homogenized American-style politics and political interaction but also empirically reveals how a nation’s unique constraints and opportunities create digital responses. Digital Politics in Western Democracies is the first large-scale comparative treatment of both the supply and demand sides of digital politics among different countries and national political actors. It is divided into four parts: theoretical challenges and research methodology, how parties and candidates structure their websites (supply); how citizens use the websites to access campaign information (demand); and how the research results tie back to inequalities, engagement, and competition in digital politics. Because a key aspect of any political system is how its actors and citizens communicate, this book will be invaluable for scholars, students, and practitioners interested in political communication, party competition, party organization, and the study of the contemporary media landscape writ large.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Across the Western world, the internet has become a crucial platform for political interaction between citizens and the parties and candidates that court them. As a result, the role, function, and potential impact of digital media have been the subject of widespread interest among politicians and the professionals who work for them, among journalists, and among academics. ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book is the result of seven years of research and more than ten years of study. Throughout all this time, the number and value of the intellectual and personal debts that I have been fortunate enough to accumulate are enormous and difficult to properly recognize in a few words. ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-22

On 17 October 2005, more than four million supporters of the Italian coalition of center-left parties flocked to improvised polling stations across the country to select Romano Prodi, a former prime minister and chairman of the European Commission, as the coalition’s prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming general elections. ...

Part I: Theoretical Issues and Research Questions

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2. Understanding Digital Politics in Western Democracies

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pp. 25-47

Although parties and politicians worldwide eagerly attempt to emulate American innovations in digital politics, transplanting online tools outside the United States has rarely achieved the desired goals. However, most of the scholars who have studied these subjects have taken the United States as their lone empirical referent or main reference point, ...

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3. Parties and the Internet

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pp. 48-56

There is broad scholarly consensus on the idea that “parties have adapted more quickly to new media technologies than to any previous technological advance” (Ward 2008: 1– 2). From bulletin boards to email, from websites to audiovisual content, from blogs to social media, most parties and candidates have hastened to establish a presence ...

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4. Citizens and the Internet

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pp. 57-66

Although political elites’ uses of the internet importantly structure the field of digital politics, citizens ultimately determine their success by employing or avoiding online political tools. Thus, an important line of research on internet politics has focused on the causes and consequences of citizens’ information and participation on the web. ...

Part II: Parties and Digital Politics

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5. Structure and Features of Political Websites

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pp. 69-86

In the 2008 Spanish general elections, incumbent prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) faced Popular Party’s (PP) leader Mariano Rajoy in a close contest. As the first national election after the surprising 2004 win by the Socialists, which many believed had been fostered by the digital mobilization ...

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6. Disparities in Political Websites

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pp. 87-97

Together with liberty, equality is one of the two core principles that democracy strives to achieve and maintain (Sartori 1987). Preoccupations with equality have been a constant thread in discussions about the role of the internet in political communication and democracy (for a review, see Chadwick 2006: 168–173). ...

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7. Party Characteristics and Their Online Presence

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pp. 98-110

If digital inequalities are tied more strongly to differences between parties (in terms of size and resources) than between countries (in terms of diffusion of internet access among the population), what role is played by three other party-level characteristics—highlighted in chapter 3—such as incumbency, ideology, and organization? ...

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8. What Drives the Online Presence of Parties and Candidates?

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pp. 111-128

In the previous chapters, we have looked at how parties and candidates structure their websites and found that, rather than rushing to include all theoretically available functions, they selectively decide which features to employ and which ones to forgo. Contrary to many earlier observations, they do not necessarily prioritize top-down information tools ...

Part III: Citizens and Digital Politics

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9. Online Political Information in Seven Countries

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pp. 131-137

Democracy requires that citizens possess adequate knowledge of public affairs to cast an informed vote and keep government accountable (Norris 2000). However, most voters do not acquire and constantly update as much political information as would be ideally desirable (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996; Hibbing and Thesis-Morse 2002); ...

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10. Socioeconomic Inequalities and Online Political Information

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pp. 138-152

Using the survey data shown in the previous chapter, we can assess the extent to which the use of the internet for political information varies among individuals of different social backgrounds and according to their political preferences, propensity to participate in politics, and media usage. ...

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11. Political Attitudes and Online Information

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pp. 153-175

Political interest and motivations are among the most important determinants of citizens’ engagement and participation in politics and civic life. As Verba, Schlozman, and Brady (1995) suggest, “I don’t want to” is one of the most common reasons why citizens opt out of the public sphere. ...

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12. Political Engagement, Mass Media Use, and Online Information

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pp. 176-189

In looking at online political information as a first step in the ladder of political engagement, this chapter focuses on the relationship between online information and other forms of offline engagement such as political discussion, political participation, and political information through the mass media. ...

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13. Correlates of Online Political Information in Seven Democracies

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pp. 190-206

Having considered how socioeconomic status, political culture, political preferences, political engagement, and mass media use correlate with voters’ propensity to acquire political information through the internet, we can complete the analysis by comparing the results of multivariate logistic regression models across the seven countries included in this study, ...

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14. Conclusion

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pp. 207-224

This journey across both the party-controlled supply and citizen-driven demand sides of digital politics in seven important Western democracies has highlighted various relevant developments of online political communication. In this concluding chapter, I summarize them and suggest ways in which future research could further the work that has been presented here. ...


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pp. 225-242


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pp. 243-256


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pp. 257-274


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pp. 275-283

E-ISBN-13: 9781421411194
E-ISBN-10: 1421411199
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421411187
Print-ISBN-10: 1421411180

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 9 graphs
Publication Year: 2013