Politics 2.0: Web campaigning in the Ontario election

The Internet is carrying the campaign strategies of all three major political parties in the run-up to next month’s Ontario election, albeit in different ways and to varying degrees. In this multi-part series on e-campaigning, Toronto-based writer Lydia Perovic, a political science master from Dalhousie University, examines how Web 2.0 technologies, e-newsletters and campaign Web sites are producing Ontario’s version of Politics 2.0.

If we assume that Web campaigning decisions are reached by political parties consciously and not by way of inertia or Internet illiteracy, by comparing the levels and urgency of Web engagement we might conclude that Ontario’s Conservative Party sees and expects great benefit from increased Internet campaigning.

The Tories’ Web presence is decidedly Web 2.0. By contrast, the Liberals see moderate to significant and the New Democratic Party little or no benefit in a strong Internet profile. The new Liberal campaign site is sprinkled with hints of Web 2.0, but still leans more towards Web 1.0, while the NDP languishes in static, almost pre-Internet, Web pages.

The importance of Web campaigning is gaining ground in Canada (in U.S. political campaigning, it is already essential), as is the importance of the Web in government affairs and the provision of public services.

Are the available funds the main determinant of a party’s online strength? Things are not as simple here as might be expected. First off, yes, there is the straightforward correlation: the better funded a campaign is, the more likely it is to have an elaborate Web and multimedia presence.

However, a well-funded campaign that can afford a steady series of ads in the mainstream media may decide that it need not use the much cheaper Web campaigning instruments. As well, a party that cannot pay for frequent television commercials may put stronger emphasis on the Web for the dissemination of its campaign content.

The Dean 2004 campaign is by now a commonplace example of the efficient employment of mainly free Web features, both for mobilizing and fundraising purposes, and candidates, parties, interest groups, non-profits and businesses are increasingly taking interest in those possibilities.

It may well be that a party’s Web presence is rather decided by how much importance they ascribe to the Web in the general campaign strategy, as well as by their overall Web competence.

It would cost the Ontario NDP exactly $0 to create a YouTube account, for example, and post whatever videos it deemed suitable: from the leader’s and candidates’ speeches recorded by supporters on digital cameras, video ads made for mainstream media, to archival footage and content provided by other organizations with similar politics.

The NDP could be using any number of other freeware, like Flickr photo-sharing, blogging software, or Yahoo’s Upcoming online events calendar service. So money is certainly important for building a strong Web presence, but it’s by no means a decisive factor.

In the coming weeks, as Ontario citizens we’ll be able to monitor the Web campaigning of the three main parties. For this opening series of articles, I’ll be focusing on the three main party Web sites and e-communication, as well as the candidates in the Toronto area ridings. Tomorrow we’ll kick off with a look at the availability and diversity of Web features.

Related content:

Read Part 2: An online kaleidoscope of campaign features

Read Part 3: Web campaigning for Elections Ontario: What’s in it for me?

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