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Year 1 No. 3 September - December 2008

Between columns - The use of internet the political campaigns - Dr. Andrés Sosa Clavel

Dr. Andrés Sosa Clavel
Member of the Editorial Council and International Editor, Electoral World International Affairs Advisor of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama




Doctor in Economics an licenciate in International Relations.

International affairs advisor of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama for the last 10 years.

Electoral Observer in the Dominican Republic, Chile and El Salvador.

Consultant of the President of the Budget Commission of the National Assembly of Deputies of Panama.

General Secretary of the Interamerican Council for Democracy (CID).

Consultant of International Cooperation for the presidencies of Chile, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela.


The growth of the presence of the political parties in the electoral campaigns in the Internet has been global and fast since its origins in the elections of the North American congress in 1994, with some candidates inaugurating their Web pages (which at the time were no more than simple showcases with a copy of some pamphlet or poster).

The slogan "yes is possible" was invented by a publicist of the campaign of the Colombian president Belisario Bethancour.  From Colombia it travelled to Panama for the campaign of the current President Martin Torrijos, and from Panama it curiously travels to the United States to be used in the electoral campaign for the presidency of the democratic candidate Barak Obama. 

Despite not being among the first politicians o be in the network, it could be said that the republican candidate of the American elections Bob Dole was the first to legitimize Internet as a political tool in 1996 (it was found at http: //www.dole96com), the most important is that the Internet burst in the political scene. 

In all the elections of the planet the Internet began to appear as a tool mainly used, and those candidates who did not use it were seen as behind in the new technologies.  In the worldwide economy it was the time of the "boom" of the .com businesses and the Internet was seen as the paradigm of the future.  Coleman, a well-known political scientist and specialist in the theme, did something similar with the use of the Internet at the beginning of the decade of 2000.  The author describes that in 1959 the United Kingdom had its first "election by television", the first political campaign followed by the television, even when the majority of the candidates did not know how to take advantage of the new media, since the announcements and the presentations in camera were done as if it was the radio or a rally, respectively.  It was not until the year 1964 that it began to be used in the United Kingdom, in the campaign of Harold Wilson against Alec Douglas.  In the United States one should recall the famous television debate of 1960 between a well-dressed and confident Kennedy, and Nixon with a cold and in a black suit.

According to some political scientists, analysts and international relation specialists, the electoral campaigns of the beginning of the 21st century in the United Kingdom and in the United States    were again as the campaign of 1959; everyone knew that the Internet was important, but nobody knew how to use it correctly, and it was only used to insert publicity as if the web was a written media.

Since 2004, the large parties of the world already use (or try to) the e-campaign to complement the traditional campaigns by television, radio, press, telephone and advertising.  It is especially noticeable the role that the Internet already has in the electoral campaign and strategies of network are already used being implemented in the webs of each candidate for their campaigns: video, blog, sms, petition of e-mails to obtain volunteers. 

Through the Internet, the campaigns were no longer  based only in monopolizing spaces in television, radio or in the traditional media, but by means of the network can be obtained the implication of the people, voluntary and even something of reciprocity and interactivity, a "political movement" can be initiated. 

Beginning in 2006, and at the same time that the Internet was disseminated in the majority of the developed homes, in any web of a party, in the most advanced countries news brought up to date could be seen, agenda, blogs, videos and audio of speeches and acts, and obtain access to the majority of the documents and images that the party could offer. 


It is from 2007, with the stimulation of the proximity of the American campaign to the republican and democratic primaries, for the British, French presidential elections, etc… along with the appearance and consolidation of the Web 2.0 and therefore, with one thousand new options to share and to create information by the people, is that we have been able to observe changes in the way of doing political campaign through the Internet.

These changes that are observed are not so much in the way of doing campaign in the Internet, but in the way in which the citizens are implicated in said campaigns.


Let us see some of these changes:


1. Real possibility of interactivity.  Blogs, forms, surveys, forum in webs of parties and candidates, chats, etc., where outstands for its current and mainly future implications, the use of blogs.  All this allows for people to interact, participate, for links among the party or the candidate and their potential voters to be created,  for the same who participate to get to know similar people, for networks of support to be created, to bring to light the political message to much more people. 

2. The search for methods of crowd sourcing (volunteers are requested form the party to do things that previously cost a lot of money in workers, such as making phone calls, creating webs, participating in acts, voting in newspapers' surveys, writing letters to the director, etc., and also, volunteers are provided with the latest technology so they are able to access the voters' lists.  It is fundamental for this to get those volunteers through the web, and more importantly, to get their zip code to be able to segment even more the campaign, to know what they want and what they can do to and for the campaign in each corner of the country, involving their community to local scale.

3. Personal campaigns. This is perhaps the most radical change.  Currently, it is not necessary that a political party or a candidate create a campaign on certain theme and bring it to light.  Any person can create a campaign in his/her blog, or a video, and broadcast it, make "the ball" bigger each time.  And this is achieved without the party having anything to do with it, even if it is to its favor.

4. "All is used and is used for all and in all the formats".  If someone creates a video or does a photograph or creates a text, be the party or not, that video or whatever it is can be inserted in any place, can be shared, send via e-mail, can be transformed into an infinity of formats.  It can be spread faster than ever before and arrive to the maximum number of possible people.  This is thus, thanks to the repositories of videos (YouTube, bliptv, dailymotion), images, sounds, PowerPoint presentations, etc… all free and all extensively known.  The message is not static in the web of the party, but surfs in infinity of webs and blogs, bringing to light that message to the general public.

5. Social networks.  The boom of the social networks that allows finding a network of people that have your same inclinations and ideology to be relatively simple.  For a party or candidate is useful to know who those people are, not only to count them, but to send them direct messages and campaign material such as videos or pamphlets with arguments.  Other interesting social networks and that are being exploited at present in the United States, are the social thematic or personal networks (of older people, of youths, of businessmen, of Afro-American, Hispanic, etc.), where if the party or candidate manages to enter, can be a great source of supporters and above all, of segmentation of the campaign toward that subject matter or personal situation.


The Internet, and to have a constant and clear strategy of political communication through this means, has shown that "the permanent campaign" is possible also through the network, and that, contrary to the television or traditional mass media, the network permits to see day by day the advance of the campaign, the implication of the people toward the party or toward the candidate, and that the creation of networks, even if they are left for the next elections, is very useful for a party at the time of getting prepared and winning visibility.

The Internet has become a key instrument for the follow-up of electoral activities worldwide.

Though it is certain that the traditional campaigns as we all know them with crowded and leading or referring political acts, they continue being in force, is also a fact that today due to the Web 2.0 and the massiveness of users worldwide, there is a confirmation of the importance that is getting the development of a part of the campaign in the Internet that accompanies the already known ways of reaching the electorate, and to take advantage of the possibilities that this tool facilitates.


The Web 2.0 is a collaborative, participatory, and massive Internet that transforms the role of the user from reader to reader/producer. In this way, communities of knowledge are created, and the contents are broadcast orderly and in a network.  Part of the consolidation of this concept is the success of the blogs YouTube, Flickr, Myspace, Wikipedia and other instruments similar to these.  


The electoral campaigns are as antique as the voting methods.  Over two thousand years ago, Quintus Tullius Cicero wrote for his brother Marco the campaign's manual.


The modern campaigns began to rise at the beginning of the 21st Century, as a consequence of the universal massive vote and the development of communications, which made necessary and feasible the public appearance of the candidates in different places and through diverse media, each time more varied and complex.  


With the direct mail and the information networks, the candidates have broaden their possibilities to reach even more voters instantly and selectively, and to take advantage with greater speed and flexibility of the opportunities that are opened during the campaign, or provided by their opponents' mistakes.


Currently, the electoral campaigns constitute a phase of the electoral process and are done in the period prior to the election, during which, rival candidates compete for the popular support. They consist of a set of lawful actions, coordinated and staggered, that have the purpose to persuade the voters to issue their vote in favor of a candidate.


To launch a site in times of campaigns is habitual, but after the elections are over, the webs are not updated.


The three main political parties built their respective places in the Internet. In them, bright electronic pages could be appreciated that contained a large quantity of data, figures, reports, photographs, etc., advertising in favor of their candidates and their proposals.


The use of the Internet in the political campaigns is a tendency that is on the rise.  In countries such as the United States or France, they are changing the rules of the political game.  Each day more candidates use this tool to scatter their message and to attract new supporters and votes.

Day by day, the Internet takes greater prominence in the life of the people, and the politics does not escape to the rule.  Timidly first and with more force in the last elections carried out in Europe, the United States and to a lesser degree in Latin America, the support to the candidates, the information on the platforms and the debate were installed with force in the network.


From the official web pages of the parties, blogs of supporters, chains of e-mail, or platforms of video as YouTube, candidates and interested people seek to assert their points of view or to defeat the rival.

Another example, in the last Spanish elections, is the leading role of the Internet as disseminator of the candidates' activities reaching a point where even debates via web were generated.


It is necessary to recall that a good presence in the Web does not mean success, but it helps.


The American electoral campaign is also marked by what happens in the network.  It is calculated that some 30 million Americans will avail of the Internet to seek information that will help them to decide, so much in the internal as in the upcoming elections of November.


The Internet makes the information and this makes the transparency. Thus, we believe that the rulers need to be in the Internet.


Politicians who get installed in the use of the network and decide to stay will find a place opened 24 hours destined to join adherents.


To finalize, we could add what former President of Ecuador Rodrigo Borja said in an interview, that "we have passed from homo sapiens to homo digitalis ".


For further information on the topic, the Readers of Electoral World may access http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itdhr/1007/ijds/carvin.htm