According to a Pew Internet survey, in 2008 approximately 25% of Americans got their political news primarily from the Internet. While most traditional news outlets strive to cultivate a balanced perspective, many blogs take sides and fiercely advocate for their preferred candidates and causes.
A 2011 study from the University of Arkansas and Louisiana State University in American Behavioral Scientist, “Tracking the Blogs: An Evaluation of Attacks, Acclaims and Rebuttals Presented on Political Blogs During the 2008 Presidential Election,” analyzed different types of political blog content. Researchers collected blog postings (text, video and images) from three partisan blogs and three special-interest blogs, in addition to the blogs of the two candidates and those run by the Democratic and Republican parties during the final 10 weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign. Blog content was tagged according to the type of political campaign discourse — acclaims, attacks or defenses.
Key study findings include:
- Candidate sites were the most frequent sources of acclaim, with 101 posts on My.BarackObama.com and 10 posts on JohnMcCain.com featuring lauditory comments for the candidate. In general, candidate sites seldom posted attacks against other candidates or parties.
- In contrast, attacks were far more prevalent on party-sponsored sites. Well over half (60%) of posts on the Republican Party blog GOP.com attacked Obama, more than twice the rate of attacks (34%) on McCain posted on Democrats.org. “The Republican Party may have seen a need to go on the offensive on behalf of McCain,” noted the authors.
- Over all of the blogs studied, McCain’s candidacy was attacked in 334 blog posts, while Obama’s was attacked only 114 times. The popular liberal blog “Daily Kos” featured 39 attacks on McCain and 4 attacks on Obama. The traditionally conservative blog “Daily Dish,” whose author supported Obama, posted 41 attacks on McCain and 6 attacks on Obama during the same period.
- Overall, Democrats issued 10 times as many blog entries as Republicans, consistent with blog activity recorded for previous elections.
The authors noted that a candidate trailing in the polls is more likely to go on the attack than a candidate in the lead. Unlike traditional media, however, blogs tended to maintain strong positions, reinforcing the idea that they exist largely as a “meeting ground for like-minded people” rather than a balanced source of information: “Thus, although blogs certainly expand opportunities for healthy debate in a free society, they also enable people to avoid information that may be unpleasant or unwelcome.”
Tags: presidency, campaigns and media