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New media's role in US mid-term sensation

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New media's role in US Mid-term sensationNew media extended the life of sensational old-fashioned negative television advertising, used extensively in this month’s mid-term congressional elections in the United States.

Blogs, videos and campaign websites added diversity—some successful, some mediocre at best—to the continued use of a range of old media by seasoned campaigners in electoral districts across the nation.

Street verges from California to Maine were littered with kerbside advertising for aspirants to the US Senate and Congress, State Governships, and a range of State positions from Lieutenant Governor and Attorney-General, through to district School Boards and Judicial roles.

Many of these roadside signs featured website addresses for candidates that were focused on the candidate’s name. Rarely does the name of the party of the candidate feature on the signs, and rarely does the party feature prominently in the website.

In Arizona, it was simply www.janet2006.com for the incumbent governor Janet Napolitano, while her Republican challenger and Christian candidate Len Munsil used the simple www.lenmunsil.com. Of course, it is not in the interests of the extremely popular Democratic governor to highlight her party too greatly when she is the most popular politician in a overwhelmingly red state. Temperamentally conservative, she has carved out a “centrist” position which is popular in a state that many commentators believe should become more moderate, with the influx of retirees from the north and east. However, it takes some effort to find the word "Democrat" on her website.

Roadside billboards were also commandeered by candidates, including the incumbent president of the Navajo nation, Joe Shirley Jr and his opponent Lynda Lovejoy, a New Mexico commissioner on the state's Public Regulation Commission. Lovejoy campaigned to become the first female leader of a native American tribe. The Navajo nation is the largest native American reservation in the United States, and extends into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

New media's role in US Mid-term sensationBoth sides' election websites had a softer feel and greater gravitas, while lacking the immediacy and responsiveness of many modern campaigns. Both Shirley and Lovejoy had fairly static, policy-based websites, www.reelectjoeshirleyjr.com and www.lovejoyphelps2006.com, providing fact sheets and "traditional" press statements. While the Navajo are a matriarchal society, for this important election traditional Navajo stuck to the belief that only men should serve as president; women are seen as the caretakers of the home and children, men are the providers and leaders.

Negative television campaigns continued to be a feature of the US elections. In many cases, these local commercials were followed up online by a variety of bloggers and websites with copies of many incendiary advertisements finding their way onto the ubiquitous YouTube.

After a campaign of negative television advertising, where the New Mexican Democratic Attorney General Patricia Madrid targeted incumbent Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson's support for George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, and the Wilson team linked the Attorney-General to the release of attempted rapist Matthew Ward, the internet was still being used on election day to publicise attempts by the Republicans to mislead non-Republican voters as to the location of polling booths.

A plethora of blogs covered this close contest including the detailed www.newmexicomatters.com and the www.onlyinnewmexico.blogspot.com, with audio and video supplied of the Madrid-Wilson debates.

YouTube also featured many of the debates and negative advertising campaigns of the elections. Many of the candidates have their own gateway on YouTube, including Ms Madrid, who is featured here.

From the accusation that Heather Wilson voted against paying US soldiers in Iraq a bonus of $1500, while voting six times for increased salaries for members of Congress (video available here), to re-watching the Wilson team’s negative advertising regarding Madrid’s previous drug use, viewers are constantly reminded of the questionable ethics demonstrated by both sides.

New media's role in US Mid-term sensationOther politicans also took to the social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook with gusto, hoping to interest usually disinterested youth in the elections. Republican state senator Chuck Poochigian, who ran for Californian Attorney General, joined MySpace in early August and within two months he reported that the number of online donations to his campaign jumped by more than 50 per cent. Mr Poochigian’s opponent, the once youthful Jerry Brown, has also joined MySpace but his site lacks much detail.

Many older political hands have jumped onto the online bandwagon without understanding what is really required to successfully use the new medium. As a result, the campaign online was a mixed bag of dull and worthy websites, gossip, news and chat-driven blogs.

The forum offered by new media has provided a major extension to old media campaigning. New and often national audiences have been able to witness local negative television campaigns through exposure on candidate websites, blogs and social networking sites such as YouTube and MySpace. Whether or not this is a good thing is another matter entirely. Certainly the availability of material is no bad thing, it is simply the calibre of that material which is a cause for concern.



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An excellent article margaret. You certainly seem to have done your research.

Andrew Johnson | 15 November 2006