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Normalising or Equalising Party Competition? Assessing the Impact of the Web on Election Campaigning

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Abstract

A core question addressed by parties and internet scholars is whether the medium is equalising or normalising levels of inter-party competition, Are minor parties better placed to compete for voters' attention online (equalisation), or do major parties continue to dominate (normalisation)? To date, most research has supported the latter scenario through ‘supply-side’ comparisons of website content in a single election. This article re-examines the debate using Australian surveys of election candidates conducted between 2001 and 2010. As well as providing the first longitudinal study of this question, we link the supply side with voter responses and compare how well the parties recruit support through their web campaigns. Our results confirm that major parties dominate in the adoption of personal websites, although minor parties are stronger users of social media. Both strategies are effective in gaining votes, suggesting that the web may be rebalancing if not equalising party competition.

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