Rutgers Logo Rutgers University
Eagleton Institute of Politics - 60th Anniversary
Eagleton Institute of Politics

Centers/Programs


E-Gov: Best Practices


Politics

The 1992 Presidential campaign marked the first extensive  use of the Internet by national political candidates. For the most part, however, the sites limited their content to rather simple publication of candidate biographies and posting of campaign slogans and positions. One commentator described the 1992 presidential candidate Webs as having "little substance" and that "...use of the Net {was} nothing more than a gimmick" see Brock N. Meeks, Muckraker, HotWired (August 25, 1995). The Web also became a forum for online public discussion forums, many of which featured online political topics, such as The WELL, which first went on the Web in 1992 and later was acquired by Salon.com.

After the election, however, there was a great expansion of political activist sites posted by organizations or individuals, many of whom were part of the protest movement questioning the relevance and effectiveness of traditional institutions. see Jim Buie, 'Mad As Hell: Revolt at the Ballot Box 1992'. These included conservative groups advancing such positions as mandatory tax caps like California's Proposition 13 and Congressional and legislative term limit measures, and was further promoted by the interest in new electronic technology demonstrated by such political leaders as Newt Gingrich and Ross Perot. On the state level, the inexpensive and relatively easy way provided by the Internet also facilitated its use by those dissatisfied by existing political parties and media forums. In 1994, Minnesota e-democracy, founded by those also active in the formation of the Independence Party of Minnesota, became one of the first sites to develop an alternative forum for online debate relating to issues and candidates. Writing in early 1993, one Internet analyst described the special attraction of the Web for those outside the establishment: "Why do people want to be on the Internet? One of the main reasons is simple freedom. The Internet is a true example of a true, modern, functional anarchy. There is no 'Internet Inc.'. There are no official censors, no bosses, no board of directors, no stockholders." Bruce Sterling, Short History of the Internet, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1993.

The Reform Party under Ross Perot particularly used the Internet and e-mail outreach to organize thousands of voters, and also allowed e-mail balloting for selection of its presidential nominees in 1996.

With the growth of public use of the Web in the latter half of the 1990s, the posting of a campaign Web by independent candidates increasingly became a prerequisite to persuading supporters, the media and the general public that the campaign was serious. There remained considerable skepticism, however, about the practical political value of Web campaigning among incumbents and their media consultants accustomed to more traditional use of broadcast, direct mail and telemarketing to reach greater numbers of potential contributors and voters.

The election in 1998 of Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota was perhaps the first major campaign in which the Internet affected the outcome of an election. (see Phil Madsen,Notes Regarding Jesse Ventura's Internet Use In His 1998 Campaign For Minnesota Governor). The Ventura Web campaign site also demonstrated that the Web could be particularly effective in reaching younger voters and that Web campaigns could be extremely cost-effective in organizing volunteers, especially important for independent campaigns with limited financing (see Politics Online, How Jesse Ventura Used the Internet to Win ). Following his election, Ventura also became the first governor to pledge that the Internet would be a key forum for his mobilization of public support for his policies as governor. (see Jesse Ventura, How I Will Use the Internet).

As the presidential campaign leading to the 2000 election began, more attention and preparation was given to online campaigning. In June 1999, in response to a request from the Bill Bradley presidential campaign, the Federal Election Commission ruled in Advisory Opinion 1999-9  that contributions made online by credit card would be eligible for federal matching funds. The Bradley campaign would use the ruling to develop, under its Web consultant Lynn Reed, one of the most effective online fundraising efforts, becoming the first campaign to raise over $1 million online.

John McCain's uphill presidential campaign also relied extensively on the Web and the model outlined by Jesse Ventura. As early as 1998, McCain sent his veteran political aide Wes Gullett to Minnesota to study Ventura's successful gubernatorial campaign, ultimately leading to the hiring by McCain of Ventura's Web consultant Max Fose. Under Fose, McCain's  2000 presidential campaign focused on the Internet to help compensate for the wide financing lead held by George W. Bush.

Following McCain's surprising victory over Bush in the February New Hampshire primary, McCain also used the Web to manage the surge in support he received from contributors and volunteers. In the first eight days following the New Hampshire primary, the McCain campaign raised $2.6 million over the Internet, and its Web sight recorded 10 million hits for the week. See Jacob Weisberg, John McCain's Internet Explosion, Slate, February 11, 2000. The tight timetable of the primary season forced the McCain campaign, without time or money to develop direct mail or telemarketing campaigns, to use the Internet as the quickest and most cost-effective means to seek contributions, primarily to support expanded broadcast advertising in the upcoming primary states. McCain's Web campaign, according to Max Fose, raised $6.4 million and organized 142,000 volunteers while costing only about $500,000. Even after Senator McCain abandoned his formal campaign, he continues to use the Web to advance his message on issues like campaign finance reform on his Straight Talk America site.

The 2000 campaign also demonstrated the effectiveness of e-mail communication by candidate organizations, particularly in the final days leading to election when funds were low without sufficient time for additional broadcast advertising or direct mail. According to Larry Purpuro, then deputy chief-of-staff to the Republican National Committee, the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida repeatedly used an e-mail database of approximately 50,000 supporters to urge them to act in the final days to write letters to the editor or contact family, friends or associates who might be potential swing voters for the Republican ticket. E-mail communication also greatly assisted central campaign organizations in keeping workers in state campaigns advised of emerging developments or changes in strategy.

After the 2000 election, the shakeout in the private sector Web industry that affected many commercial ventures led to the demise or consolidation of various political newsletters, discussion forums and activist sites seeking to gain revenues from advertising or subscriptions. Some sites, like www.grassroots.com, have changed their business models from online news and information coverage to the selling of software or other services in such areas as campaign finance reporting or solicitation. There remain several Web sites monitoring politics and public affairs, and most major newspapers provide regular online news and public discussion forums of state and local politics.

Below are selected examples of campaign sites or those featuring political news and debate. The leading awards program for political sites are the "Pollie Awards" of the American Association of Political Consultants (see Rankings and Reviews).

Ventura 1998 campaign site
Still maintained by Jesse Ventura's political committee, the 1998 site featured limited graphics but several innovative features in organizing volunteers, including its sign-up pagelist of volunteer tasks that can be done from home and its sample letters to editors.

Senator John Kerry-2002 US Senate Re-election
An example of a current state-of-art campaign site, includes  contribution forms; videos of endorsements from supporters; and e-mail and wireless distribution of press releases and other announcements.

Politics Online
Commercial site marketing software for online fundraising and Web developmemt, but also providing extensive news coverage and links of e-politics and e-government developments at federal, state and local level. 

Minnesota e-democracy
A non-profit, non-partisan  project first launched in 1994 cited as a model for citizen-based public policy information networks, primarily for its encouragement of substantive discussion of public policy issues. The site maintains both online discussion forums and an e-mail listserv with participants including state and local elected officials, legislative staff, governor's staff, campaign workers, party volunteers, members of civic and political interest organizations, members of the media and other interested citizens.

PoliticsNJ.com-New Jersey's Online Political Network
Launched in February 2000, commercial site claims over     2 million hits and nearly 20,000 visitors in December 2001, features "insider" political gossip and news on New Jersey federal, state, local officials; political columnists, press release database. Sponsored by anonymous  principals of the Publius Group, recently branched out with similar sites for New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania and announced plans for other states, all accessible at its politicsus.com gateway.