The LA Times today ran an article today by Geo Washington U’s Eric Sides and John Lawrence – “Who listens to blogging heads?” – that basically poo poos any influence the Internet’s plethora of political blogs have over fellow citizens.
In fall 2006, political scientists, including us, representing about 30 universities conducted a survey of 16,000 Americans, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The survey asked respondents whether they read blogs and, if so, which ones. We analyzed the answers, and the result is the first detailed portrait of political blog readers.
About 34% of the respondents said they read blogs, but only 14% named at least one blog that focuses on politics. Who are these political blog readers?
Compared with those who don’t read political blogs, they are more likely to have a college degree and, obviously, are more interested in politics. They are more likely to identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans, rather than as independents, and are more likely to call themselves liberals or conservatives rather than moderates. Political blog readers are more likely to vote, give money to candidates or simply talk about politics. They live and breathe politics.
Of course, the major flaw is the age of their “survey”… Two to three years in the cyber and technology world is a long time…. we must remember that it was only a decade ago that home computers were becoming the norm in the American household.
But what these two assistant poly-sci profs did accurately recognize, and remains true today, is that the 14% of political blog participants are politically active, and a money tree for candidates.
Blogs might affect the presidential campaign in another way: by encouraging their readers to participate in politics.
We don’t mean to vote, because blog readers are already habitual voters and need no extra encouragement from blogs to go to the polls. Instead, blogs may prod their readers to engage in other kinds of political activity, such as giving more to candidates or registering and mobilizing new voters. Because fewer people habitually donate to politicians or mobilize others to vote, blogs have more potential to change these habits. Indeed, some blogs put mobilization over persuasion.
True enough that Obama, a younger candidate hip to Internet grassroots, has discovered the power of the buck using the Internet. And according to Sides and Lawrence, this is pretty much the bulk of it’s value.
Oddly enough, the major flaw in their overall perspective of the minimal influence of blogs, and thereby the limitation of their analysis, is because their sources are dated. (Makes you wonder if their funding came from the print media, eh? LOL)
A more complex, and current study also comes from the George Washington U circle of organizations, the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. I guess the Poly-Sci department doesn’t talk to the Graduate School of Political Management department…
As David Karpf points out in their March 2008 Politics and Technology Review publication – Section 5, Measuring the Influence in the Political Blogosphere (pg 41 of the linked PDF):
In the past six years, the political blogosphere has grown by leaps and bounds, moving from an interesting curiosity to an enduring feature of the political landscape. Political bloggers are now regularly featured in the mainstream media. The 2007 Yearlykos convention, a gathering of the progressive “netroots”, drew all but one Democratic Presidential candidate while evoking the outrage of Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly. Lenhart and Fox find that the blogosphere has become a major source of information
As the phenomenon of blogging has grown, scholarly researchers have had trouble keeping pace with this rapid development. Methods developed just three years ago, when the total size of the blogosphere was estimated around 2 million, are functionally incapacitated by a blogosphere that is now more than 112 million-strong. The rise of the blogosphere’s importance has been coupled with a declining capacity for measuring and understanding what, exactly, is going on.
Certainly the growth from the 2005-06 research used by Sides and Lawrence (and the subject of the LA Times article) negates their dated observations significantly when one views the phenomenal explosion of the blogosphere in just these few years. Similarly, Karpf chastises analysts depending on these earlier era of blog stats as a foundation for their opinions.
Karpf, instead, introduces a new measure he calls the BAI (Blogosphere Authority Index) which four different aspects to assess a more comprehensive picture of the blog influence – two stage method process first collecting raw data (from sources such as Sitemeter and Technorati), then converting this data to a more complex process of rankings and “neighborhoods”. (see pg 44 of the PDF for pecifics, and pages 46-47 for his findings).
What he found was that 7 out of the top 10 blogs were progressive, despite the fact that conservative blogs are far more link-sharing intensive than the progressive blogs. Progressive blogs receive more site traffic.
Let’s combine the lesser credible (because of old data) old findings of Sides/Lawrence… who say that the political blog world lends little to influencing voters and is not widely read among adults… with the newer findings that the progressive blogs are dominate with site traffic and participate. This supports another IPDI finding in Jan 2007, using a late 2006/early 2007 survey by Neil Stroka to *every* Congressional office to gauge their online blog useage by policy wonkers.
*About 90 percent said that their office reads blogs.
*The most-read blog is (not surprisingly) Daily Kos, followed by Wonkette and Talking Points Memo
*64 percent of Congressional staff readers say “blogs are more useful than mainstream media for identifying future national political problems and debates.”
Note: All links to the original Stroka report are non-functional… haven’t run across it yet in my search. If I find it, I’ll add it….
In summary, it would appear that the influence of the blogosphere wields less influence over fellow citizens, but certainly commands the attention the elected elitists themselves. They use blogs as an unofficial pulse of the nation, as well as a piggy bank for campaigns.
And considering that the progressive bloggers hold sway, the elected ones are getting an unbalanced earful. But then, the cyber world is growing leaps and bounds… who is to say which political bent will come out on top in the future. As Karpf said as a caveat to his BAI Index:
For future researchers, it is important to note that as the blogosphere continues to expand, these tracking systems may eventually become obsolete. Raw data should be collected from the best-available data source. The rest of the BAI’s structure remains unaffected by long-term changes in the source of proxy data on any of the four metrics.
UPDATE: It’s not surprising that such a small portion of the American public is politically involved or astute… as is reflected by the small percent of those that regularly follow political blogs. Afterall, this nation was founded by a small number of Colonialists. Our voter registration and election turnouts rarely reflect a majority of the US citizenry. We have a history of a few choosing for the many… from legislation to elections.
But in addition to the beltway and the media paying attention to chatter on the political blogs is another entity … political blogs watching other political blogs. And in this, our FA “founding father”, Curt, is scoring big time of late.
Today’s mention comes from the #2 rated conservative blog (per that IPDI 2008 study linked above), Instapundit. Of course, Glenn doesn’t actually give any name promotion to any of the blogs he linked to in this post… wonder why that is? LOL
Before that, it was a nod from The Blog… the weblog of The Weekly Standard. And not long before that, it was an article in WaPo.
Needless to say, kudos to Curt. He, and his Flopping Aces blog forum, are certainly catching the eyes of many in the beltway circle.
Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.