06 June 2006

The Political Impact of Blogs

You can't get the right answers about the political impact of blogs, unless you ask the right questions.

In his May 26, 2006 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Political Blogs: the New Iowa?" (B6-B8), David D. Perlmutter, an LSU Baton Rogue associate professor of mass communication who blogs at Policy By Blog commits the cardinal sin of political scientists. While his analysis and evidence in support of that evidence is solid, his assumptions and the questions he is asking are the wrong ones.

His biggest blunder comes when he states:
Probably the most important area of research on blogs today is what role they will have in the presidential election of 2008.
If there is any place where blogs will be particularly unimportant, it is the 2008 Presidential election. Why?

Blogs are tools for communicating information. The information conveyed may have collateral impacts, and the information communicated may have spillover effects, but fundamentally, what happens when you write a blog is that you send information to someone, and fundamentally, what happens when you read a blog is that you receive information.

Blogs dramatically increases the number of people who can reach significant audiences without significant investments of money. For most people the printing press provided by a blog is either free, or provided at a nominal price which advertisements catering to the readers of the blog can easily finance. As a diarist on a blog the Daily Kos, the only political blog that gets any meaningful mention in the article, you can get at least a headline with a link to a story in front of hundreds of thousand of people for a few hours, and if others find what you have to say compelling, your story may get prominent billing for the better part of a day.

My own blog has a different "business model" similar to many smaller blogs. I have a good share of traffic from regulars, essentially the vast majority of the left leaning political blog readers in Colorado, who happen to be a very select audience in terms of political involvement and savvy. I also receive a good share of traffic from search engines. This traffic, along with my contributions to Wikipedia and dkospedia, bring basic factual information and my analysis to large numbers of people who know nothing about me. If I write about things that search engine users or Wikipedia readers want to know, this blog can wind up being an international authority on the answer to the query that brings people to the posting.

Other blogs like How Appealing and Coyote Gulch, are news aggregators in particular subject matters, making it easy to know everything of note in a particular subject area, supported by linked authorities, while readers don't have to beat the bushes themselves to look for it.

People who come to a blog, from whatever source, can trust the content, because blogs are typically well sourced. They may not know me at all, but they can look to my governmental, media and other primary or secondary sources to establish that the information I've brought together and summarized and analyzed is solid, something usually impossible for a reader of a letter to the editor, an op-ed piece in a newspaper, or a participant in informal political conversation.

The real power of blogs is the power to fill information deficits. Bloggers following the politics of a state, or a particular political race, or a political policy issue are able to keep particular new developments in context much better than most newspaper reporters. The blogosphere also allows bloggers better access to information that does not yet meet the New York Times standard of things that are "fit to print", but nevertheless, as a collection of rumor, inside information, and esoterica, often unavailable to the general public, allow bloggers to have cutting edge access to relevant information. And, of course, a great way to drive traffic to your blog, indeed the main thing that brought the Drudge Report and Daily Kos to their current places of prominence in the blogosphere and which remains the stock in trade of sites like Crooks and Liars and Colorado Pols, is the ability to provide inside information before it is fit to print or traditional media outlets can publish it.

In light of this, it is almost obvious that blogs are less significant in the Presidential election than in any other part of the process, and that furthermore, the closer you get to election day, the less important they become. By the time the primary races are decided, they are absolutely useless.

This is a simply consequence of the fact that the Presidential race is the most well covered political race in the nation. Even the idiots Jay Leno encounters when Jay Walking know who the President is and by the time election day rolls around, who the major party candidates for President are and what they stand for, more or less.

In contrast, few people have any idea who their state representative or state senator or even Congressperson is, let alone, what they stand for, and most have only a dim understanding of most of the ballot issues. My DD showed convincingly that there have been a number of elections in recent history where a majority of voters didn't even know which party currently controlled the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Blogs broaden the group of people who have the inside story about sub-Presidential politics beyond the usual suspects of candidates, political aides, major political party insiders and lobbyists, and increase the depth of knowledge held by the old school insiders. They make it impossible to bury a story. They expand the pool of people involved in crafting a candidate's narrative beyond campaign staff, a P.R. firm, and a couple of newspaper reporters assigned to the relevant beat. They dramatically increase the flow of information about previously uncover political happenings. And, by guiding informed decision makers, by being available for people who want to Google for guidance before making political decisions or forming political opinions, and by influencing opinion leaders, blogs bring this information into the political decision making process.

In short, blogs tend to make lower level political decisions better informed and hence, less quirky and random. They also, of course, boost candidates more like themselves and candidates who are willing to engage bloggers. Blogs keep the heat on after the election by monitoring candidates much more carefully than a traditional media outlet usually does.

The fact that the left wing political blogosphere is larger than that on the right, and the many of the right are listening to often outright deceptive talk radio, instead of reading more factually supported blogs, also means that decision making on the left is growing more informed than that on the right as a result of blogs.

Knowledge is powerful when you opponent is lying or distorting the truth. And, since this seems to be the perennial situation in our day and age for left wing bloggers facing dishonest conservatives, the blogs are a tool of left wing power.

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