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Reinforcing the Horse Race: A Longitudinal, Multi-Level Analysis of Mediatised Discourses in German E-Campaigning

Open Panel

Abstract

The rise of e-campaigning is often associated with its ability to circumvent journalistic principles of news selection and presentation. Political scientists hope that this kind of ''disintermediation'' could lead to a more substantial, fact-based, and pluralist campaign style in cyberspace that compensates for the shortcomings of modern election coverage. This claim, though, has hardly been put to an empirical test. Rather, most studies on e-campaigning focus on functional or formal aspects while the discursive patterns of online representations are seldom taken into account. The paper addresses this research gap through a comparative content analysis of German party websites in state, national, and European parliamentary elections between 2002 and 2009. The study combines a quantitative, multi-level analysis with a longitudinal approach so as to measure variances in the degree of mediatization on the Internet both between different types of political races and across time. The results show that e-campaigns on all levels of the political system adhere in their online discourses to the media logic. This pertains to the selection and framing of issues, the portrayal of societal actors, and the configuration of political arguments. The degree of mediatization increases over time and is higher in first-order races. Other external variables, such as ideology or parliamentary status, do not have a significant influence on the way parties incorporate the media logic in their online campaigns. Rather, mediatized politics appears to be an all-encompassing phenomenon on the Internet that affects various organizations and diverse categories of political races. Theoretical implications are discussed.