The Digital Arms Race: The Rise (and Myths) of Online Election Campaigning

  • Date:
  • Time: 4 - 5.30pm
  • Location: Clothworkers’ North Building (G.12 Lecture Theatre). All are welcome.

The School of Media and Communication and the Centre for Democratic Engagement/POLIS invite you to a research seminar presented by Dr Kate Dommett, on the topic of digital campaigning. Below is a summary provided by Dr Dommett on the themes that her presentation will address:

Digital Campaigning has become an increasingly prominent part of election campaigning and, in recent elections, has become a key part of parties’ explanations of success. Whether thinking about the Conservatives’ targeted messaging in 2015, Trump’s use of Twitter in 2016, or Labour’s mobilisation of organic Facebook shares in 2017, digital is seen to be a vital ingredient of electoral success. As parties begin to pour more money and devote more time to digital technology, this paper asks how digital campaigning actually works in the UK. Digging beneath the often Americanised image of highly resourced, professionalised campaigns it asks how are political parties in the UK adopting digital technology both at an elite and grassroots level. Presenting findings from a number of connected projects, I argue that the professionalised image of slick, micro-targeted campaigns is often far from the truth and that, in practice, parties are struggling to make the basics work.

Dr Kate Dommett is Director of the Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield. Her research focuses on political parties, public opinion, digital campaigning and democratic politics. She is currently the holder of an ESRC Future Leaders award for a project entitled ‘Renewing Party Politics? Digital Innovations in Political Campaigning’. Focusing on UK political parties, the project examines how parties are using digital technology to connect with citizens. It also generates new data on public attitudes towards parties, looking at what citizens want from these organisations today. She is also the holder of a British Academy Rising Star Award entitled ‘The Challenges of Studying Political Campaigning in the Digital Realm’. This project studies digital election campaigning and the adoption of online tools by political campaigns. The project looks at the challenges recent innovations pose for data collection. Bringing together researchers, data scientists, political consultants, data targeting companies and other interested stakeholders at two workshops, participants firstly consider barriers and implications, before secondly working to share and develop possible solutions to these barriers.

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