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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Campaigning online : the internet, elections and democracy in Canada teBrake, Rebecca


As political engagement declines in Western democracies, the Internet has been held up as a promising site for citizen participation and engagement. This optimism has been fuelled by recent political events that seem to confirm the Internet's democratic potential. Barack Obama channelled the Internet's power for fundraising and voter mobilization in the 2009 U.S. election. Likewise, Iranian voters successfully used social media such as Twitter to organize protests of the country's 2009 presidential election. This paper presents a first look at how Canadian political parties are using and responding to online communication tools during elections campaigns. Specifically it examines the role of online communications tools in building and developing a campaign platform. Moreover, it discusses whether these activities represent a shift towards a strengthened democracy or are simply reflective of current political culture. The findings are based on data gathered through semi-structured interviews with political strategists involved in the 2008-09 federal, British Columbia provincial and Vancouver municipal elections. This study found that online communication during election campaigns has little influence on the shape of the policy platform. However, political parties have been quick to adopt new online communications platforms allowing them to market their candidates and policies. Moreover, the Internet has shaped traditional campaign functions allowing parties to recruit funds, voter information and volunteers online. Rather than fundamentally shifting the character of democracy in Canada, the current use of online communication tools seems to be defined by the existing political culture.

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