Innovative Study Suggests Where Blogs Fit Into National Politics

  • May 24, 2005

About

Experimental research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and BuzzMetrics suggests that political bloggers can make an impact on politics, but they often follow the lead of politicians and journalists.

A preliminary report, entitled “Buzz, Blogs and Beyond: The Internet and the National Discourse in the Fall of 2004,” employed new word-of-mouth tracking and cross-media correspondence techniques to examine the impact of online buzz on the national agenda during the last two months of the 2004 presidential election. PIP and BuzzMetrics examined the interplay of blogs, online citizen chatter in newsgroups, the mainstream news media and official political spin from the Democrat and Republican election camps. They also conducted a case study of the “Rathergate” scandal involving CBS News and unauthenticated memos about George W. Bush's record in the National Guard.

“The blogosphere is clearly a major addition to the national discourse,” said Dr. Michael Cornfield, senior research consultant to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “But we need to be cautious with respect to the power of particular political bloggers. That power waxes and wanes depending on the sort of information available, the behavior of other public voices, and the tendency of Internet forms and formats to evolve in a very short time.”

“The Pew and BuzzMetrics multi-channel study on this remarkable period in American politics is the first of its kind, and is helping to build a new framework for understanding buzz and its underlying impact on society,” said Jonathan Carson, president and CEO of BuzzMetrics. “With social and media fragmentation, as well as the rapid rise of digital networks, we must ask ourselves what impact is being made on societal institutions like politics, media and our national agenda. We hope our findings will fuel debate and spawn further analysis to better understand these newly observable phenomena.”

Political Bloggers Were Buzz Followers as Much as Makers 

The researchers charted the popularity of certain topics which attracted buzz during the fall campaign across four channels of communication: blogs, citizen chat rooms, the mainstream media, and the national campaigns. The blog and citizen chat room channels were subdivided into conservative, general and liberal groupings.

No recurrent pattern indicative of blogger influence was detected. The researchers also coded topics of discussion to see whether preferences in one channel or subdivision corresponded with those in the others. Strong correspondences existed throughout the discourse. However, the analysis also suggests that the bloggers may have been positioned in the fall of 2004 as a sort of guide for the mainstream media to the rest of the Internet.

Political Bloggers' Most Important Contribution: Providing an Open Forum During the “Rathergate” Scandal 

For a case study, PIP and BuzzMetrics examined the cross-channel popularity of the “Rathergate” scandal and a set of 396 political blog posts. The research found that a combination of factors --some Internet- and blog-related, some not—created the buzz which spurred CBS News to retract its claim that the memos were authentic and commission an independent review of its journalistic performance. The key contribution from the political bloggers in this case consisted of providing forums accessible to all Internet users in which facsimilies of the memos could be examined and discussed.

About the Report and Research Methodology

The reportanalyzed not only blogs, but their intersection with online citizen chat forums, the mainstream news media and official political spin from the Democrat and Republican election camps. Pew and BuzzMetrics examined the political issues most frequently discussed from September 27, 2004 through October 31, 2004.

The study relied on BuzzMetrics' proprietary Discussion Miner technology to analyze: discussion on 40 top political pundit blogs comprising nearly 20,000 posts; and over two million posts of citizen chatter within liberal, conservative and neutral message boards. In addition, Pew and BuzzMetrics monitored key online sources of output from the Bush and Kerry campaigns as well as DNC and GOP; and sampled 16 major media outlets as a proxy for the mainstream media segment.

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