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Bringing Europe to the voter

online personalisation of candidates during the European elections of 2009

Anne Marie Zimmerman (0323012)


September 2009
Master Thesis
European Communication Studies
University of Amsterdam
First supervisor: Rosa van Santen
Second supervisor: Kees Brants
1 Introduction ...................................................................................................................... 1

2 Theoretical framework .................................................................................................... 3


2.1 Changing Media and Political Communication ......................................................... 3
2.2 Internet Campaigning and European Elections .......................................................... 5
2.3 Development of Personalisation................................................................................. 8
2.4 Personalisation and the Politician .............................................................................. 9
2.5 Research Question.................................................................................................... 12
2.6 Operationalisation of Personalisation....................................................................... 13

3 Methodology.................................................................................................................... 15
3.1 Research context ...................................................................................................... 15
Background information on the European elections........................................................ 15
Background information on the politicians...................................................................... 16
3.2 Methods of analysis.................................................................................................. 19

4 Results.............................................................................................................................. 22
4.1 Results Content Analysis ......................................................................................... 22
Online Activities of the Candidates .................................................................................. 22
1. Interaction .................................................................................................................... 29
2. Self-promotion .............................................................................................................. 31
3. Comparisons................................................................................................................. 32
4. Empathy........................................................................................................................ 33
5. Politics and entertainment............................................................................................ 35
Conclusion Content Analysis............................................................................................ 36
4.2 Results Semi-structured interviews .......................................................................... 37
Importance of the European Elections ............................................................................. 37
Importance of the Internet during the campaign.............................................................. 37
Importance Top Candidate............................................................................................... 39
Importance social network sites ....................................................................................... 40
What did they learn? ........................................................................................................ 41
Importance of personal Internet campaigning ................................................................. 41

5 Conclusion and Discussion ............................................................................................ 42

Bibliography ........................................................................................................................... 45

Appendix A - Codebook......................................................................................................... 49
Appendix B – Overview of top candidates’ Internet sites .................................................. 54
Appendix C – Questionnaire of the semi structured interviews ........................................ 57
1 Introduction
Mariam is 35 years old and studied law at a university in an Islamic country. She
works at a law firm and stands up for minorities in her country. Mariam thinks her country is
in horrible condition. She is concerned about the power a fundamentalist religious movement
has in her country and decides to run for president. Her husband, Rasheed, doesn’t approve at
once. Fortunately, he loves his wife and decides after several fights and discussions, to
support her. Under one condition: she has to keep wearing her burka. Would you vote for her?
Would you vote for someone if you haven’t seen her face and never will? Would you vote for
just a story someone is telling you, without the facial expression or even a glimpse of what he
or she looks like?
Obviously, this story is completely fictional. Mariam doesn’t exist and there isn’t
anyone wearing a burka running for president. However, the setting raises interesting
questions. Whenever elections take place, are we voting for a person or her ideas? Or a little
bit of both? How important is that person during the campaign and what is the role of the
political party?
In June 2009 citizens of the European Union elected the Members of the European
Parliament (MEPs). In previous elections and during the referendum of the European
constitution, voter turnout in The Netherlands was low; not many people seem to be interested
in the European Union and the Parliament. In The Netherlands 70 percent of new policies
come from policies decided in the European Parliament. Hence, the European Union is indeed
important; it appears citizens aren’t noticing this important political institution. The politician
as a person and leader seems to become important in the political spectrum. Think about the
question whether you would vote for someone in a burka. If you haven’t seen the face or
appearance of a politician, you probably wouldn’t vote for her. Not even if you couldn’t agree
more to ideas Mariam in her burka claims, you would like to know if she is reliable and that is
hard to tell without knowing someone’s appearance. Now the politician seems to become
more important than the ideas he or she proclaims, would personal politics bring Europe
closer to the voter?
Another interesting factor about the political spectrum that arises, is that the Internet
becomes an important platform to campaign. During the US elections in 2008, Obama used
the Internet to create online communities. Obama used these online communities to gain
participation offline. As you might know, Obama became the first African-American
president of the USA and his campaign strategies shivered all over the world. Internet is a

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medium with lots of opportunities in it, which could interest different groups. People that
aren’t that eager to vote are also using the Internet and his facilities. They use for example
social network sites, and so do politicians. When politicians put effort in their communicative
skills and online strategy, it might be possible to reach the uninterested citizens either through
social network sites or through other websites on the Internet. The uninterested citizen might
even gain interest in politics or politicians.
Putting everything together, when a politician personalises on the Internet he could
gain votes. The voter turnout during European elections is usually very low. Therefore, when
a politician personalises on the Internet during European elections he could gain votes and
might bring Europe closer to the voter.
This research examines how Dutch candidates portray themselves on the Internet
during the European elections. The focus will be on personalisation of politicians and the
question whether that is an important factor during their Internet campaign. Six politicians of
different political parties in The Netherlands were followed by their activities on the Internet.
A content analysis of different websites and semi-structured interviews with campaign
managers were conducted in order to show how candidates portrayed themselves on the
Internet and which choices were made during the campaign.
Previous research of personalisation is mainly focussed on television, while the
Internet provides a new perspective. The combination with European elections makes this
research unique. The implications of this research could help getting an insight in
participation of citizens into politics and might help increasing participation.

In order to link personalisation to the Internet and the European elections in the
Netherlands, the background to Internet campaigning and personalisation will be outlined in
the theoretical framework. The third part of this thesis, the methods section, will explain how
this research is conducted. The fourth part, the results, will examine the results of the two
different methods used. The final part of this thesis gives a reflection of this research and can
be found in the conclusion and discussion part.

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2 Theoretical framework
To examine how Dutch candidates portray themselves during the European elections on
the Internet, a framework of what research is done before will be given in this chapter. First
will be explained how media changed political communication over time. Second, previous
research on Internet campaigning and European elections will be explored. Third,
personalisation will be explained; the research that is done before on personalisation and a
definition will be given on this topic. Finally, the research question will be explored and the
term personalisation will be operationalised to use in this research.

2.1 Changing Media and Political Communication


Mass media are the primary sources of political information for most citizens (Brians
& Wattenberg, 1996, p. 172). The media play a large role in citizens’ perception of politics.
As the citizen gets his or her information from the media and politicians would like to have a
positive influence on citizens, the relationship between the media and politicians becomes
very important. Over the years, the introduction of new media changed the way politicians
performed and caused a change in political communication. For example the introduction of
television caused a change in the political communication field. Before the introduction of
television the physical appearance of politicians was not very important as debates were
broadcast on radio. Druckman (2003, p. 559) found that during the first Kennedy-Nixon
debate, which was broadcast on television and radio, television images had significant effects:
‘they affect overall debate evaluations, prime people to rely more on personality perceptions
in their evaluations, and enhance what people learn.’ The effects television images had on
debate evaluations meant that politicians had to pay more attention to their physical
appearance instead of exclusively to their arguments.
Over time, changes in society and the media shape political communication. Blumler
and Kavanagh (1999, p. 209) found three key changes in society and the media that have
shaped political communication after the Second World War. They categorise those key
changes into ages. The first age is called the ‘golden age of parties’ where political parties had
easy access to journalists. The second age came up around the 1960s when television became
a dominant medium. Citizens were less loyal to political parties; personalisation and sound-
bite culture became prominent in order to get the attention of the voter. Media became more
important during this age and journalists started to play a more prominent and dominant role
in the news. The present third age can be seen as a continuation and intensification of the

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second age, ‘with more professionalization of political advocacy, increased competitive
pressures, anti-elitist popularisation and populism, and political communication in general
leading to a centrifugal diversification of the audience.’ (Brants, 2007, p. 111)
The current situation according to Mazzoleni and Schulz (1999, p. 247) is described as
‘mediatization’. ‘Political institutions are increasingly dependent on and shaped by mass
media but nevertheless remain in control of political processes and functions’. Mazzoleni and
Schulz (1999, p.250) state that politics has lost its autonomy and has become dependent on
mass media. Political institutions are shaped by the interactions they have with mass media
and count less on their own ideologies and ideas. Politics is driven by the media and not the
other way around.
Politics being driven by media is a result of so called ‘media logic’. Mazzoleni &
Schulz (1999, p.250) say media logic is ‘the frame of reference within which the media
construct the meaning of events and personalities they report.’ McQuail (2000, p. 296) states
that media logic ‘also operates on the level of content – for instance, in political campaigns it
leads to a preference for personalization, for controversiality and for attention to the ‘horse
race’ (for example, as measured by opinion polls) rather than the issues.’
The hypothesis that political communication is driven by media logic is gaining in
popularity. Brants and Praag (2006) tested this hypothesis in The Netherlands during three
elections. They describe the move from partisan logic to public logic to media logic, which
can be seen in table 1 (Brants & van Praag, 2006, p. 31). Partisan logic is based on the idea
that political parties are leading in a representative democracy. The agenda is set by
politicians and journalists are dependent of political institutions. The involvement of citizens
is very high; it is considered normal to be a member of a political party and/or other social
institutions (van Os, Hagemann, Voerman, & Jankowski, 2006). However, the participation in
these social institutions is declining and that has made the shift to public logic and later media
logic possible. Public logic still has some characteristics of partisan logic, for example the
agenda is still set by politics. Additionally, with public logic journalism became independent
and more sceptical. The political stories written were more descriptive instead of biased.
Media logic means that the political parties no longer set the agenda, but the media do.
Journalists are reporting news items interpretatively and the role of journalism is very
dominant in society.

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Table 1 Logics in political communication (Brants & van Praag, 2006, p. 31)
Partisan logic Public logic Media logic
Media identify with party public good public
Public addressed as subject citizen consumer
Media-politics relation one-sided symbiotic mistrust
dominant,
Role journalism dependent mouthpiece independent sceptical
entertaining, cynical
interpretative,
Kind of reporting biased, substantive descriptive, substantive
less substantive
Journalistic metaphor lapdog watchdog Cerberus
Agenda set by politics politics media
Democracy model party democracy party democracy audience democracy

Taking into account the stages political communication has gone through last century,
the rise of the Internet could intensify the third age as Blumler and Kavanagh (1999) would
call it or mediatisation according to Mazzoleni and Schulz (1999). Politics driven by media
and with numerous possibilities Internet provides, media-use of citizens changes and so
political communication changes again. As the media become more important and especially
as McQuail (2000) states that media logic on the level of content leads to a preference for
personalisation; it would be interesting to know how media logic evolves with the Internet.
For example, do politicians get more personal on the Internet?
Previous research is based on the relationship between the media and political
institutions, but with the rise of the Internet the relationship between politicians and citizens
becomes more important. Internet is a medium which facilitates interaction between
politicians and citizens easily through, for example, social network sites. Next section will
explain how the internet changed political communication and how this can be linked to the
European elections.

2.2 Internet Campaigning and European Elections


As the relationship between politicians and media is changing, the Internet brings a
new perspective. Recently, citizens didn’t come into personal contact with politicians
anymore. They didn’t go to a debate or similar gathering to physically meet a politician. The
involvement into politics is declining. In this society it is important to give information that is
easily accessible and for a politician to be easily accessible to citizens. Nowadays, makes the
Internet interpersonal communication in a public manner possible. Citizens can directly get in

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touch with politicians without intervening reporters or journalists, which could have a positive
influence on the relationship between citizens and politicians.
With changes in political communication, a new perspective on democracy rises. The
Internet affects democracy and Stromer-Galley (2000, p. 113) explains that there are two
schools of thought on how the Internet affects democracy. One line of reasoning holds ‘that
the Internet can be used to make it possible for people to participate directly in the decision-
making-process of government. No longer might representation be necessary.’ The other
school of thought ‘wants the technology used to make representation more responsive to
nonelite citizens.’ In other words, the Internet could encourage everyone and not only the elite
who know how to get in touch with politicians, to respond to politicians and participate in the
public debate.
Another change the Internet brings on political communication is on campaigning.
The Internet becomes an important platform to campaign during elections. As mentioned
before, Obama used the Internet to create online communities. Gibson et al (2003, p. 49) give
three main impacts that the Internet may have on the style of elections. ‘First the high volume
of speed of transmission could provide a more substantive basis for campaigning than other
forms of media, reducing the sound bite element that is seen as having crept into political
discourse with the rise of TV. Second, the individualization of the medium in terms of user
control means that it becomes possible for organizations to identify and target voters and
personalize messages with direct email. Finally the interactive potential of the technology
allows parties to offer new fora for member and voter participation.’ The last argument links
with the differences that Römmele (2003, p. 7) found between the ways political parties use
information and communication technologies. Some parties stress the downward
dissemination of information via the Internet, while others emphasize the interactivity of the
medium. Political parties use these information and communication technologies also during
elections in the different ways Römmele found.
Politicians or candidates give information during elections about their ideas on their
websites, but citizens can also react on those ideas. Aalberts (2009, p. 2) states that there has
been a move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. Web 1.0 focuses on the information-giving part of the
Internet. Aalberts explains that Web 2.0 has the important characteristic that the content of
websites is moderated by the user and not by an editor or organisation. Good examples of this
trend are Hyves, Wikipedia and Twitter, where users of the websites decide what the content
is. Web 2.0 fits into the school of thought that technology can be used to make representation
more responsive to citizens.

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On the one hand has there been a move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, on the other hand in
the USA has there been a move towards a more personality-led, rather than issue-led
campaign (Gibson e.a., 2003). Due to the political system in the USA, a two-party system
where voters choose their president directly, it is not surprising that a personality-led
campaign is emerging. In Europe most countries have multi-party systems. Voter choice will
then be first and foremost between parties, rather than between candidates. ‘So while there
has been a gradual erosion of traditional partisan ties between voters and parties, this has
occurred to a greater extent in some democracies than in others.’ (Stanyer, 2008, p. 416)
Differences in political systems and levels of personalisation may mean that strategic self-
promotion is also different from country to country. The question is what the level of
personalisation is during elections in the Netherlands, and in particular elections that aren’t
that popular. Citizens need an extra reason to vote with unpopular elections, not entirely the
ideas of a political party.
European elections are usually not very popular. Voter turnout is generally very low. It
could be argued that if citizens knew more about European politics, they would be more
interested and the voter turnout during elections would be higher. De Vreese et al (2005) state
the information environment in which the elections take place is very important, as various
sources of information, engagement and participation are likely to have an impact on the
voter. They looked at the new media landscape using a competitive structure considering
commercial versus public broadcasting and the possibilities to find information on the Internet
in the new enlarged Europe of 25 countries during the elections of the European Parliament of
2004. The traditional news media, in particular television, still seemed to be very important
during these elections. On the other hand, Ward (2005, p. 295) suggests that ‘online election
campaigns work to generate voters’ interest by providing more varied information and
encouraging citizen participation in the electoral process.’ In 2004, traditional news media
proved to be the most important source of information for the citizen, but online election
campaign could work to generate voters’ interest. The Internet campaign during the elections
of 2009 could get more important to generate voters’ interest.
Europe has not been a prominent part of domestic politics, while European integration
has evoked emotional political debate. (C. H. de Vreese & H. A. Semetko, 2004, p. 34) Over
the past years there has been a decline in civic engagement, especially among youth (Carpini,
2000). Youth are the future, so it is important to get them participating in politics. The
opportunities Internet offers to let citizens participate in politics could be used to make
European politics more popular. The Internet could help getting citizens more engaged in

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politics and that could be beneficial to democracy as it widens the public debate and could
encourage people to vote.
However, the Internet isn’t the only factor in helping getting citizens more engaged in
politics. Mazzoleni (2000, p. 327) states that the personal appeal of leaders will encourage
citizens to take part in the political game. ‘The appeal of personalized political leadership may
well induce citizens to participate in campaigns and elections for reasons and motivations that
have to do with the expressive sphere of political choice.’ Caprara (2007, p. 154) claims that
the voters’ personality is no less important than the politicians’ personality. ‘In particular in
those political systems that reward the active participation of citizens and offer a plurality of
choices.’ The personal appeal of a political leader in politics could also help getting citizens
more engaged into politics. Next section will explain the development of personalisation in
order to understand its background.

2.3 Development of Personalisation


As discussed earlier, the media change political communication and there is a new
personalized political culture emerging (Stanyer, 2008). Politics is not only about parties and
their ideologies anymore, it is more about the person behind those ideas. Mazzoleni (2000, p.
325) stated that it has been known that news consumers prefer to read about other people and
not about abstract groups or government agencies: ‘News stories, especially those that appear
on television, are routinely framed from the point of view of central actors.’ Citizens would
like to vote for and read about a person and not about an abstract political party. Corner &
Pels (2003, p. 7) observed: ‘people want to vote for people and their ideas rather than for
political parties and their programs.’
The rise of television was important in the changes in political communication and
development of personalisation. From the 1950s ‘political commentators have ascribed ever
more influence to the personal qualities of political leaders on electoral results’ (van Zoonen
& Holtz-Bacha, 2000, p. 46). The sound-bite culture became prominent in order to get
citizens’ attention. Politicians needed to incorporate that culture and there was less time to
explain their policies and issues. Kaase (1994, p. 213) explains that ‘television is bound to
emphasize the outer appearance and performance of leaders above political competence and
effectiveness.’ The introduction of commercial television, later on, intensified the emphasis
on the outer appearance and performance of political leaders. ‘First because of its frequent
programming of infotainment genres in which human-interest stories and interviews with
ordinary people and celebrities about their private lives and emotions are core ingredients.

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Second because informative programs of public broadcasters have adjusted to the genre
conventions of infotainment under the pressure of the competition from the commercial
channels.’ (van Zoonen & Holtz-Bacha, 2000, p. 46)
As the sound bite culture with television emerged, the representation of politicians
became important. Coleman (2003) compared the House of Commons and the Big Brother
house in order to claim that they are both representation games on television. By comparing
the two houses he is able to conclude that in both of them the inhabitants are locked away
from the rest of the world, ‘left to talk endlessly amongst themselves, periodically wondering
if anyone is listening to them or whether there is any point in them being there.’ (Coleman,
2003, p. 734) Coleman explains that between the homes of citizens and the two houses
messages are transmitted and received, representations made and mediation takes place.
Coleman (2003, p. 756) concludes that the idea of connection of citizens different is than you
might expect. ‘Their idea of connection, if they have one, is that politicians should be seen to
live in the same world as them: not necessarily to be like them, but certainly know what it is
like to be them.’ Politicians should act like they know how it is to be like the citizens they are
representing in order to connect with them. Coleman’s research gives an insight in how
politicians should represent themselves and emphasise the importance of representation of
politicians on television.
As the rise of television changed the representation of politicians, so the Internet
changes the political spectrum. Stanyer (2008, p. 414) states that several observers suggest
that one of the key factors contributing to personalisation has been electronic communication,
such as television and the World Wide Web. He states that these technologies have
transformed the visibility of political actors, as they are more visible to a mass audience.
Dutch newspaper Trouw also observed that much of the focus of political leaders has been on
television or in national press, but Internet campaigning is emerging (Bos, 2009). The next
section will explain what personalisation does to politicians over time.

2.4 Personalisation and the Politician


Politics is about the politician. What he looks like, how he talks, if he wears a tie or
not. The individual politician becomes more and more important due to different political and
cultural developments (van Zoonen, 2005). Kaase (1994) analysed the democratic political
process in which political leadership is very important. He states that there are two elements
of leadership: one is the role politicians play in shaping public perceptions of politics and
another aspect is the extent to which candidates influence voters’ electoral choices. Because

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the leaders of a political party are the ones who broadcast the message, those leaders are
personalised. ‘When a person becomes a leader, a player in the political process, the leader
extends the character of his or her personality to the entire process, setting the leader against
the collective subjects such as the parties and any collegial form of authority.’ (Mazzoleni,
2000, p. 326)
How does this come about? Van Zoonen (2005, p. 69) states that due to the increase of
entertainment texts and images, citizens will seek to minimize the time and effort needed to
learn about political issues. The individual performance of a politician will give citizens the
needed short-cut to information. ‘Second, entertainment and its respective genres provide the
dominant cultural framework within which to make sense of politics.’ Combining those two
elements, ‘politicians have to commute constantly between the different requirements of
politics and entertainment in order to maintain their position and status in the political field.’
It is clear that Van Zoonen (2005, p. 72) identifies personalisation as: ‘... persona-lization is
understood as the performance of political actors operating at the intersections of politics and
entertainment.’ To perform at this intersection, representation of the politician and especially
how this is received is important. Ensari & Miller (2005) focus on the role of personalisation
and performance feedback and mean by personalisation the ‘interpersonal interactions that
elicit self-disclosure, promote self/other comparisons and induce empathy’.
Corner (2000, p. 391) describes how politicians work in the political field and has
found that they can be seen to work within three different spheres of political action. ‘First
there is the sphere of political institutions and processes within which they establish their
identity as politicians and enjoy career development, taking on various posts and duties.’
Performance in this sphere is often not mediated, only indirectly for example in background
stories of newspapers. ‘The second sphere, that of the public and popular, is the fully
mediated complex of settings in which politicians are seen as ‘public figures’’ (Corner, 2000,
p. 392). The third sphere is the private sphere, which contains a strategic projection of private
life in publicity. The three different spheres give an overview to see from which position a
politician performs and shows who he is. These spheres can be linked to a matrix Van Zoonen
& Holtz-Bacha (2000) made.
Van Zoonen & Holtz-Bacha (2000) analysed the personal performance of Dutch and
German politicians in talk shows. Van Zoonen (2000) also conducted this research with
entirely Dutch politicians. Whereas Corner (2000) talks about three different spheres, Van
Zoonen (2000) created a matrix (Figure 1) and differentiates four different discourses in
which a politician can talk. There are two ways to look at the discourses. First, the position a

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politician talks from: personal or political. Second, the language a politician uses: private or
public. The first discourse (I) is called the political discourse: Politicians speak in public
language about politics. For example (purely fictional): ‘The global financial crisis needs a
thorough approach.’ A distant approach, where the politician mainly talks about facts and
politics in general. The second discourse (II) is the personal political discourse. The politician
speaks in ‘private language’ about political issues. For example: ‘The only way to survive the
global financial crisis is to use my economic approach.’ The third discourse (III) is the
personal discourse. Talking in private language about personal issues. For instance: ‘The
financial crisis also affects my family.’ The fourth discourse (IV) is the objective personal
discourse. This discourse happens when a politician talks as a private person, for example as a
parent, but uses the public language. For example: ‘As I did myself, I would like to advise
parents to save money for their children.’ (van Zoonen, 2000, p. 157)
Looking at the language a politician uses and the position he or she talks from, it is
possible to analyse different forms and degrees of personalisation the different discourses
show.

Figure 1. Features of personalisation


Public

IV I
Language

Personal Political
Position

III II
Private

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2.5 Research Question
To conclude the literature overview, research showed that participation in politics is
low, especially in European politics. There are two possible ways to gain participation into
politics. Personalized leadership induces citizens to participate in campaigns. Also the internet
provides an easy platform to participate into politics. This means that personalisation on the
internet during the campaign of the European elections could induce the participation of
citizens.
The Internet provides an ultimate platform for European politicians to personalise
themselves as it has different technological options unavailable to most other media. The
politician (or his political party) can present himself on the Internet, no journalist is needed
anymore. The question is whether the political parties use those opportunities during the
campaign for the European Parliament elections. Do the political parties themselves think that
personal Internet campaigning might be the future? This research will explore how politicians
and their political parties use personalisation and the internet during a campaign.

The research question is: How do European politicians personalise themselves online during
the European elections and is personalisation online used as a campaign strategy to get
closer to the voter?

The research question is divided into two sub-questions:


1) To what extent do European politicians personalise online during the European
elections?
2) What is the importance of personal Internet campaigning during elections according to
the politician or the political party the politician is working for?

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2.6 Operationalisation of Personalisation
To clarify how this research fits in with different researches about personalisation, I will refer
to Van Zoonen and Holtz-Bacha (2000, p. 46) who compared different research projects in the
area of personalisation and found four categories of research:
1) research that looks at individual characteristics of politicians
2) research that pertains to the way politicians as human beings are constructed
through various mediations such as campaign strategies and material and the
appearance of politicians in popular media.
3) research that looks at voters’ perceptions of personal qualities of politicians and
levels of sympathy or antipathy for politicians
4) research on the impact of personalisation on the political process
Table 2 will put the researches mentioned earlier into these four categories. This thesis
will look at the way politicians as human beings construct themselves on the Internet through
campaign strategies, which is category two in this list. The mediation is the Internet and this
research will look at whether politicians use personalisation as a campaign strategy.

Table 2 Researches mentioned in four categories.


Category Authors

Individual characteristics (1) (van Zoonen, 2005); (Corner, 2000)


(van Zoonen & Holtz-Bacha, 2000); (van
Construction of politicians as human beings (2)
Zoonen, 2000); (Stanyer, 2008)
Voters’ perceptions of personal qualities (3) (Coleman, 2003); (Caprara, 2007)
Impact of personalisation on political process (4) (Gianpietro Mazzoleni, 2000)

In order to answer the research question, a definition of personalisation is needed. As


mentioned before, Van Zoonen (2005, p. 72) identifies personalisation as: ‘... persona-lization
is understood as the performance of political actors operating at the intersections of politics
and entertainment.’ The intersections of politics and entertainment have to do with the role of
personalisation and performance feedback. Ensari & Miller (2005) didn’t focus on
personalisation of politicians, but they have a useful definition of personalisation which is
applicable to politicians. Ensari & Miller (2005, p. 391) mean by personalisation the
‘interpersonal interactions that elicit self-disclosure, promote self/other comparisons and
induce empathy’. Putting this in perspective, Kaase (1994, p. 213) conceptualises

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personalization of electoral politics on two levels. ‘(1) as a mass media phenomenon in the
sense that reporting on politics by the media is scrutinized with the aim of quantifying
political leaders among those who are reported on; and (2) as the affective and cognitive
representation of political leaders in citizens’ minds, and the leaders’ impact on voting
decisions.’

Combining those definitions one can say that in order to personalise, a politician
should interact with citizens and perform at the intersection of politics and entertainment. In
order to personalise, politicians should (1) interact, (2) promote themselves, (3) compare
themselves to others and (4) induce empathy.

This research focuses on the Internet at the intersection of politics and entertainment,
because different options the Internet has makes it entertaining. In the next chapter it will be
explained how this online intersection was defined and selected, and how the four
characteristics of personalisation are operationalised.

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3 Methodology
In this section it is explained which methods are used to answer the research question.
This study focuses on the Netherlands. To better understand the context in which the research
is done, background information on the European elections in the Netherlands and on the
politicians can be found in this chapter. The methods of analysis are explained afterwards.

3.1 Research context

Background information on the European elections


Every five years, elections for members of the European Parliament take place. The
members of the European Parliament are the only representatives of the different member-
states directly chosen by citizens. In 2009, the elections took place between the 4th of June and
the 7th of June in 27 member states throughout Europe. They took place for the seventh time.
In the Netherlands, the elections for the European Parliament were held on the 4th of June
2009.
European citizens elected 736 representatives, 25 seats in the European Parliament
were available to Dutch representatives; contrary to the elections of 2004, when 27 seats were
available to Dutch representatives. The decrease in available seats for the Netherlands is
mentioned a few times by the campaign managers during the interviews as an argument to
soften the pain of their loss in seats. 36,9 percent of the Dutch electorate casted their vote.
Average voter turnout in Europe was 43,1 percent (“Nrc.nl - Europa - Europa heeft gestemd,”
2009). So voter turnout in the Netherlands was less than average voter turnout in Europe.
Seventeen different political parties were running in the Dutch leg of the elections. The results
of the elections in the Netherlands can be found in table 3.

15
Table 3 Number of EP seats per election.
2004 2009
CDA 7 5
VVD 4 3
GroenLinks 2 3
SP 2 2
SGP/ChristenUnie 2 2
PvdA 7 3
D66 1 3
PVV - 4
Europa Transparant 2 -
Newropeans - 0
Europa voordelig & duurzaam - 0
Solidara - 0
Partij voor de Dieren 0 0
Europese Klokkenluiders - 0
Groenen - 0
LibDem - 0
Partij voor Europese politiek - 0
Libertas - 0
Totaal 27 25

Background information on the politicians


This research focuses on six Dutch politicians from political parties who were already
seated in the European Parliament during the beginning of the campaign in May 2009.
Because these political parties have experience in campaigning for European elections, they
are likely to have a well-thought out view on campaigning and they are good material to study
online campaign strategies.

The political parties and top candidates researched are:


CDA: Wim van de Camp
PvdA: Thijs Berman
VVD: Hans van Baalen
D66: Sophie in ’t Veld
GroenLinks: Judith Sargentini
SP: Dennis de Jong

16
The focal point of this research is on Dutch politicians, because one aspect of
personalisation is interaction with citizens. Therefore, communications between the political
party and citizen were researched. Living in The Netherlands, the writer of this research had a
better opportunity to take a closer look at Dutch political parties and their communication
than in other countries. Due to financial reasons it wasn’t possible to visit political parties in
other countries, while interviewing campaign managers is an essential part of this research.
However, researching one country’s election will increase validity of this research as different
countries have different political systems so they are harder to compare with each other.
During elections the top candidates are spokespersons for the political party they are
running for. Seeing as they are the most important candidates, this research focuses on these
top candidates. To get an impression of their popularity in The Netherlands, Research bureau
Synovate conducted a research for NOS and ANP about the reputation of the top candidates
during the European Elections. 2500 respondents received a list of names and were asked to
indicate who they were familiar with. In week 23, the week of the elections, 42 percent of the
respondents knew Hans van Baalen. Wim van de Camp was rated second with 38 percent.
Sophie in ‘t Veld 24 percent, Thijs Berman 16 percent and Judith Sargentini and Dennis de
Jong both 12 percent (Synovate in opdracht van NOS en het ANP, geen datum). Most people
knew Hans van Baalen and Wim van de Camp, they were both member of the Dutch
Parliament at that time. Sophie in’t Veld and Thijs Berman were both member of the
European Parliament. Judith Sargentini and Dennis de Jong were relatively unknown because
they were only active on local level and not on European or national level. What follows is a
short introduction of the top candidates selected.

Wim van de Camp (CDA)


Van de Camp has been a member of the Dutch Parliament since 1986 and specialises in
immigration policy. He ran to be a European parliamentarian for the first time and is famous
for his passion for motor cycles.

17
Thijs Berman (PvdA)
Berman has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 and specialises in
agriculture and rural development. He has been chosen by the members of the PvdA to be the
top candidate during PvdA elections of 2009, running against three other party members.

Hans van Baalen (VVD)


Van Baalen has been a member of the Dutch Parliament since 1999. He specialises in foreign
affairs and defence. From 1993 till 1998, he was the International Secretary for the VVD. He
is a first-time candidate in the European elections.

Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks)


Sargentini has previously worked for Amsterdam city council. She was a spokesperson for
work and income, youth policy and public order. It’s the first time she is running for the
European elections for GroenLinks.

Dennis de Jong (SP)


De Jong is a former diplomat for the NATO and advisor to the European Commission. It’s the
first time he is competing in European elections.

Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66)


In ’t Veld has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004. Her specialty is
privacy-related issues. It is the second time she is competing in the European elections for
D66.

18
3.2 Methods of analysis
Two data gathering methods are used to answer the research question ‘How do
European politicians personalise themselves online during the European elections and is
personalisation online used as a campaign strategy to get closer to the voter?’: content
analysis and semi-structured interviews.

Content analysis of different websites shows to what extent European politicians


personalise online during the European elections. The definition that McQuail (2000, p. 493)
uses clarifies why content analysis is used. He defines content analysis as ‘a technique for the
systematic, quantitative and objective description of media texts, that is useful for certain
purposes of classifying output, looking for effects and making comparisons between media
and over time or between content and ‘reality’. Three different kinds of websites were
researched (appendix B):

1) Social network pages (Twitter, Facebook and Hyves);


2) Official homepages (political party websites, but also European election sites of the
aforementioned political parties and personal homepages of the respective candidates);
3) Candidates’ weblogs.

All these websites contain information written by either the politician or their political
party. These three types of websites cover forms of communication by the political parties to
their voters and between parties and citizens via the Internet. Social network pages are usually
run by either the politician him- or herself or the political party and offers opportunities for
politicians to interact with citizens. Almost obvious to say, but official homepages are also
run by political parties and communicates information from the party to the voter. Weblogs
are most of the times written by the candidates and contain information for their voters and
sometimes a function to interact with citizens as they can react on the weblogs.
Twitter, Facebook and Hvyes are social network sites. Social networks enable the user
to connect to friends and family online and are based around so-called profile pages. Profile
pages are pages about a specific user, arranged by the user himself. Facebook and Hyves are
quite similar in function. Both provide options to leave messages (called status updates or
"krabbels"), but also post photos, react to other postings (such as photos or videos) and join
groups. Facebook serves a mainly international audience where Hyves is specifically targeted

19
to the Dutch market. Twitter only focuses on the status updates and restricts the length of
these updates to a maximum of 140 characters. In contrast to Facebook and Hyves,
connections on Twitter do not have to be two-sided, meaning that you can ‘follow’ someone
who is not ‘following’ you. Hence, Twitter talks about followers/following rather than
friends. Twitter focuses more on conversation, where Facebook and Hyves focus on a broader
experience including other media such as audio and video.
During the period of May 20, 2009 till June 5, 2009 relevant content of profile pages
on Twitter, Facebook and Hyves of the top candidates have been aggregated using Google
Reader. Google Reader uses RSS ("Really Simple Syndication") to aggregate content from
different source in one placing in a standardized fashion. Most of the social network sites
have (multiple) RSS ‘feeds’ with the syndicated content available. This enables the research
to collect the content without having to manually visit each site every day. Unfortunately,
Facebook did not have the option to store RSS-Feeds. This accounts for the fact that only the
number of friends and photographic material have been analysed.
The content of the websites, which was stored in the RSS reader, has been coded using
the codebook detailed in appendix A. The codebook is based on the operationalisation of
personalisation. Variables in the codebook indicate whether a politician is interacting with
citizens, is promoting him or herself, is comparing him or herself to others or is inducing
empathy. For instance, variables 4 and 48 of the codebook measure how the politician induces
empathy. Whenever a politician talks in private language from a personal or political
position, he tries to induce empathy to its reader. He wants the reader to get to know him and
his way of life. The distinction between personal and political position was made by content
of the message. If a politician is telling on for example Twitter what he or she has been doing
that day and that campaigning could be exhausting, he or she talked in private language from
a personal position (III, see also Figure 1, page 10). For example Judith Sargentini: ‘Taking
my soup out of the freezer, in an hour I will have to take the train to Den Haag to participate
in the top candidates debate.’ She tells you what she thinks about her life at that moment. If a
politician has an opinion about a political topic and emphasises his or her statement, he or she
talks in private language from a political position (II). For example Sophie in ‘t Veld: ‘EU
works on a directive for patient rights. I think we need less restrictions in health care in
Europe.’

20
Semi structured interviews show the importance of personal Internet campaigning
during elections according to the politicians or their political party. Interviews were held with
the campaign managers of the six political parties after the campaign, between 17th of June
2009 and 2nd of July 2009. Campaign managers have an overview of what has happened
during the campaign and which choices they made as they are in charge of a campaign. They
are more likely to have evaluated their choices after the campaign and they all had more time
for an interview after the campaign. Questions (appendix C) that are asked can be divided into
three categories. First, there are general questions about the campaign and their political party,
including questions on how important these elections were for their political party. The
second group of questions is about their Internet strategy during the campaign; for example if
they had a certain website-strategy. The final type of questions asks about their top candidate,
for example how important he or she has been during the campaign.
Interviews were conducted by the researcher, took between 40 and 60 minutes and
were held at the different offices of the political parties. All interviews were recorded and
transcribed in order to properly analyse the answers. The answers are clustered around
different themes (importance of the European elections, importance of the internet during the
campaign, importance of the top candidate and importance of social network sites), which you
can read in the results chapter.

21
4 Results
The outcome of the two different research methods will be laid out in this chapter.
First, an overview will be given of the content analysis of the several websites researched.
Second, the results of the semi-structured interviews with the campaign managers will be
explained.

4.1 Results Content Analysis


The question as to what extent European politicians personalise online during the
European elections will be answered using a content analysis of websites. As mentioned in the
theoretical framework are six indications of personalisation available: (1) interaction with
citizens, (2) promoting him- or herself, (3) comparing him- or herself to others, (4) inducing
empathy and (5) performing at the intersection of politics and entertainment. These variables
will indicate to what extent the top candidates personalise online.
To get an impression of the online activities of the top candidates during the elections,
an overview will be given of the websites and their content. This overview will be used to get
into the details of the variables which are explained one by one in this chapter.

Online Activities of the Candidates


To get an impression of all online activity, table 4 shows the online activities on social
network sites and ‘normal’ websites. Table 4 explains whether the candidates joined Twitter,
Hyves or Facebook and on which websites they could be found during elections.

Table 4 Online activities candidates

Wim van de Thijs Hans van Sophie in ‘t Judith Dennis de


Camp Berman Baalen Veld Sargentini Jong
Twitter x x inactive x x inactive
Hyves x x x x x x
Facebook - x x x x -
Party cda.nl pvda.nl vvd.nl d66.nl groenlinks.nl sp.nl
europa2009. europa. nederland d66.nl/ minder
Election site zinineuropa.nl
cda.nl pvda.nl opnieuw.nl europa brussel.nl
Personal thijsberman. hansvanbaal sophie minder
camp.cda.nl zinineuropa.nl
website pvda.nl en.eu intveld.nl brussel.nl
Personal Personal Personal Election
Weblog Hyves Election site
website website website site

22
Social Networks
Twitter, Hyves and Facebook are the most important social networks used in The
Netherlands. An important characteristic of social networks is that the user moderates the
content and people can get in touch easily with each other. Looking at the online activities of
the candidates, the biggest difference can be found in their use of the social networks. Some
candidates use social networks every day, while others simply didn’t bother.
The biggest difference can be found on Twitter. Everyone is on Twitter, but Hans van
Baalen (VVD) and Dennis de Jong (SP) didn’t post many messages. Hans van Baalen (VVD)
only posted messages during the Twitter debate - a debate between top candidates organised
by a radio program on May 30st. Dennis de Jong (SP) posted eleven messages during the
elections. Wim van de Camp (CDA), Sophie in’t Veld (D66) and Judith Sargentini
(GroenLinks) were frequent users of Twitter: they posted an update at least every day. In table
5 you can see how much updates all candidates posted from the date they signed up for
Twitter till the 5th of June, the day after the elections. These numbers show how active they
were, how many followers the candidates had and how many people they followed by
themselves on Twitter. The amount of followers give an impression of how many people
received messages of the candidates, their possible supporters and the size of his network.
The candidates used Hyves and Facebook differently as well. Becoming a friend of
Wim van de Camp (CDA) or Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) on Hyves meant receiving a
message (called ‘krabbel’) with a short movie. Wim van de Camp welcomes you on his
motorcycle, while Judith Sargentini sends a movie about climate change and why it is
important to keep fighting it from within the European Parliament. Hans van Baalen (VVD)
didn’t show much activity on Hyves. On Facebook you could become a supporter of Hans,
and messages on vvd.nl and hansvanbaalen.eu are linked to this page. Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66)
uses Hyves and Facebook on a different level as you can only become a supporter of her and
not a friend. Dennis de Jong (SP) was only active on Hyves where he used the weblog
function and posted gadgets on that website during the campaign.
Social network sites are also linked to each other. Thijs Berman (PvdA), Wim van de
Camp (CDA) and Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) had their WWW (who what where) updates
on Facebook and Hyves linked to Twitter. Consequently, each comment on Twitter was also
shown on Facebook and Hyves.
Table 5 shows how many Hyves- and Facebookfriends each politician had on June 5th
at 14.00. Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) and Wim van de Camp (CDA) have a rather large

23
network with 600+ friends, while Thijs Berman (PvdA), Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66) and Hans
van Baalen (VVD) have an average network of approximately 400 friends. Dennis de Jong
(SP) is least popular and only has 167 friends in his network. Facebook is less popular; Thijs
Berman has 175 friends, Judith Sargentini 210 friends and Sophie in ‘t Veld has 381
supporters.
Briefly, it can be said that the strategic choices made about social networks during the
campaign are visible in the use of the networks by the candidates. When candidates chose to
be an active user of a social network, they gained more followers or friends and expanded
their network. Candidates who didn’t show much activity, didn’t have many friends or
followers on the social networks. The social network statistics show that Wim van de Camp
(CDA), Sophie in’t Veld (D66) and Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) put a lot of effort in
expanding their social network, while the others were less active.

Figure 2 Social Network statistics on June 5, 2009 (see also Table 5)

2000
Wim van de Camp
1800 Thijs Berman
1600 Hans van Baalen
Sophie in 't Veld
1400
Judith Sargentini
1200
Dennis de Jong
1000

800

600

400

200

0
Twitter Twitter Twitter Hyves Facebook
Followers Following updates Friends friends

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Table 5 Social networks on June 5, 2009

Wim van de Thijs Hans van Sophie in 't Judith Dennis de


Camp Berman Baalen Veld Sargentini Jong
Twitter Followers 1656 610 146 1940 936 13
Twitter Following 1956 175 0 121 107 8
Twitter updates 876 258 156 803 834 11
Hyves Friends 872 355 415 300 686 167
Facebook friends 0 175 0 381 210 0

Political Parties, Candidates and their Websites


Three different kinds of homepages are researched: the homepage of the political
party, the election site and the personal homepages of the candidates. To get an impression of
the different website strategies used by political parties, a brief overview of what could be
found on the Internet during the European elections will be given and functions available on
the homepages will be explained.

The homepage of the CDA (www.cda.nl) shows during election time a pop-up with
comments from the different webpages they own. Those pages are: Blauwe Krokodil,
Kandidaten & Programma, Wim van de Camp’s page, Europa2009.nl, Motor van Europa and
Doe mee en Doneer. The pop-up gives an overview of all the campaign websites available at
the CDA. As CDA has so many campaign websites, this research focuses on
europa2009.cda.nl and Wim van de Camp’s page. Europa2009.cda.nl is the homepage of the
European elections where everything comes together and the personal homepage of the
candidate is researched of each candidate. On his own website (camp.cda.nl), Wim van de
Camp welcomes every visitor with a text and video, which gives a personal touch to the
website. Additionally, you can find the latest news, and links to social network pages (Hyves,
Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter) are displayed. The official campaign website is
europa2009.cda.nl. The top candidate has a prominent role on this website as the videoblog of
Wim van de Camp is shown, alongside his pictures and an appeal to vote on the 4th of june.
During election time the PvdA has frequent news items about the elections on their
regular party website (pvda.nl). You could also find a link to the European Election site and to
the European election manifesto. The election site contains different information, for example
why you should vote for PvdA, interviews with all the candidates, schedules of all the
candidates, a message (oproep) to work as a volunteer, what the PvdA has achieved in Europe
and the opportunity to ask a question (via email). This website is an informative website about

25
the political party and elections. The homepage of Thijs Berman had the same lay out as the
European election site. On this site you can find his agenda, weblog, why you should vote for
Thijs and ask questions (to the emailadres: europa@pvda.nl, so it probably will not go
directly to Berman). Information given on this site was modest, but the section why you
should vote for Thijs shows that you should vote for a person instead of a political party.
The VVD doesn’t have a website made specifically for the European elections. The
website ‘nederlandopnieuw.nl’ is a website for the permanent campaign launched by the
VVD. On this website you can find a few YouTube videos and there is a possibility to
discuss. Also, the official homepage of the VVD (vvd.nl) didn’t show much activity during
the European elections. On the personal homepage of Hans van Baalen there was a lot of
information about him and he frequently updated his weblog. His personal website was the
one to go to for information about the campaign or elections.
GroenLinks, D66 and SP all decided to cluster their websites into one design and
website. GroenLinks had zinineuropa.nl, D66 had d66.nl/europa and SP had minderbrussel.nl.
Campaign managers claimed they decided on this to keep things as simple and
straightforward as possible for potential voters. The homepage of all the top candidates are
also integrated in these pages. For instance, when you surfed to judithsargentini.nl you came
to the electionpage of GroenLinks.
D66 shows on her site links to Twitter, Hyves and Facebook. They call for volunteers
on their website and you could be a volunteer for zero hours, which meant that you could
either place a banner on your site or donate your status on Facebook. Donating your status on
Facebook means that your status said that you had to vote for D66 or voted for D66. The
weblog and news items found on this website were mostly written about or by their top
candidate.
On zinineuropa.nl (GroenLinks) you can find a weblog (with blogs from Judith
Sargentini), information on what GroenLinks stands for in Europe and an integrated Twitter
page. You are also invited to ‘Picknick in het park’ (which was a picnic in a park during the
campaign) and to join the campaign team. There is a special banner about the European
elections and you can find links to zinineuropa.nl on the party homepage GroenLinks.nl.
Alongside party leader Femke Halsema, Judith Sargentini has a prominent place on this
website.
Dennis de Jong (SP) has his own section on minderbrussel.nl, but doesn’t have his
own website. Minderbrussel.nl shows points of view, the candidates running for the SP and
the viral SP specially made for these elections. Also a rap video can be found which is

26
probably made to entertain youth. Every day a lie of the day is published, for example: ‘SP is
against the EU’. When you click on the button underneath the ‘lie of the day’, the truth
(according to the SP) is told. You can ‘tell the truth’ to family and friends by sending that
message to them with a simple mouse click. Finally, you can test your knowledge about the
EU by a quiz on the website.

Looking specifically at the official websites of the political parties, several differences
in the attention they give to the European election can be discerned. Table 6 shows all the
homepages of the political parties: they all mention the European elections on their front page.
Despite the SP, everyone mentions their top candidate on the front page. The number of news
items and number of news items about the top candidate per political party are very different.
D66 and PvdA have the most news items, while GroenLinks and SP have the least. Only one
party, D66, gives the opportunity for their visitors to email the candidate directly. The
schedule of the candidate or other information about the candidate can only be found on four
party websites: CDA, VVD, D66 and GroenLinks. The parties who were very active on the
social networks (CDA, GroenLinks and D66) also link to those networks on their homepage.
D66 is the only party who offers a forum for discussion. Q&As and guestbooks seem to be
thought old-fashioned functionalities as no political party offers them on their websites
anymore.

Table 6 Homepages political parties

CDA PvdA VVD D66 GL SP


European Elections on front page x x x x x x
Top candidate mentioned on front page x x x x x
News items about the elections during 2 weeks 7 13 2 21 0 1
News items about the top candidate 2 5 4 7 0 1
Possibility to get into contact with the party (email) x x x x x x
Possibility to get into contact with the candidate (email) x
Schedule of the candidate x x x
Information about the candidate x x x x
YouTube clips x x x x x x
Links to Social Network pages x x x
Is there a forum to discuss on the website? x
Is there a guestbook available?
Is there a Q & A?

27
Looking at table 7, the top candidate can be found on all European election sites,
except for the VVD. The website of the VVD is aimed at video clips and discussion and not
specifically aimed at the European elections. In the movies you can find Hans van Baalen
(VVD). Table 7 shows that some political parties chose to cluster their news items on their
official homepage and others to cluster them on their election site. SP and GroenLinks
clustered the news items on their election site. The possibility to email either the political
party or the candidate is only given on three website and the schedule of the candidates can
only be found on two (PvdA and D66). Personal information about the top candidate can be
found on all websites, apart from the VVD.

Table 7 European Election sites

CDA PvdA VVD D66 GL SP


Top candidate on front page x x x x x
Weblog of the candidate x x x x
(Number of) news items about the elections 6 0 0 20 46 29
(Number of) news items about the top candidate 6 6 0 11 11 9
Possibility to get into contact with the party x x x
Possibility to get into contact with the candidate x x
Schedule of the candidate x x
CV of the candidate x x x
Biography of the candidate x x x
Personal information about the candidate x x x x x
YouTube clips x x x x x
Links to Social Network pages x x x x
Is there a game available? x x x
Possibility to discuss/give your opinion x x x

Table 8 shows that on all personal websites of the candidates a weblog or, in case of
Wim van de Camp (CDA) a videoblog, is available. Thijs Berman (PvdA) and Hans van
Baalen (VVD) both list recommendations and reasons why to vote for them on their website.
Except for the CDA, informal language is used on all websites. For example, Wim van de
Camp (CDA) addresses his reader with ‘u’ which is formal in Dutch and Thijs Berman
(PvdA) addresses his reader with ‘je’ which is informal in Dutch. Four websites contain a

28
personal message from the candidate (besides the weblog), which makes those websites more
personal.

Table 8 Personal website

CDA PvdA VVD D66 GL SP


Weblog x x x x x x
Recommendations x x
News items x x x x x
Formal language x
Informal language x x x x x
Possibility to get into contact with the candidate x x x x
Schedule of the candidate x x x x x
Information about the candidate x x x x x x
YouTube clips x x x x
Links to Social Network pages x x x x x
Personal message x x x x
Is there a game available? x x x

Briefly, it can be said that the top candidates and European elections were quite
important on the homepages of the political parties and contact with the topcandidates via
email was possible through the political parties websites. This showed that political parties
put an effort in presenting their top candidate and in being available for questions. However,
on the election sites only three parties gave away their email address. The schedules of the top
candidates showed on four pages, which is remarkable as you would expect to see them on all
webpages. Personal webpages of Wim van de Camp (CDA), Thijs Berman (PvdA) and Hans
van Baalen (VVD) were mostly used for personal campaigning. The personal webpages of
Sophie in’t Veld (D66), Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) and Dennis de Jong (SP) were
integrated in the European election site, but also had a high degree of personal campaigning in
it. In the next section are the results of the different variables of personalisation shown.

1. Interaction
In order to personalise a politician should interact with citizens. On the Internet he can
accomplish this in many ways. On Twitter he can get in touch with citizens using an ‘@reply’
message. With an @reply he directly replies to Twitter-users to answer questions or exchange
messages. Titter-users retweet a message whenever they like it or agree with it. Retweeting is
posting the message again on your own account. Politicians can retweet messages as wel to

29
show they agree with the person that wrote the message. Politicians on Hyves can react on
‘krabbels’ or comment on their own weblog whenever someone has commented on it.
Homepages offer different possibilities to get in touch with the politician, for example email
and a comment section on a weblog. Such a comment section enables politicians to listen to
citizens and what they have to say on their blogs.
Earlier results showed that you could email all the political parties, but could only
personally email Sophie in ‘t Veld. There was a possibility to contact the candidates on all
websites, however less on the election sites than on the official homepages of the political
parties. Political parties did put an effort on being available for citizens, but only through
them and not directly to the top candidate.
Twitter is frequently used by certain candidates during these elections. In table 9 you
can find the kind of messages that were sent by each candidate. Wim van de Camp (CDA)
replied to others the most. Followed by Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) and Sophie in ‘t Veld
(D66). Thijs Berman (PvdA) did use Twitter, but relatively less to get in touch with citizens,
he replied to other users of Twitter 9 times. The retweets posted by politicians is relatively
small compared to the ‘normal’ messages they posted.

Table 9 Kind of Twitter messages written by the candidate

Wim Hans Sophie


Thijs Judith Dennis
van de van in ‘t Total
Berman Sargentini de Jong
Camp Baalen Veld
Written by the politician 32 54 34 32 41 10 203
@reply by the politician 82 9 0 29 40 1 161
Retweets by the politician 0 3 0 1 9 0 13

Hyves was used to receive krabbels, and comments on weblogs. Table 10 gives an
overview of the received krabbels, amount of weblog entries on Hyves and whether the
candidate and users of Hyves responded to the weblog. It is remarkable that whenever the
candidate responded on his weblog, users of Hyves did, as well. So when a politician initiates
to comment on his own weblog, he or she is likely to have a dialogue with citizens as they
will comment as well. Also, Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) and Wim van de Camp (CDA)
seem to be very popular on Hyves as they received the most krabbels.

30
Table 10 The candidates on Hyves

Wim Hans Sophie Dennis


Thijs Judith
van de van in ‘t de
Berman Sargentini
Camp Baalen Veld Jong
Krabbels 73 26 10 7 164 48
Weblog entries 7 5 0 1 43 11
People respond to weblog? x x x
Candidate responds to his own weblog? x x x

Of the official weblogs researched, whenever you read a weblog, you could leave a
comment on the weblogs of Wim van de Camp (CDA), Thijs Berman (PvdA), Judith
Sargentini (GroenLinks) and Dennis de Jong (SP). Hans van Baalen (VVD) and Sophie in ‘t
Veld (D66) didn’t offer you this opportunity. Ten people commented on Wims (CDA)
weblogs, sixteen on Thijs’ (PvdA) weblogs, twenty-one on Judiths (GroenLinks) weblog and
sixty-one on Dennis’ (SP) weblog.
In general what this suggests is that the candidates were modest interacting with
citizens. Three candidates used the Twitter to communicate and to react to others, which were
Wim van de Camp (CDA), Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66) and Judith Sargentini (PvdA). Hyves was
used to comment on weblogs by Van de Camp, Sargentini and De Jong, whenever someone
commented on a weblog, he or she got responds from the candidate. Thijs Berman and Hans
van Baalen didn’t use the social network sites to interact with citizens. Emails could be
mainly sent to the political parties. Four candidates used the opportunity to have a comment
section on their own weblog, which was used by citizens.

2. Self-promotion
During campaigns candidates are constantly promoting themselves. They do this on
their own website by for example putting recommendations from other people on it. But they
also do it on social networks for example by putting on pictures of themselves.
Table 8, the personal websites, shows that Thijs Berman (PvdA) and Hans van Baalen
(VVD) both have recommendations on their personal websites. In case of Hans van Baalen
friends of Van Baalen tell you why you should vote for him and what kind of person he is. On
both election sites (table 7) and personal websites (table 8) of all political parties can you find
personal information about the top candidate, except for the VVD on the election site. Giving
personal information is also a way of self-promotion, as it shows that the candidate is willing

31
to be transparent about what he or she does and thinks. For instance Wim van de Camp
(CDA) tells you what he thinks is important and tells about his hobbies.
During election time Wim van de Camp (CDA) put 72 pictures of himself on Hyves,
Thijs Berman (PvdA) 17 and Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) and Dennis de Jong (SP) both 3.
Only the pictures that were uploaded between 22nd of May and 5th of June are counted. The
other politicians already had pictures of themselves on Hyves, but didn’t put pictures on
during the time this research ran. All the pictures were campaign related, which means they
had something to do with the campaign. For example Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) put
pictures of the picnic in the park on her Hyves.
Not surprisingly did the candidates promote themselves to a high extent on both social
network sites by uploading pictures and websites by having a personal website with personal
information on it. The election sites and homepages promoted the top candidates on a lower
extent.

3. Comparisons
Candidates compared themselves to the other candidates online on Twitter and using
their weblog. On the party websites, election sites and personal websites they didn’t compare
themselves to others in particular, besides the weblogs which were shown on these pages.
On Twitter, the times opponents of the candidates who were named in a message, either from
the politician or Twitter-users, were counted. Whenever an opponent is named, there is
always a certain kind of comparison in a message. Whether those comparisons were positive
or negative is not measured. Outcomes can be found in table 11. On average in 8,4 percent of
the messages candidates or Twitter-users wrote were opponents named, which is a very little
amount.

Table 11 Opponents in messages on Twitter

Wim Hans Sophie


Thijs Judith Dennis
van de van in ‘t Average
Berman Sargentini de Jong
Camp Baalen Veld
Name opponent named 6,1 % 11,9 % 17,6 % 7,9 % 8,7 % 9,1 % 8,4 %
Name opponent not named 93,9 % 88,1 % 82,4 % 92,1 % 91,3 % 90,9 % 91,6 %
Total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

Weblogs were modestly used by politicians to compare themselves to others. Table 12


shows that 25 percent of the weblogs written, have the name of their opponents in the
message. The candidates were able to give a specified opinion in a weblog while on Twitter

32
they couldn’t as it has only 140 signs. In 80 percent of her weblogs, Sophie in’t Veld (D66)
uses it to compare herself to others. She asks for example to PvdA why they support Barroso
and compares them in this case with herself by explaining why she doesn’t support him.

Table 12 Opponents in messages on Weblogs

Wim Hans Sophie


Thijs Judith Dennis
van de van in ‘t Average
Berman Sargentini de Jong
Camp Baalen Veld
Name opponent in weblog 0% 25 % 14,3 % 80 % 33,3 % 18,2 % 25 %
No opponent weblog 100 % 75 % 85,7 % 20 % 66,7 % 81,8 % 75 %
Total 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 %

Briefly, it can be said that the candidates didn’t use the Internet to compare themselves
to others. Only Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66) mentioned the name of opponents on weblogs to a
high extent, while others didn’t bother.

4. Empathy
Whenever a politician wants to induce empathy, he uses a certain kind of language in
his messages. If it is a political message, he uses private language and if it is a personal
message he also uses private language. For example when Thijs Berman (PvdA) says:
‘Energetic debate at Llink, radio 1. Discussion concerning Europe and what we can do with
Europe to the climate problem.’ He gives a political message in private language as he thinks
it is an energetic debate (political discourse II of Figure 1). When Wim van de Camp (CDA)
says: ‘This was a very good day. Have to rest now, also mentally. This intensive Europe
campaign now takes back on me.’ He uses private language in personal position (political
discourse III in Figure 1) as he talks about his experiences during the campaign.
Citizens can compare themselves to the politician whenever he or she uses private
language and that would induce empathy. Table 13 shows in percentages how much a
politician used the different kind of discourses on Twitter. Politicians twittered the most in
private language in a personal position, 47,2 percent of all the messages coded which the
politicians wrote. 32,9 percent of the messages were private language in political position.

33
Table 13 Features of Personalisation in messages of politicians on Twitter

Wim Hans Sophie Dennis


Thijs Judith
van de van in ‘t de Average
Berman Sargentini
Camp Baalen Veld Jong
Public language /
3,5 % 39,4 % 41,2 % 17,7 % 10 % 18,2 % 17,5 %
Political position (I)
Private language /
20,2 % 47,0 % 32,4 % 38,7 % 35,6 % 27,3 % 32,9 %
Political position (II)
Private language /
72,8 % 12,1 % 23,5 % 43,5 % 51,1 % 54,5 % 47,2 %
Personal position (III)
Public language /
3,5 % 1,5 % 2,9 % 0,0% 3,3 % 0,0% 2,4 %
Personal position (IV)
Total 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 %

Users of Twitter evaluated the messages candidates wrote and wrote messages to the
politician. 69,5 percent of the messages were positive towards the candidates, 13,9 percent
negative and 16,6 percent neutral. This is shown in table 14.

Table 14 Messages written by Twitter users, mentioning the candidate

Sophie
Wim van Thijs Judith
in ‘t Average
de Camp Berman Sargentini
Veld
Positive message mentioning politician 48,9 % 73,0 % 74,1 % 85,2 % 69,5 %
Negative message mentioning politician 24,4 % 18,9 % 6,7 % 7,8 % 13,9 %
Neutral message mentioning politician 26,7 % 8,1 % 19,2 % 7,0 % 16,6 %
Total 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 %

Weblogs are also written in a kind of discourse. Table 15 shows that 50 percent of all
the weblogs are written in private language from a political position. This means that also
with weblogs, politicians try to induce empathy of citizens.

34
Table 15 Features of personalisation in Weblogs
Wim Hans Sophie Dennis
Thijs Judith
van de van in ‘t de Average
Berman Sargentini
Camp Baalen Veld Jong
Public language /
14,3 % 0% 14,3 % 40% 16, 7 % 27,3 % 20 %
Political position (I)
Private language /
42,9 % 100 % 14, 3 % 40% 66,7 % 54,5% 50 %
Political position (II)
Private language /
42,9 % 0% 71,4 % 20% 16,7% 18,2% 30 %
Personal position (III)
Public language /
0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Personal position (IV)

Total 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 % 100 %

It is clear from the percentages above that private language was mostly used in
messages from the candidates. On Twitter used the candidates the private position more and
on weblogs the political position. Probably because weblogs are used to proclaim an idea or
opinion, while Twitter is used to chat and or promote for example the weblogs.

5. Politics and entertainment


Politicians should perform at the intersection of politics and entertainment. This shows
on social network sites and homepages and how politicians brighten up those sites with for
example different campaign gadgets to entertain. With games or gadgets, politics and
entertainment mix. For example GroenLinks had a game on their website where you had to
save all the energy saving fuels.
Except for Hans van Baalen (VVD), everyone put a campaign gadget on his or her
Hyves. Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) even put 30 gadgets on her Hyves. Thijs Berman
(PvdA) and Wim van de Camp (CDA) put 3, Sophie in’t Veld (D66) 4 and Dennis de Jong
(SP) put 7 campaign gadgets on his Hyves. CDA and GroenLinks both had a game available
on their personal homepages and on their election site. SP had a quiz available on their
election site.
Hence, the use of entertainment on websites is modest. Remarkable is the use of
gadgets by Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks), which is very high.

35
Conclusion Content Analysis
The content analysis shows to what extent European politician personalise online
during the European elections. Making use of the different variables explained, the politicians
personalised on the Internet, although some more than others.
Most candidates put an effort to interact with citizens. Email addresses were available
for questions on the researched websites. Also social network pages were used to get in
contact with citizens. Wim van de Camp (CDA), Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66) and Judith
Sargentini (GroenLinks) used Twitter to get in contact with citizens and they replied to their
questions or comments. Whenever you are active on a social network, you get more responses
from the users of that network. Wim van de Camp (CDA), Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66) and Judith
Sargentini (GroenLinks) used this opportunity, while Thijs Berman (PvdA), Hans van Baalen
(VVD) and Dennis de Jong (SP) weren’t very active on those social network pages. The latest
three gave the opportunity to respond on their weblog, which people used. Homepages are
mainly used to give information (one way communication) instead of interacting with citizens
(two way communication). Remarkable is that the three active on social networks also put
links of those networks on the party websites.
The opportunity to promote themselves on the Internet was used by putting personal
information and recommendations on the personal websites. This was done by all candidates.
Also social network pages were used to promote themselves by uploading pictures on the
website. Candidates didn’t use the Internet to compare themselves to others. Weblogs and
Twitter were used to induce empathy at citizens. The opportunity to perform at the
intersection of politics and entertainment was used by games and gadgets on either websites
or social network pages.

36
4.2 Results Semi-structured interviews
To get to know the importance of personal Internet campaigning during the elections
according to the political parties who are involved in this research, semi-structured interviews
with campaign managers were held: Michael Sijbom (CDA), Jeroen van Berkel (PvdA), Hans
van Heijningen (SP), Jaap de Bruijn (GroenLinks), Boudewijn Revis (VVD) and Fleur Gräper
(D66). The outcomes of these interviews will be described according to different themes in
this chapter.

Importance of the European Elections


European elections are second order elections. Citizens choose a representative in
parliament, but they won’t see as much of them as for example from representatives of their
local government. Campaign managers didn’t treat these elections as second order elections;
they treated these elections as very important elections for different reasons.
D66 and GroenLinks both used these elections to gain confidence and to show active
supporters that they are in a winning mood. D66 (Zimmerman, A.M, 2009a, p. 3): ‘At the
moment we are rising in public surveys, these elections showed that we can actually convert
the surveys into seats in parliament.’ VVD also wanted to gain confidence and show unity
again after a few incidents in the past years where the VVD came out as a separated party. SP
said these elections show solidarity that citizens have towards a political party.
The political parties who are seated in national government at the moment, PvdA and
CDA, both wanted to remain powerful on all positions and keep as many seats in the
European parliament as possible. PvdA, who ‘lost’ these elections, also saw these elections as
a warning sign. ‘It is a judgement call from citizens what they think about the government.’
(Zimmerman, A.M, 2009b, p. 3)

Importance of the Internet during the campaign


The Internet becomes more and more an important platform to campaign, next to
traditional campaigning such as billboards and visibility in traditional media (newspapers,
radio and television). Campaign managers agree and use the Internet in many different ways.
Whilst for example the VVD uses it as a platform for discussion, others like GroenLinks use it
to mobilise volunteers.
Both GroenLinks and CDA think it is important to be as visible as possible during a
campaign, thus also on the Internet. As a relatively small party, GroenLinks finds it hard to

37
get free publicity on traditional media. ‘Due to the Internet it was possible to create awareness
to voters that we were there and joined the European elections, we became visible.’
(Zimmerman, A.M, 2009c, p. 5) GroenLinks aimed with her Internet campaign towards two
goals: first giving people tailored information and second to show that the party wants to
know what citizens think about certain issues and what is important to them, especially with
web 2.0. CDA emphasises that it is also very important to campaign offline. ‘People still
know elections take place by seeing billboards with posters.’ (Zimmerman, A.M, 2009d, p. 9)
CDA used the Internet according to their so-called IMFF principle, which stands for
Information for citizens, Mobilisation of people, Feedback for the party and politician,
especially on social network sites and last but not least Fun.
Also D66 used the Internet to mobilise voters and volunteers. ‘It was easy for people
to put themselves on the list to be a volunteer. We described the different volunteers we
needed, so even if you had little time you could be a volunteer by sending an email to all your
friends or putting a banner on your website.’ (Zimmerman, A.M, 2009a, p. 5) Campaigning
on the Internet was very important for D66 and they tried many different things they’d like to
use in upcoming elections. Also GroenLinks used these elections to try certain strategies out
to use during other elections as well. Both GroenLinks and D66 say that one of the most
important things of maintaining an online and offline strategy is to be consistent. The message
has to be same in all media, the way you say it can be different in different media.
While D66, GroenLinks and CDA were very visible on social network sites, VVD
used another strategy. ‘We have chosen not to join the ‘social network hype’ and to think
about what is important for our political party. So we chose to focus on creating and
stimulating discussion online, on our own website but also on websites not owned by VVD.
We’d like people to proclaim their opinion via a VVD portal on other websites.’
(Zimmerman, A.M, 2009e, pp. 8,9).
PvdA claims that Internet campaigning is very important, but due to a technical
problem at their website they couldn’t use it as much as they would’ve liked. ‘The problem at
PvdA was that we are changing our Content Management System. Due to that, we couldn’t
optimally use the Internet the way we wanted.’ (Zimmerman, A.M, 2009b, p. 9) PvdA did
organise an EUtube contest where people could send in campaign movies into YouTube. The
aim was to generate movies and to mobilise youth. Due to the attack of the Royal Family
during Queens day, the party to launch the winners of the contest at the 1st of May (also
labour day) couldn’t take place.

38
The SP noticed that the Internet wasn’t that important during these elections than
during national elections. ‘During national elections is the Internet much more important.
Normally you see a growth in visitors on your website, while this year the month before the
elections was the worst in a year.’ (Zimmerman, A.M, 2009f, p. 11) SP chose to gather all
information in one site (minderbrussel.nl), because people cared less about these elections

Importance Top Candidate


As seen in the theoretical framework personal campaigning is emerging. Not the ideas
of the political party are important, but the one who proclaims the ideas. Candidates during
the European elections are rather unknown. The question to political parties was how
important the top candidate on their list was during those elections.
All political parties state that the top candidate is very important. Especially visibility
is an important factor that all political parties name. CDA also states that the top candidate
needs to have authority and needs to be authentic. ‘What you see is what you get with Wim.
That’s authentic and believable.’ (Zimmerman, A.M, 2009d, p. 28) CDA was the only party
who put the top candidate and his hobby (riding the motorcycle) prominently in their
communication. The campaign manager claims that the hobby is recognizable for people and
that’s why he chose to do that. VVD calls his top candidate the Unique Selling Point of the
campaign. They used him for the campaign flyer and during debates was he very useful.
PvdA claims that it is easier when you have a commonly known top candidate. ‘For
example Hans van Baalen and Wim van de Camp, they still were seated in the Dutch
parliament during the elections and whenever they had news they could run to the national
press. Thijs Berman still worked in the European Parliament which is much further away from
national press.’ (Zimmerman, A.M, 2009b, p. 10) On the other hand, D66 says that it was an
advantage that Sophie in’t Veld already worked in the European Parliament, which was the
reason she was already commonly known.
Some political parties claim that it was beneficial to put their top candidate next to the
political leader of the party. GroenLinks organised a picnic tour during the campaign. During
a picnic both Femke Halsema and Judith Sargentini were key note speakers. Also PvdA used
their political leader Wouter Bos to get their candidate more commonly known. In the
campaign spot you could see Thijs Berman next to Wouter Bos. SP regrets that they didn’t
use their nationally known parliamentarians. ‘They could’ve helped getting a better result.’
(Zimmerman, A.M, 2009f, p. 14)

39
Importance social network sites
Social network sites are a rather new phenomenon in campaigning on the Internet.
Hyves and Facebook were already known, but it was the first time that Twitter was used
during the campaign. The political parties used these network sites rather differently, which is
already discussed earlier. They also had a different view on the social network sites.
CDA uses social network sites for many different reasons, but most importantly for
feedback to the politician. Being authentic is very important and that is why Wim van de
Camp used Hyves and Twitter and not Facebook. To also moderate Facebook would’ve been
too much work. Wim van de Camp moderated all websites himself, although he did get a little
help by starting up and maintaining his Hyves page. Twitter was important during the
campaign for CDA. Wim van de Camp (CDA) used it for feedback and to get in contact with
citizens. They noticed that whenever he joined a public debate, there were always people
there who knew he was there because of Twitter.
Both GroenLinks and D66 emphasize that it is important to be consistent in all your
messages and to be available to citizens. Judith Sargentini (GroenLinks) moderated her
Twitter all by herself. Hyves and Facebook partly, for example the mails that were sent via
these services were answered by herself, but her weblog was a copy of the weblog written for
zinineuropa.nl. She also used Twitter for feedback after for example important debates. D66
also states authenticity is very important. ‘It wasn’t possible to become a friend of Sophie on
Hyves and Facebook because it would’ve been too much work for her to moderate those
websites, that’s why you could become a supporter.’
PvdA just wanted to be present on the social network sites. They didn’t have a certain
strategy for it. Thijs Berman had a team who moderated his Hyves and Facebook page, but
Twitter was mostly done by himself. As mentioned earlier, VVD chose to follow their own
strategy and not get into the social network-hype. They did experiment with Twitter, using it
as an exclusive campaign tool to mobilise people. People who are on Twitter and were
sympathizing the VVD got access (others didn’t get access) to this Twitter and were asked to
spread a link for example.
Dennis de Jong (SP) got help with his Hyves page. SP didn’t use Twitter or Facebook:
‘We looked at how these social network sites worked and it wasn’t worth the effort.’

40
What did they learn?
Although the interviews were held only two weeks after the campaign, most campaign
managers had already evaluated their campaign and important lessons were learned. As
mentioned earlier, GroenLinks and D66 used these elections as an experimental case for
Internet campaigning. They both like to continue doing that, although they both mention that
they would’ve liked to have the technical side earlier ready. D66 wanted to focus and
incorporate online and offline campaign in a better way.
VVD would like to activate members to participate in discussions on the Internet. Also
PvdA would like to generate more traffic on their website with a higher participation rate.
CDA mentions that they would like to do more with Google ads and have more people in the
organisation available for the campaign. SP would like to deliver a message which is more
targeted on Dutch politics and use nationally known politicians during the next European
elections.

Importance of personal Internet campaigning


Internet campaigning is becoming a substantial part of an election-campaign during
elections. Although differently used, all political parties use the Internet to get in contact with
the voter and to mobilise citizens. One aims at giving as much information as possible, while
the other wants to discuss with the voter. The top candidate on the elective list is also very
important according to the campaign managers. He or she must be visible in all media and
people should know who he or she is. It is easier to win votes when you have a commonly
known candidate. To gain trust some parties used or wanted to use commonly known
politicians of their parties to put their candidate in the spotlights. For instance GroenLinks
used Femke Halsema (their political leader) to put Judith Sargentini in the spotlight.
Campaign managers do think it is important to put the top candidate in spotlights
during a campaign, and also on the Internet. However, they also used more commonly known
politicians than their own top candidate to get the message to the voter.

41
5 Conclusion and Discussion
The top candidate on the elective list is seen as an important factor during
campaigning. As the presentation of politicians on the Internet is in the hands of political
parties and politicians themselves, contrary to other media-outlets where mostly journalists
present the politicians, they also present their top candidate in different manners on the
Internet. This research aimed to see if political parties use personalisation on the Internet
during the European elections. To answer the question how European politicians personalise
themselves online during the European elections and if personalisation online is used as a
campaign strategy to get closer to the voter, the research explored how politicians and
political parties used personalisation and the internet during a campaign.
To get to know to what extent European politicians personalise online a content
analysis is done during two weeks of the campaign. The extent of personalisation is measured
in five variables. Looking at the interaction politicians had with citizens, that was mostly done
via social networks and weblogs. Whenever a politician is active on social networks such as
Twitter and Hyves, he gets responses. It is the same with weblogs, whenever he or she was
willing to answer comments, people did comment on their weblog. So interaction with
citizens is possible, although some politicians used it more than others. Promoting themselves
on the internet is easy for politicians and used rather frequently. They put pictures on Hyves,
had personal websites and used their blogs to claim their ideas. Candidates didn’t use the
internet to compare themselves to others. The candidates did try to induce empathy by using
private language to be on the same level as citizens on Twitter and Weblogs, while Twitter
was mostly used for private message and weblogs for political messages. With gadgets and
games candidates also performed at the intersection of politics and entertainment. Almost
every politician did that, except Hans van Baalen. To conclude, politicians put an effort in
personalising online, especially on weblogs and social networks.
To explore what the importance of personal Internet campaigning is during elections
according to the political party the politician is working for, semi-structured interviews with
the campaign managers are conducted. As Internet campaigning is still in the beginning fase,
campaign managers used these elections to experiment with different features available.
Campaign managers all emphasise that the top candidate on the list is very important during a
campaign. However, as European elections aren’t very popular and the candidates weren’t
very well known, political leaders of the parties were used to recommend the candidates.
Some political parties clustered all the information about their candidates into one website;

42
without a personal website. For instance, Dennis de Jong didn’t have his own website. This
shows that the political party is still more important than the person. Campaigning on the web
is mainly focussed around the party instead of the top candidate.
This research shows that the candidates did use the internet to personalise themselves
online, although it is mostly done on social network sites and weblogs. Homepages are still
used to provide information instead of interaction, although the candidates’ active on social
network sites did put links of them on the websites. The websites of political parties, elections
sites and personal websites are about giving information and for example mobilising
volunteers. However, European elections are still unknown to the greater public. Internet
campaigning is emerging and it has a sufficient role in the strategy that managers rule.
The biggest difference in political parties is their use of the Internet. VVD stresses the
discussion part of the Internet, while D66, GroenLinks and CDA would like to get in contact
with citizens. PvdA still stresses the downward dissemination of information via the Internet,
but has aspiration to use the interactivity part better. SP likes to get in touch with citizens, but
not one to one. They think it is more useful to communicate with representatives of different
groups. These differences lay in the background of the party, their history, ideologies, but also
in the organisational structure.

Obviously, this research does have some remarks, which will be discussed here.As
mentioned in the theoretical framework, there has been a shift from partisan logic to public
logic to media logic. The political communication spectrum changes again with the Internet as
the relationship between politicians and citizens becomes more important, without
interventions of eager journalists. Lots of research in political communication is aimed at
journalists. This research showed that the relationship of politicians and citizens is indeed
becoming more important. Further research should be done to media logic, with the rise of
Internet and especially social network sites which encourage the relationship between
politicians and citizens. The question is what media logic nowadays means with the
interactivity of the Internet.
Another factor that changes with the Internet and social network sites is participation
in politics. The Internet could encourage responding to politicians and participate in the public
debate. This research shows that people do respond to politicians whenever they are open for
debate on social networks or blogs. However, campaign managers state that the people who
respond to the candidates are still the ones who are already interested in politics and the
internet doesn’t increase participation of the ones who aren’t interested in politics. Further

43
research to participation could show how to reach people who aren’t interested in politics via
Internet. It would be interesting to know how the public receive personalisation. Is it an
effective way of campaigning? Do people get enthusiastic about politics when they are voting
for a person instead of ideas?
This thesis relies on the idea that personalisation could be the needed shortcut to
information on the Internet. Social networks and especially Twitter is a good example where
politicians sauce political information with personal information which makes the information
given more personal. Talking and discussing with a real person instead of an organisation that
a political party is. However, this research didn’t look if people actually liked to speak to a
politician. Besides, the interaction that takes place via email isn’t researched. The level of
personalisation did increase with the rise of Internet, although this research didn’t measure
over time but only during one election. To have a more detailed look, European elections over
time should be research. Interesting to know is if there is a difference in countries, for
example UK and the Netherlands as they have a different political system. Would
personalisation be more important in the UK than the Netherlands?
Focus of this research is purely on the Internet. It would be interesting to know how
all media evolve personalisation and interaction with citizens, especially during the European
elections. Unfortunately voter turnout was very low again in these elections. How come and
what can we do about it? Just personalisation on the Internet is certainly not the answer.

To conclude: European elections are unpopular, as voter turnout shows that people
don’t see the necessity of those elections. Internet campaigning is used frequently in this
campaign, but it is hard to measure whether it had an effect as you can’t isolate people to one
medium. However, personal internet campaigning is emerging and might be even more during
elections that are important in the eye of the voter, for example during elections of the
National Parliament. Research shows that whenever a politician was open for conversation on
the Internet, people took up this opportunity and discussed with the politician, which could
increase participation in politics.

44
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48
Appendix A - Codebook
To what extent do European politicians personalise online during the European elections?

1. Name politician
1 = Wim van de Camp
2 = Thijs Berman
3 = Hans van Baalen
4 = Sophie in ’t Veld
5 = Judith Sargentini
6 = Dennis de Jong

Social network pages


Twitter:
2. Date
Enter the date in the SPSS format (dd/mm/yyyy)

3. Kind of message
1 = written by the politician
2 = @reply by the politician
3 = retweets by the politician
4 = retweet by others (same tweet as politician)
5 = mentioning name politician by others (@politician)

4. What is the tone of the message?


1 = I Public language about Politics
2 = II Private language about Politics
3 = III Private language about personal issues
4 = IV Public language about personal issues
5 = Positive to the politician
6 = Negative to the politician
7 = Neutral to the politician

5. A. Is one of their opponents named in their message?

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1 = Yes
2 = No

5. B If so, who?
0 = nobody
1 = Wim van de Camp
2 = Thijs Berman
3 = Hans van Baalen
4 = Sophie in ’t Veld
5 = Judith Sargentini
6 = Dennis de Jong
7 = Others
8 = More than one

Hyves:
6. Amount of Krabbels in the time period of 22/5 till 5/6

7. Amount of pictures and videos in the time period of 22/5 till 5/6

8. Kind of pictures
a. 1 = personal
b. 2 = campaign
c. 3 = both

9. Amount of weblog entries in the time period of 22/5 till 5/6


10. Is the weblog uniquely written for Hyves?
1 = yes
2 = no
11. Do people respond to the weblog?
1 = yes
2 = no
12. Does the candidate respond to his own weblog?
1 = yes
2 = no

50
13. Amount of campaign related gadgets on the Hyves page.

Facebook:
14. amount of pictures in the time period of 22/5 till 5/6
15. tone of the pictures (campaign or personal)
1 = personal
2 = campaign
3 = both

Homepages
Homepages political parties

CDA PvdA VVD D66 GroenLinks SP


16. European Elections on front page
17. Top candidate on front page
18. (Number of) news items about the
elections during 2 weeks
19. (Number of) news items about the
top candidate
20. Possibility to get into contact with
the party (email)
21. Possibility to get into contact with
the candidate (email)
22. Schedule of the candidate
23. Information about the candidate
24. YouTube clips
25. Links to Social Network pages

3. European Election sites

CDA PvdA VVD D66 GroenLinks SP


26. Top candidate on front page
27. Weblog of the candidate
28. (Number of) news items about the
elections during 2 weeks
29. (Number of) news items about the
top candidate
30. Possibility to get into contact with
the party
31. Possibility to get into contact with
the candidate
32. Schedule of the candidate
33. Information about the candidate
34. YouTube clips

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35. Links to Social Network pages

4. Personal website

CDA PvdA VVD D66 GroenLinks SP


36. Weblog
37. Recommendations
38. News items
39. Formal language
40. Informal language
41. Possibility to get into contact with
the candidate
42. Schedule of the candidate
43. Information about the candidate
44. YouTube clips
45. Links to Social Network pages
46. Personal message

Weblog

47. Date
Enter the date in the SPSS format (dd/mm/yyyy)

48. Tone of the message


1 = I Public language about Politics
2 = II Private language about Politics
3 = III Private language about personal issues
4 = IV Public language about personal issues

49. A. Is one of their opponents named in their message?


1 = Yes
2 = No

49. B If so, who?


0 = nobody
1 = Wim van de Camp
2 = Thijs Berman
3 = Hans van Baalen

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4 = Sophie in ’t Veld
5 = Judith Sargentini
6 = Dennis de Jong
7 = Others
8 = More than one

50. Is there a possibility to react on the weblog?


1 = Yes
2 = No

51. Number of reactions.

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Appendix B – Overview of top candidates’ Internet sites

CDA: Wim van de Camp

Social networkpages:
Twitter: twitter.com/wimvandecamp
Hyves: camp1953.hyves.nl
Facebook : -

Homepages:
Personal homepage : Camp.cda.nl
European election site: europa2009.cda.nl
Site of the political party: www.cda.nl

Weblog:
Videoblog: europa2009.cda.nl/videoblog
The videoblog is updated till 14th of May, so isn’t used
in the codebook. Instead: camp1953.hyves.nl/blog is
used.

PvdA: Thijs Berman

Social networkpages:
Twitter: twitter.com/thijsberman
Hyves: tberman.hyves.nl
Facebook : www.facebook.com

Homepages:
Personal homepage : www.thijsberman.pvda.nl
European election site: europa.pvda.nl
Site of the political party: www.pvda.nl

Weblog:
www.thijsberman.pvda.nl

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VVD: Hans van Baalen

Social networkpages:
Twitter: twitter.com/hans_van_baalen
Hyves: hansvanbaalen.hyves.nl
Facebook : www.facebookcom

Homepages:
Personal homepage : www.hansvanbaalen.eu
European election site: www.nederlandopnieuw.nl
Site of political party: www.vvd.nl

Weblog:
www.hansvanbaalen.eu

D66: Sophie in ‘t Veld

Social networkpages:
Twitter: twitter.com/SophieintVeld
Hyves (groep): sophieintveld.hyves.nl
Facebook (supporter) : www.facebook.com

Homepages:
Personal homepage : www.sophieintveld.nl
European election site: www.d66.nl/europa
Site of the political party: www.d66.nl

Weblog:
www.sophieintveld.nl/weblog

55
GroenLinks: Judith Sargentini

Social networkpages:
Twitter: twitter.com/judithineuropa
Hyves: jsargentini.hyves.nl
Facebook : www.facebook.com

Homepages:
Personal homepage : zinineuropa.groenlinks.nl
European election site: zinineuropa.groenlinks.nl
Site of the political party: www.groenlinks.nl

Weblog:
zinineuropa.groenlinks.nl

SP: Dennis de Jong

Social networkpages:
Twitter: twitter.com/DdJong
Hyves: eurodennisdejong.hyves.nl
Facebook : -

Homepages:
Personal homepage : www.minderbrussel.nl/kandidaten/dennis-de-jong
European election site: www.minderbrussel.nl
Site of the political party: www.sp.nl

Weblog:
www.minderbrussel.nl

56
Appendix C – Questionnaire of the semi structured
interviews
What is the importance of personal Internet campaigning during elections according to the
politician or the political party sthe politician is working for?

[English version]

1) How did the campaign go for your political party?


2) How important were the European elections for your political party?
3) How important was the Internet during the campaign?
4) How important was the top candidate during the campaign?
5) Campaign websites: Did you choose to use a certain website-strategy during the
campaign?
6) Campaign websites: How significant was the top candidate to the campaign website?
7) Was there a possibility to interact with the top candidate on the website?
8) What was the purpose of interaction with the top candidate?
9) Did you use social network sites such as Hyves, Facebook and Twitter?
10) Did the top candidate moderate those social network sites by himself or did he have
assistance?
11) Did you plan any activities to generate more friends or followers on Facebook, Hyves
or Twitter?
12) Did you use the Internet to mobilise citizens? Certain websites?
13) How important was the top candidate on the Internet during the campaign?
14) Did you use certain strategies to personalise the top candidate on the Internet?
15) Do you know how the voter reacted?
16) What were the lessons learned during the campaign?
17) What importance will the Internet have during campaigns for future elections?
18) What did you think of the Internet campaign of other political parties?
19) What is your position in the political spectrum in relation to the Internet? Do you
consider yourself or your party one of the leading lights?

57