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When the Nerds Go Marching In

How Digital Technology Moved from the Margins to the Mainstream of Political Campaigns

Rachel K. Gibson (Professor of Political Science, Professor of Political Science, University of Manchester)

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Oxford University Press Inc
24 September 2020
Digital technology has moved from the margins to the mainstream of campaign and election organization in contemporary democracies. Previously considered a mere novelty item, technology has become a basic necessity for any candidate or party contemplating a run for political office. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the first digital campaign was officially launched, the general consensus is that the breakthrough moment, at least in terms of public awareness, came during the 1992 U.S. election cycle. At the presidential level, it was Democratic nominee Bill Clinton who laid claim to this virtual terra nova after his staff uploaded a series of basic text files with biographical information for voters to browse. Since that time, use of the internet in elections has expanded dramatically in the U.S. and elsewhere.When the Nerds Go Marching In examines the increasing role and centrality of the internet within election campaigns across established democracies since the 1990s. Combining an extensive review of existing literature and comparative data sources with original survey evidence and web content analysis of digital campaign content across four nations--the UK, Australia, France, and the U.S.--the book maps the key shifts in the role and centrality of the internet in election campaigns over a twenty year period. Specifically, Gibson sets out the case for four phases of development in digital campaigns, from early amateur experimentation and standardization, to more strategic mobilization of activists and voters. In addition to charting the way these developments changed external interactions with citizens, Gibson details how this evolution is transforming the internal structure of political campaigns. Despite some early signs that the internet would lead to the devolution of power to members and supporters, more recent developments have seen the emergence of a new digitally literate cohort of data analysts and software engineers in campaign organizations. This group exercises increasing influence over key decision-making tasks. Given the resource implications of this new data-driven mode of digital campaigning, the book asserts that smaller political players face an even greater challenge to compete with their bigger rivals. Based on her findings, Gibson also speculates on the future direction for political campaigns as they increasingly rely on digital tools and artificial intelligence for direction and decision-making during elections.
By:   Rachel K. Gibson (Professor of Political Science Professor of Political Science University of Manchester)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press Inc
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 155mm,  Spine: 21mm
Weight:   425g
ISBN:   9780195397796
ISBN 10:   0195397797
Series:   OXFORD STUDIES DIGITAL POLITICS SERIES
Pages:   304
Publication Date:   24 September 2020
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Rachel K. Gibson is Professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester.

Reviews for When the Nerds Go Marching In: How Digital Technology Moved from the Margins to the Mainstream of Political Campaigns

Rachel Gibson impressively accomplishes three tasks. First, she traces the growth of new technologies in election campaigns. Second, she documents a repeating pendulum swing, moving first toward greater openness and equality in campaigning, followed by greater centralizing of power among party elites. Finally, the growth of these new technologies has opened the way for a new elite, the nerds of the title, to gather power. All in all, she has a triple achievement. -- John Aldrich, Duke University This book provides a fresh and comprehensive look at the internet in election campaigns. It combines a historical framework with compelling comparative analyses to examine how increasing use of digital technology has affected campaigns across countries. Gibson focuses on adaptation by parties and campaigns as organizations, from the early days of experimentation with the Web through social media to the incorporation of data analytics. The cross-country analysis of what this means for campaigns and power is illuminating and persuasive. -- Bruce Bimber, University of California, Santa Barbara An extraordinary must-read for scholars and the general public alike interested in great political narratives. Gibson gathers incredible insights into modern online campaigning, tracing smoothly its development in the last 30 years. The book advances both the theory of the impact of the internet on political communication and provides a strong, empirically grounded analysis. It is an exciting and captivating volume that is hard to put down and will greatly enrich readers' knowledge of the subject. -- Karolina Koc-Michalska, Audencia Business School, France In this must-read volume, Rachel Gibson analyzes and stages the evolution of two decades of digital technology to demonstrate the promise and eventual performance of online campaigning in democracies. Her work illuminates how 'nerds' have worked their way from the periphery to the center of election campaigns, replacing the hope of more open campaigns with the reality of digital experts and algorithms assuming more power in trying to persuade voters. This is a sweeping work from a leader in the field that informs our understanding of the critical intersection of technology, parties, and voters in new and illuminating ways. -- Sarah Oates, University of Maryland, College Park This seminal book not only is a brilliant overview about modern digital campaigning on the highest scholarly level, it also is a brilliant work on comparative political communication. -- Andrea Roemmele, Hertie School Based on a unique, sweeping, and multi-method investigation of thirty years of digital campaigning across four major Western democracies, Rachel Gibson provides both a comprehensive history and a critical assessment of the internet's move from the periphery to the centre of the electoral process. Gibson's analysis answers important questions about the evolving relationship between the internet and key actors and processes in elections and democracy, as well as providing a blueprint for studying these important phenomena in the future. -- Cristian Vaccari, Loughborough University


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