Tour de Website: Martha Coakley’s Home Page

Among the myriad metrics by which we are judging the gubernatorial campaigns, how good are the candidate websites? What characteristics make for an effective political website? I’ll offer some analysis with help from an article by Professors Girish J. “Jeff” Gulati and Christine B. Williams of Bentley College, “Closing Gaps, Moving Hurdles: Candidate Web Site Communication in the 2006 Campaigns for Congress,” in Costas Panagopoulos’s book Politicking Online: The Transformation of election Campaign Communications. First up, Martha Coakley.

Professors Gulati and Williams offer three areas in which a political web site should be judged: information, involvement and engagement, and mobilization. Let’s briefly introduce subcategories analyzed by Gulati and Williams, and then on to my own analysis of Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s website.

In terms of informational content Williams and Gulati considered position papers/issue positions; e-mail address provided; candidate biography; campaign news; and audio or video clips. Regarding engagement and involvement they examined donations by credit card; online volunteer form; e-newsletter sign-up; blog; voting information; candidate’s schedule; RSS updates; and online poll. The subcategories for mobilization tools include online volunteer form, downloadable materials; tell a friend; campaign materials and merchandise; letter to the editor; and foreign-language content. There is some overlap here and given that website content can be nearly infinite I’ll stick to the most obvious information on Coakley’s site.

As I logged on to the main page of I was greeted with political content that is both biographical and reflective of position papers/issue positions: the mental illness that claimed Attorney General Coakley’s brother Edward by suicide. The campaign has recently been emphasizing Coakley’s commitment to address mental health issues. A link embedded within a black and white photo of a concerned looking Coakley with another woman brings the visitor to a video titled “Edward” relating Coakley’s brother’s depression and her family’s concern, situated next to an e-mail sign-up. Also on the front-page are links to information on International Women’s Day, outreach to Latinos in Gateway Cities, anti-bullying legislation, and “Communities Connecting with Martha,” a page maintained by the Deputy Constituency Director and outlining a “listening tour.” Scrolling down we find Attorney General Coakley’s announcement video, a link to join the campaign, another to make a contribution, and an invitation to “like” the candidate on Facebook. There are links to Facebook, Twitter, and email, and to Coakley’s page on Tabs along the top banner link the visitor to the biographical About Martha, invite us to Take Action (events, voter information, volunteer, attend your caucus), Campaign Updates, Issues, Contact Us, and Media (when I clicked on Media all content was in code. Whoops). There wasn’t a foreign language option readily apparent either.

Democratic insiders still devoted to the Myth of Martha Coakely’s Mistakes may be comforted by a visit to her website. It is heavy on issue positions and information that suggests her attachment to and concern for communities. Another link on the front page entitled “5 reasons to volunteer” is prominent – more noticeable than the call for contributions. The web site hits most of the major subcategories within the groupings of information, engagement and involvement, and mobilization identified by Gulati and Williams. It’s a solid professional job and reflects well on the campaign.

I’ll take a look at all of the candidate web pages as time goes along, using the tools laid out by Professors Gulati and Williams. Feel free to offer your own reviews.


About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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8 Responses to Tour de Website: Martha Coakley’s Home Page

  1. Has anyone tried to assess the wisdom of requiring folks to pass through a contribution/volunteer form before being able to see the rest of the site? I have seen a number of campaign sites that do this. It always annoyed me and I wonder if any web consultants or scholars have written about avoiding it or tried to systematically confirm or deny my suspicions that it is off putting?

    • Maurice T. Cunningham says:

      It’s a great question but I don’t know the answer. I’m going to find out. I have the same reaction and I actually expected to find the hand out prominently on the candidate’s web sites, but that isn’t what I found in my quick scan of the sites. It really is off-putting.

  2. Jeff Gulati says:

    It is very hard to find a professionally-designed campaign web site that doesn’t start with a volunteer or fundraising message. Web sites are designed to communicate with supporters and give them an easy way to learn how to volunteer and give money. In the “old days,” Web sites were simply electronic brochures and then evolved to archival sites. But now they primarily are fundraising portals and voter mobilization tools. Social media has further encouraged fundraising on web sites because these are sites running on commercial platforms that either do not allow it or the culture of the site frowns upon those types of appeals.

  3. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    There you are, no better source than Professor Gulati.

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  7. Neil Collins says:

    I canvassed Democratic voters door to door in Newton from about 11am to 3pm the day before elections. I asked asked to be sent where the need was greatest, where I might have a best possible effect. But, I was kept in Newton. I returned angry saying that I provided little value in contacting people who voted Democratic for the last 5+ elections. I cried, “Why did you send me to Democrats who say they donated money to this campaign and always vote Democratic? We already have an especially high percentage voter turn out in Newton. What’s the return on my time investment?” — Do campaigns not have a program identifying areas of most need and highest probable return for effort? Politics may be local, but data is not. Take such decisions away from the local campaign office to a state level with a shared data algorithm input from a national level. — I would have driven an hour to wherever they said had a higher percentage return possibility. I doubt I (or anybody in Newton) got out a single additional vote.

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