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 marthacoakley.com 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 democracy.com. 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.