By Raymond Henderson
E-campaigning is currently not a major factor in elections in Dominica. Political parties continue to rely mainly on the traditional methods of reaching out to potential voters. However, with increased Net penetration, improved Web technologies, and a growing population of Net-savvy voters, political actors may want to look at some of their options.
Why an E-campaign?
The new trend in campaigning and politics is to create one movement online and another movement off-line and to effectively manage them both.
A traditional campaign features oration and speech making at rallies, the handshake and baby kissing, fund-raising dinners, billboards, TV ads and campaign offices in the constituencies. These activities are carefully managed and rely heavily on the mass media for coverage. Additionally, governments and private interests tend to dominate mass media creating a need for alternative sources of information. Plus, opposition parties are always looking for alternative channels for political discourse to out-maneuver the seating party. The Internet provides a viable alternative in social media (like Face Book, You Tube) and webcasting (like Internet radio and TV) and many other communication tools.
Notwithstanding, the net is a great organizing tool for any campaign. In 2012, President Obama used the Net to solicit large volumes of donations, he used the Net to mobilize foot soldiers to canvass door to door and by telephone, delivering leaflets, organizing events and campaigning on the street level.
Dominica is going digital
In 2012, ECTEL reported the number of fixed broadband subscriptions reached 9,500 (broadband is the infrastructure necessary for making efficient Internet connections). The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported that 55% of individuals in Dominica used the Internet in 2012 compared to 8% in 2000. We are not sure how heavily Dominican voters (home or away) rely on the Internet for local political information but a pattern seems to be emerging. Average monthly searches on political websites in Dominica between March 2013 and February 2014 are near 1,300.
Most websites function more like multi-media posters, and few appear interactive seeking donations and suggestions from net users. In social media, Twitter, for example, used to advertise candidates’ or political leaders’ daily activities, is sparely used locally. Clearly, we have not got to the stage where voters are targeted by political parties and their data stored and analyzed to mobilize key communities to donate time and money on behalf of their political leader or party philosophy. Neither are we in the habit of researching political information online, nor contacting candidates directly, nor registering direct responses to their tweets. We are not yet at that level of engagement or reengagement with politicians online. E-expressive political activities are still experimental around the country. Some material or information may go viral on the Net and eventually cross-over to the mainstream media. At the same time most mainstream media have permanent Internet presence these days. So this means, for the moment, the Internet serves as an echo chamber to the mainstream media with a relatively small but growing audience with the usual enthusiasts.
Still, the Internet remains a potential game changer in politics and political participation, because when it comes to winning elections, the best results seem to occur in political campaigns using all the means available, whether they are off–line or online.