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Kim Strandberg, "Online Electoral Competition in Different settings: A Comparative Meta-Analysis of the Research on Party Websites and Online Electoral Competition," Party Politics, 14 (March, 2008), 223-244.

First paragraph:
Two specific theories are usually discussed when the online activity of political parties and its potential future impact on electoral competition are examined (cf. Margolis and Resnick, 2000: 14-21). The Internet, it has been argued, could serve to equalize the electoral playing field. The medium has several distinctive features compared to traditional media. It is low cost, interactive and provides speed and ease of multimedia transmission, and campaign messages conveyed on the Internet lack editorial intervention (Bimber and Davis, 2003; Kamarck, 1999: 114). Smaller and fringe parties stand a better chance of keeping pace with the major parties on the Internet than they do in traditional political outlets and can thus potentially reach a larger audience (e.g. Margolis et al., 2003: 58). This is often referred to as the equalization theory. The second theory concerning the impact of online campaigning on electoral competition perceives a 'no-change' scenario. According to this theoretical view, politics on the Internet is merely an extension of offline politics and fails to alter established power structures (Margolis and Resnick, 2000: 2; Norris, 2003: 23). This would partly be due to the major parties' higher offline visibility, which provides them with more opportunities for guiding voters to their sites. Moreover, even though Internet campaigning is more affordable than TV advertising, the fees of skilful web designers are steadily rising (Margolis et al., 1997, 2003; Margolis and Resnick, 2000: 53-74). Smaller parties with modest campaign resources would still be disadvantaged online. This is usually called the normalization theory.

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Likely scenarios of online electoral competition in different media settings
Table 1. Operationalizations of the variables
Table 2. Description of cases (see Appendix B for a list of the studies)
Table 3. Truth table picturing the distribution of cases
Appendix A: Detailed Description of the QCA Technique
Appendix B: Studies Associated with the Analysed Cases

Last paragraph:
In conclusion, normalization seems more dependent on offline than on online conditions, while the relative openness of the online media environment appears most important for findings of equalization. Arguably, these findings have served to develop our knowledge of the conditions for normalization and equalization (cf. Peters, 1998: 160-1). The meta-analysis shed some light on the rather complex research field concerning party campaigning online. In particular, the differing conceptual interpretations of the normalization and equalization theories are important to realize and take into account when conducting future research. The research field will undoubtedly continue to grow, and the number of cases available for metaanalyses will consequently rise. Therefore, future studies are called upon as there are still many uncharted settings in which party competition takes place, both offline and on the Internet.

Last update March 2008