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Political Blogging in the 2008 US Elections

I've made it to the Association of Internet Researchers conference in windy Milwaukee, and promptly managed to seriously upset my stomach - so let's see how we go today. The first speaker in my first session at AoIR 2009 is Aaron S. Veenstra, whose focus is on political blogging during the 2008 US elections. He notes the emergence of what he calls 'new' new media - YouTube, Facebook, Twitter - and these have affected the way we think about political blogging, too.

Overall, too, blogging itself is increasingly difficult to define as technical definitions are dynamic and blogging genres are inconsistent at the top end and incredibly varied at the bottom end. The top tier of blogs may now be separating from the field, and liberal and conservative blogs (in the US) are growing apart; additionally, it is also important to distinguish between community and individual functions.

There is little in-depth research on political blog readers to date, in relation to their attitudes, behaviours, and demographics; indeed, what research there is is sometimes internally contradictory or limited to very small numbers of bloggers. What should be applied to this, Aaron suggests, is a focus on political sophistication - including sub-dimensions such as interest, attention, knowledge, attitude constraint, and active information processing: how do blog readers rate, as compared to the general population, on these measures?

Aaron was involved in conducting a panel with some 17,000 participants. The idea here was in part also to examine age differences, but as it turned out, only 4% of teenagers in the panel read blogs, so there wasn't a large enough group of people to study here. Overall, blog readers turned out t be more likely to be male, more educated, and conservative blog readers had a higher income; there was no signficant difference in race or age, and the median age was around 52.

Liberal blog users also followed news satires, online commentary, and public proadcasting (in good part, more recent genres, then); conservatives were more likely to follow Fox News and religious programmes. Blog use turned out to be a good predictor for other forms of political participation, too. Liberal blog use was a stronger predictor for political participation, online participation, and content creation (but this may be related to the specific context of this election, not a general observation).

Overall, then, blog use is not strongly predicted by demographics; political blogs are not for the young, in the main, though. The blogs act as gathering points for already committed participants. What still needs to be answered, however, is whether blog readers are classically politically sophisticated or whether this is a new form of media sophistication - and how blog readers interpret the news when it is presented through the filter of the blogosphere.

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