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Chain email and interest groups

- January 15, 2009

John has had his revenge for me scooping him on turnout – now he’s scooped me with his post on the role of interest groups in 2008. My query (like John, at least in part) to Kimball is a measurement one – while I think that there is good reason to suspect that interest groups played a less direct role in 2008 than 2004, there is also, very likely some sort of substitution effect too, as some interest groups move from costly and easy to measure forms of influence such as TV campaign ads, to less costly and more difficult to measure forms of influence such as email. Last year, a friend of mine asked me whether there was any work whatsoever measuring the effect of opinion shaping email (as distinct from the kind of GOTV email that David Nickerson “has worked on”:http://research.yale.edu/GOTV/?q=node/42), and I literally couldn’t find anything. This presents significant problems for political scientists and not just for Kimball – how does one measure the impact of these new forms of communication? Because these emails are often forwarded on to others, they may have a considerably wider impact when they take off, than traditional direct mail. It’s plausible that chain emails in general help shape voters’ perceptions. The “relatively widespread belief”:http://news.yahoo.com/page/election-2008-political-pulse-obama-gains that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim was “likely in part a result”:http://www.chrishayes.org/articles/new-right-wing-smear-machine/ of such emails (although as best we know, it wasn’t the result of a specific campaign by any interest group). If, as seems likely, groups such as the 2004 Swift Boaters, start using these forms of communication more and more in preference to expensive TV time, it will make life quite difficult for scholars of political communication …

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