My PhD thesis – New Media and its effects on candidate independence at the constituency level: A comparison of the United Kingdom and Japan

The last 30 years has seen what many writers describe as a decline in the power and influence of political parties. Writers such as Duverger, Lipsett and Rokkan and Sartori saw parties as being deeply integrated at an individual level with the specific constituents or social cleavages they were founded to represent. However the need for larger parties to appeal to a broad range of voters and the professionalisation of political campaigning saw a shift in both party branding and organisation. Since the 1980’s there has been a growing emphasis on the party leader as the representative of the party brand, with many voters choosing which party to vote for based on the leaders image. This was reinforced by the fact that political campaigning became more expensive, meaning only the national party organisation was able to fully utilise new forms of mass-media communication such as television. The result has been the growing power of the party leader. This has coincided with a fall in grassroots support of political parties and growing voter apathy in established democracies. In short parties are seen as drifting away from the electorate whose interests they claim to represent.

The past twenty years has seen a revolution in technology and communication which has transformed the world. The Internet has become a tool used on a daily basis for over three billion people around the world. The effect of this on politics has become the subject of the growing body of literature over the past 15 years. The internet was initially seized upon by parties as a way to circumvent the independently controlled mass-media and get their message directly to voters. Since the middle of the last decade, most notably the 2008 campaign of Barack Obama, the use of the internet has shifted from not only information provision but to campaign organisation. The internet provides parties and candidates with platforms for policy promotion, a way greater personalise/humanise candidates, an alternative way to organise grassroots support and to fundraise.

The aim of my thesis is to examine the effects that the Internet is having on political candidates at the constituency level. With the decline of party support and the growing expense of political campaigning it can be argued that there is a greater incentive for local candidates to appeal for the personal vote and not to rely on the party label to attract support. New Media, such as personal websites and social media accounts, give candidates the platform to run more independent and personalised campaigns. The study will look at candidates’ New Media use during elections – making a comparison between the UK (a party-centred campaign system) and Japan (a candidate centred campaign system). It is hoped that a comparison between candidates from two economically advanced democracies with very different traditions of campaigning will help to establish whether New Media is being used by candidates to pursue the personal vote, bringing them closer to their constituents and furthering their independence from the national party.