The websites of political parties do not encourage communication with citizens
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT A research project of the Universidad de Beira Interior has carried out a three-year analysis of the websites of Portuguese political parties to study their method of communication with citizens by this medium. The conclusions show that there is little interaction; political parties do not want to lose control of their message and use the Internet as an instrument of dissemination but not for listening to their potential voters.
The study, which began in March 2012, has recently been completed. It emphasises that most citizens visit websites seeking up-to-date information, but some hope to take part in dialogue by using tools that apparently encourage interaction on the websites themselves or on social networks. The fact is that political parties do not generally join on-line conversations. When dialogue does take place it is not between politicians and commentators but rather consists of “horizontal” communication among the latter, according to the conclusions of the team of Joaquim Paulo Serra, a lecturer of the Department of Communication and the Arts and a researcher of the On-Line Communication Laboratory of the Universidad de Beira Interior.
The analysis took as a reference the websites of the five political parties with parliamentary representation: Centro Democrático e Social / Partido Popular (CDS/PP), Partido Social Democrata (PSD), Partido Socialista (PS), Partido Comunista Português (PCP), and the left-wing Bloco de Esquerda (BE). The researchers studied these websites and carried out tests to check the level of interaction with citizens, such as sending e-mails or making comments on the website news or the Facebook page of each party.
Moreover, a survey revealed that only 20% of Portuguese people visit the websites of political parties, and of those who do very few access them regularly. Over half of the citizens declared that they do not do so because they are not interested in politics, almost 20% because they prefer to obtain information from the media, and about 5% because they think that they will only encounter propaganda on the websites of political parties.
The methodology also included interviews with the communication managers of the parties so as to get to know their strategies, especially on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, or Instagram, although hardly any parties have official accounts on all these platforms. To complement this information with citizens' opinions, a focus group was also set up that brought together several people in a debate.
The directors of the project conclude that the presence on the Internet of Portuguese political parties does not contribute towards the achieving of their objectives in the field of public relations, which should be establishing and maintaining beneficial relationships. The providing of information prevails over the promotion of a more participative political atmosphere; this situation is similar to that of other countries.
Although “the 2.0 website has created a new public space for the conversation of political orientation”, the project managers state in their conclusions, “whether it has repercussion in the public field does not depend on technology”. The participation permitted is rather a “simulation” with persuasive and propagandist objectives.