Communication in the 2008 U.S. Election: Digital Natives Elect a President. Edited by Mitchell S. McKinney and Mary C. Banwart. New York: Peter Lang, 2011. 329 pp.
The 2012 election makes books like Communication in the 2008 U.S. Election particularly valuable to political campaigns. Previous eras have relegated experimental and empirical studies like the ones in the book to the realm of academic circles, limiting their exposure to the broader public. Yet those who study elections know that 2012 changed the context. Leading academic researchers dug through stacks of studies to try to determine what scholars have learned about how voters make decisions. Many of them implemented experimental designs within the campaigns in an attempt to make use of our best theories to sway voters. No longer the realm of political hacks using political intuition as their guide, campaigns are seeking ways to improve message impact, message efficiency, and message targeting--and to do so in measurable ways. McKinney and Banwart's book would be useful to this new breed of strategists and to others who study campaign communication. One of its most prevalent assets is that it focuses on a prime demographic for campaigns and the media: young people.
In 2008, for the third presidential election in a row, young voters (aged 18-29) voted in increasingly high numbers. At the same time, social media became a fixture in campaign communication and offered a sophisticated set of tools for engaging voters. While stopping short of drawing a conclusive link between these two phenomena, the book examines the changing communication environment of the 2008 campaign and explores how digital natives engage differently with campaigns and each other. That goal is certainly worthy.
The first section of the book--"Communication for & by Digital Natives in Campaign 2008"--is particularly insightful. John C. Tedesco and Monica Ancu develop two chapters that offer the results of their experimental studies. Tedesco's chapter demonstrates the "importance that social networks and peer-to-peer communication have on political information efficacy" (p. 25), while Ancu's research draws preliminary conclusions indicating that "a message coming from a political candidate or a peer (citizen voter) is weighted the same as a message coming from an anonymous and unknown source" (p. 46). The latter finding contradicts current conclusions on source credibility and, if it holds, would challenge much of...