Information, issues, and supporters: The application of online
persuasion in the 2015 General Election
Reader in Persuasion and Communication,
Cookworthy Building, Plymouth Business
School, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK
Nigel Jackson, Reader in Persuasion and
Communication, Cookworthy Building,
Plymouth Business School, University of
Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA,
Faculty of Business Facilitation Grant, Univer-
sity of Plymouth 2015
This paper explores how political parties use their websites to persuade visitors during
the 2015 UK General Election campaign. The home pages of 41 party websites were
assessed. The findings suggest that parties view visitors as rationally assessing mate-
rial, not emotionally; thus, the content provides information and seeks to mobilise
support and generate resources. However, application of Nielsen's F‐pattern finds
that these are precisely the areas within a website most likely to be placed beyond
where visitors will look. Simple changes in design structure, the use of emotional mes-
sages, and shortcuts should make party websites more persuasive.
The Internet has been used in election campaigns since the 1992 U.S.
Presidential election and was first used in the UK for the 1997 General
Election (Ward & Gibson, 1998). The research on the use of websites
in UK elections (Coleman, 2001; Coleman & Ward, 2005; Jackson,
2006; Lilleker & Jackson, 2011; Pack, 2010; Ward & Gibson, 1998)
has focused on the provision of information and the level of interac-
tion. This literature reflects an orthodoxy that stresses why and how
political actors have and use a website. An alternative interpretation
is that political parties view their websites not just to provide informa-
tion but also as persuasive tools. This paper seeks to assess whether
political parties used their websites as persuasive tools during the
2015 UK General Election campaign.
1.1 |Persuasion theory
Although there is no single agreed definition of persuasion (Stiff &
Mongeau, 2003), we can suggest that it is a process by which some-
one (a persuader) seeks to change the behaviour of another person
(the persuadee) via some form of communication. It is a reasonable
proposition to suggest that persuasion is central to the political pro-
cess. Persuasion has been applied to the political process in a number
of contexts. Consistent with traditional political science is a study by
Goot and Scalmer (2013) who assessed the role of persuasion in the
Australian 1951 Referendum to ban communism, which the No
campaign won. They ascribe this success to the fact that the No cam-
paign mobilised their core Labour voters and attracted some Liberals.
They argued that this was achieved by targeting public meetings in
key geographic areas and using effective rhetoric. A more media‐
effects approach was taken by Enikolopov, Petrova, and Zhuravskaya
(2011), who found that access to independent, as opposed to only
government controlled, television impacted on voting behaviour.
Where an alternative source of television existed, then overall turnout
for the 1999 Russian parliamentary elections decreased by 3.8% and
at the same time increased the vote for the major opposition parties
by 6.3%. This therefore codified the effects of one media in Russia
during these elections, and if television has such persuasive effects,
other media such as web technologies may also.
A number of studies have more overtly applied persuasion theory
to politics. Thus, Chebat, Filiatrault, and Perrien (1990) used a study of
381 respondents in Canada to suggest that source credibility was
important irrespective of whether the individual had high or low
involvement in an issue. This is clearly consistent with Aristotle's writ-
ings on rhetoric when he suggested that probably the most important
factor of rhetoric (persuasion) is ethos, the credibility of the message
sender. Dewan, Humphreys, and Rubenson (2014) tested ethos but
also Aristotle's two other factors logos (the message) and pathos (the
audience), using data from the British Columbians for Single Transfer-
able Vote to test the effect of three factors: different messages, differ-
ent campaigners, and endorsement by public figures. They found that
being canvassed did persuade voters, and that they responded to
arguments and endorsements, but that the characteristics of the per-
suaders (the canvassers) had little impact.
Support for this research was provided by an institutional grant.
Received: 7 March 2018 Accepted: 3 April 2018
J Public Affairs. 2018;18:e1724.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pa 1of7