With roughly seven weeks left in the race to determine the next President of the United States, the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan "think tank", has conducted an analysis comparing how well the Obama and McCain camps are using website technology for organizing, fund-raising, networking, and announcing news. The Pew Research Center is a group that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.
Both campaigns’ official websites www.barackobama.com and www.johnmccain.com are more advanced than anything seen in past elections. For much of the campaign, Obama has had the edge taking advantage of new technology, but the McCain camp has begun to close the gap by adding new features and content to their website such as social networking components. For the week ending August 30 the Obama website attracted 72% of the visits compared to 28% for McCain according to Hitwise, an internet usage research company. The study examined the Obama and McCain websites in August and again in September, before and after the national conventions.
According to the study several interesting points became apparent. The study found on the Barack Obama website it is easier for supporters to initiate grass roots activities. They can receive up-to-the-minute campaign news, pick up talking points, download campaign posters and flyers, make computer-assisted phone calls to undecided voters in swing states, and map out door-to-door canvassing operations in their area.
Both web sites offer ways of encouraging user involvement by allowing people to communicate with the campaign, and personalize their own pages. Until recently, many of these features were not operational on the McCain site while they have been active on the Obama site for the past several months. The Obama website has a customizable page called, “MyBarackObama” or “MyBO,” that closely resembles a Facebook page. They can post a profile, write a personal blog and link to their favorite Obama-related groups or individuals in their “network” of fellow Obama supporters. The McCain Web site offers customizable tools through “McCainSpace,” that allows you to create a personal page.
The Obama website links directly to 15 social networking websites. McCain’s web site does not link to any social networking sites on its home page but maintains a presence on six: MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Digg, Flickr and LinkedIn. Even after the enhancements to McCain's site, Obama has more MySpace friends by a nearly 6-to-1 margin, more Facebook supporters by more than a 5-to-1 margin, and twice as many videos posted to his official YouTube channel.
As a general theme Obama's site links to mainstream media news stories about his candidacy more frequently than McCain's, which tends to rely on campaign-generated press releases. In August, an analysis of content found within the News section of each website revealed about 40% of the news posts on the McCain site were their own press releases versus just 12% on the Obama news page. This trend has declined as the McCain site has begun linking to news stories about Palin.
The McCain website has fully integrated his vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, very prominently into the website's home page. After the GOP convention, of the 17 pictures on the home page, nine featured Palin, and the two largest and most prominent photographs on the page featured Palin and McCain together. The Obama campaign incorporated Joe Biden into the Web site, but only to limited degree. The website has added biographies of Biden and his wife Jill. One interesting point the article mentions is that the Obama website in general avoids criticizing or mentioning Sarah Palin.
To further analyze the two websites the Pew Research Center reviewed the text of the most universal and permanent sections of the site candidate biographies, issues and speeches. This was done to try and determine what message the two candidates are attempting to project online. In general, they found that Obama tends to stress domestic policy and the economy, while McCain focuses broadly on national security and his experience in the military and government.