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In a recent paper (Somit and Peterson 1998), we discussed the relative successes and failures of “biopolitics” since it emerged as an identifiable subfield within political science during the mid-1960s (see also Degler 1991). Toward that end, we addressed two questions. First, we assessed the extent to which biopolitics has established itself organizationally as a field within the parent discipline. Second, and substantively surely more important, we measured the extent to which evolutionary concepts and the methods and research questions of the biological sciences have been incorporated within mainstream political science.
Although obviously interrelated, these are clearly quite distinct issues. The resulting balance sheet, we reluctantly concluded, makes at best bittersweet reading.
In 1960, a televised presidential debate, four of them in fact, occurred for the first time. This came to seem, despite initial expectations, a mere blip in electoral history until the debates of 1976. During the intervening era, strategic political maneuvering was limited almost solely to the question of whether to debate, the answer always being resoundingly negative. In 1964, 1968, and 1972, the front-runner declined the invitation to debate to preserve his status as such (Alexander and Margolis 1978, 19). By 1980, the simple tactical choice of whether to debate had matured into an intricate series of strategic decisions—a yes/no question had been transformed into a debate on debates and their format. Concerns ranged from the number of debates and their timing to the use of props. By 1984, debates had become a campaign staple, and, by 1996, the debate over debate format had become a “campaign ritual” (Lewis 1996a). No current commentator is surprised, as was one of the panelists in one of the 1980 debates, by “how much the format is the debate” (Golden 1980). An editorial described the situation one year (and, without context, it is difficult to tell which) as follows:
A standard was set for participation by minor candidates—and then faithlessly abandoned. The major candidates maneuvered … baldly for advantage…. There was endless bickering about format and bargaining over the questioners. All of which produced wide public cynicism. There has to be a better way. (“Repair” 1980)
I will argue that there is indeed a better way to handle this metadebate.
During the 1996 election cycle, candidates for public office began to use the Internet as a campaign tool (Browning 1996; Casey 1996; Rash 1997). As Internet use grew among the general population, it was reasonable to expect that the 1998 election cycle would see increased use of this new medium by political candidates, and new methods and techniques developed to exploit its capabilities.
In increasing numbers, House and Senate candidates campaigned along the information superhighway in 1998. While very few candidates had web sites in previous elections (Browning 1996), by October 1998 more than two-thirds of the candidates for U.S. Senate and for U.S. House open seats had established web sites. In the past, candidate web sites were little more than digital yard signs (Casey 1996). In 1998, candidates made use of their sites to solicit small-dollar contributions however better, particularly by using them.
Like it or not, the Internet is now a campaign tool that many campaigns employ. Therefore, we believe the manner in which it is used needs to be investigated. In this article we pay particular attention to candidates' solicitation of campaign contributions over the Internet. Our analysis is mostly descriptive as we try to summarize the Internet activity of candidates in a sample of Senate and House races during 1998.
In the aftermath of a disappointing showing in the 1998 midterm elections, Republican party leaders and strategists have been debating what went wrong on November 3, and what the party needs to do differently in the future. Two competing explanations for the election results appear to be emerging from this debate (Berke 1998).
According to one explanation, favored by party moderates, Republicans lost ground in 1998 because moderate and independent swing voters were alienated by the party's conservative image and by the partisan tone of the presidential impeachment inquiry. The lesson to be learned from the 1998 elections, according to the proponents of this theory, is that the GOP needs to move toward the center and seek compromises with moderate Democrats.
In sharp contrast, some conservatives attribute Republican losses in the midterm elections to their party's failure to energize its partisan and ideological base. In order to be successful, these conservatives argue, the GOP needs to mobilize a larger proportion of its base by taking clear positions on issues and aggressively pursuing a conservative agenda.
One way to test the validity of these competing theories is to examine data from the 1998 voter exit polls. These polls were conducted in every state holding a Senate or gubernatorial election except Alaska and Hawaii (CNN 1998).