Political Representation in the Networked Society: The Americanisation of European Systems of Responsible Party Government?
The Internet provides a new technological opportunity structure for political representatives to communicate with constituents. Its potential for decentralized, interactive mass communication allows members of parliament to bypass traditional intermediary organizations such as political parties and to establish a close and direct relationship with their constituents. Students of electronic democracy are divided over the political consequences of this technological change in telecommunications. While cyber-optimists envision a transformation of European systems of responsible party government into a more direct, individualized type of political representation, cyber-pessimists adopt a more cautious approach and predict a reinforcement of established systems of political representation in the networked society. This paper aims at a theoretical foundation as well as an empirical test of both positions. In its theoretical section, we model these two contradictory positions on the basis of the assumption that party government is a rationalistic concept. In its empirical section, we test both positions in a statistical analysis of the use of personal websites in the German Bundestag, the Swedish Riksdag and the US House of Representatives.