Political Representation in the Network Society: The Americanization of European Systems of Responsible Party Government?
The Internet provides a new technological opportunity structure for political representatives to communicate and interact with constituents. Its potential for decentralized and interactive mass communication allows MPs 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 upon the question whether MPs will take advantage of this new technological opportunity structure. While cyberoptimists envision a transformation of European systems of responsible party government towards a more direct, individualized type of political representation as a result of new digital media, cyberpessimists adopt a more cautious approach and predict a modernization of established systems of political representation. This paper aims at an empirical test of both positions. In its theoretical part, it models these two contradictory positions on the impact of new digital opportunity structures on political representation. In its empirical part, the paper tests both positions in a comparative statistical analysis of the use of personal Websites in the German Bundestag, the Swedish Riksdag and the US House of Representatives. Such an analysis goes well beyond the current use of single case studies in researching the political ramifications of the Internet.