Parliaments, Representative Government and New Electronic Media Environments: An International Comparison
New digital media such as the World Wide Web (WWW) open up new opportunities for constituency communication with possible ramifications for the responsiveness of representative democracy. This project studies from a comparative perspective, whether and how MPs are using these new opportunities and what interests and perceptions they attach to these new tools. The data for this research are based upon close to 100 semi-structured interviews with MPs in three parliaments and upon a content analysis of all personal websites in three parliaments conducted at two points in time (4/2000 und 4/2004). The project was guided by a theoretical assumption that perceives the use of the WWW for constituency communication as the result of the interplay between new opportunities to communicate on the one hand and institutional incentives on the other, and as the consequence of particular causal mechanisms that link the makro and mikro level of analysis. I firstly assumed that the new opportunities to communicate would affect constituency communication through processes of social change in direct (e.g. generational change in parliament) as well as indirect ways (e.g. generational change among the voters; high internet penetration in district). I secondly assumed that different types of voting systems and different types of government would provide incentives for personalized communication that vary in degree and that would influence the usage of new media for constituency communication. These theoretical assumptions were tested in this project with the three following core findings. Parliaments are firstly under stress due to new opportunities for constituency communication. Personal websites are used in all three parliaments particularly among young MPs representing highly educated and well-off districts with high internet penetration. The weight of each of these causal mechanisms differs across parliaments. Incentives for personalized communication explain secondly different levels and forms of usage in the three parliaments under study. A third finding demonstrates, that the usage of the WWW for constituency communication can not be explained by single institutional factors but that it is dependent in its particular pattern by a particular institutional configuration. While the voting system has a significant impact on usage in the US House and the German Bundestag, it has close to no impact in the case of the Swedish Riksdag due to specific contextual factors.