Strategic digital electioneering by political parties focuses on internal communication and mobilisation

A doctoral thesis completed by Jenni Haukio, Master of Social Sciences, reveals that the ideal of open interactivity is not realised in the digital election campaigning of political parties.

The doctoral thesis, completed at the University of Helsinki, investigates the strategic digital electioneering of parties in a hybrid media system. In their election campaigns, the primary goal of parties is to maximise their votes, the pursuit of which involves comprehensive strategic goals and more differentiated strategic practices in online campaigning.

According to the doctoral thesis, the strategic goals of parties include the transmission of information and content communication, the maximisation of voter contacts, open interactivity, internal and external mobilisation, the pursuit of journalistic media attention, strategic monitoring, and combating disinformation.

Characteristics of the digital campaign environment constitute conflicts for parties

The doctoral thesis identifies four conflict situations, linked to politics, parties and the digital campaign environment, which pose a challenge to strategic online campaigns.

The conflicts stem from macrotrends in politics and electioneering, such as structural characteristics associated with the professionalisation of campaigning and the personalisation of politics. Parties are fundamentally unable to influence such trends through their own action. Consequently, these conflicts are difficult to resolve.

In the first conflict situation, linked to the personalisation of politics, on opposing sides are emphasis on the individual and communal subjectivity.

“How can you campaign effectively in an environment that favours individual subjects and their communication instead of communal subjects?” Jenni Haukio asks.

As another conflict, the doctoral thesis highlights the impact of resource scarcity on manoeuvrability in campaign strategy, which is linked to the professionalisation of campaigning.

“It’s challenging for parties to campaign effectively in the context of hybrid campaigning, which requires professionalism, if resources are insufficient for such campaigning to be considered strategically optimal,” Haukio notes.

Internal communication easily trumps openness

In the third conflict, related to the digitalisation of campaigning, the tug-of-war is between open interactivity and internal mobilisation. Since the 1990s, expectations have been set on the internet for opportunities for interaction between citizens and political actors, even in line with the ideals of direct democracy.

“Even though parties aim to promote open interaction in their campaigns, the structural characteristics of the digital campaign environment are better suited to effective internal communication and mobilisation.”

As a fourth conflict, linked to the modernisation of society, the doctoral thesis presents swing voting versus party loyalty.

“Parties must simultaneously seek the attention of both swing voters and voters loyal to the party in circumstances where the values and policy issues relevant to these groups vary,” Haukio explains.

Conflicts are difficult to resolve, but adaptation is possible

Political parties must strive to adapt to the limitations to their campaign competency imposed by conflicts. Adaptation takes place through the development of various methods.

“These include ‘humanising’ the party’s campaign communication as a means of adapting to the individual focus of social media, or downplaying ideology as a means of adapting to the need to reach swing voters,” Haukio says.

The parties examined in the doctoral thesis are the Centre Party, the Christian Democrats, the Finns Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Greens, with the 2011 and 2015 Finnish parliamentary elections in the focus. In addition, the thesis monitors the development of digital campaigning up to the municipal elections in summer 2021, with a particular emphasis on the 2019 parliamentary election.

The data include thematic interviews of personnel responsible for the target parties’ online communication, the parties’ candidate guidance materials and parliamentary election programmes, an archive of digital clips collected from the parties’ campaign websites, and a collection of media articles reporting and analysing online campaigning.



Jenni Haukio, MSocSc, will defend her doctoral thesis entitled ‘From the ideal of open interactivity to the reality of internal mobilisation? The strategic dimensions and dilemmas of parties’ digital election campaigning’ on 2 December at 12.00 at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. The public examination will take place in the University’s Main Building at Aleksanterinkatu 5, from the entrance of which attendees will be guided to the location. An accessible entrance is available through the courtyard via Yliopistonkatu.

Professor Kim Strandberg from Åbo Akademi University will serve as the opponent and Senior University Lecturer Juri Mykkänen as the custos.

The thesis is also available in electronic form through the Helda repository.

A supervised coat rack has been reserved for attendees, as bags and coats are not permitted at the event. Leaving the room is not permitted during the public examination. You can also follow the public examination of Jenni Haukio, MSocSc, on a screen in the Johan Ludvig Runeberg room on the second floor of the Main Building, where leaving during the public examination is permitted. The dress code for the public examination calls for an attire in line with the dignity of the event, which will last approximately two hours.