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Representative Communication: Web Site Interactivity and Distributional Path Dependence in the US Congress

Esterling, K. M., Lazer, D. M. J., & Neblo, M. A.
Political Communication, 28 (4), (S. 409–439).
2011

We examine the speed and extent to which members of the U.S. House of Representatives adopt emerging Web-based communication technologies. Given the growing centrality of communication for governance and the Web’s growing role in effective public outreach, a rational actor approach would suggest that members of Congress should aggressively exploit online communication technology. And this should especially be true for freshman members. We test these expectations using two waves of data coded from the official Web sites of the U.S. House of Representatives, for the years 2006 and 2007. We observe that incumbents show considerable path dependence in their Web site technology adoptions, while the sites of the freshmen who won election in 2006 are largely independent of the Web designs of their corresponding predecessors. This independence does not mean, however, that freshmen are fully exploiting communication technology. Instead, the Web design practices of freshmen appear to be governed by the distribution of existing practices among incumbents, a process we label “distributional path dependence.” This surprising null finding suggests that members have Web-based communication practices that are governed by informal norms socially constructed among congressional offices and that the institution is slow to adapt to emerging communication technologies.

Zitation (APA)

Esterling, K. M., Lazer, D. M. J., & Neblo, M. A. (2011). Representative Communication: Web Site Interactivity and Distributional Path Dependence in the US Congress. Political Communication, 28(4), 409–439.