How much campaigning for the Victorian state election is being done online? Are the combatants using the web to its fullest potential, or is the internet still an outsider as a communication tool for elections? Here’s a list of how the parties are using the web to win votes, and some commentary from web-watchers Hitwise on who’s getting all the online attention.

ALP: The Labor Party is advertising on a number of key websites to get its message across. The Age, the Herald Sun, Yahoo, and Hotmail among others carry ALP ads, but that’s the extent of the party’s foray into web-based campaigning. A party spokesman told Crikey “no negative campaigning was being undertaken on the web”, with the party’s website carrying information on candidates and policies. The ALP believes the traditional media is still more effective at shifting people’s views.

Liberal Party: After numerous requests for a quick précis of the Liberal Party’s online campaign strategy, Crikey was told the Libs “didn’t want to comment on this issue”. This may follow the awkward moments party leader Ted Baillieu shared with Neil Mitchell on 3AW on Wednesday. Once bitten?

Victorian Greens: The Greens website is the major vehicle for communication during the election campaign. The cheaper and more reactive online media is useful for the Greens, who have a smaller budget and are less able to use mass media advertising. A spokesman told Crikey there are questions about the size of the potential online audience in a state election, especially for the party’s blogs, but those are “still a lower priority than having candidates pounding the footpath.” That said, the Greens are streets ahead of their competitors in embracing the net.

People Power: The People Power website contains all the normal political info, information about policies, candidates, and events. Allied to People Power, the newsletter and website offers voters “longer pieces on a range of issues relevant to the election”, and has a reach “of about 3000 influential people.” publisher Stephen Mayne (and Crikey contributor) says “it’s a means of getting our message across, which is more difficult for minor parties.”

Independent Craig Ingram, Gippsland East: Most of Ingram’s constituents don’t have access to broadband, which limits him to simple text documents and website updates, and disallows anything so fancy as webpages with moving images or sound. Despite the limitations, Ingram says he’s still a step ahead of Chris Nixon, his National Party rival, who has an image of the wrong electorate posted on his site.

Negative advertising? Liberal Party backed Bracks Broken Promises, People Power’s and Push for the Bush are leading the charge. Push for the Bush is a lobby group “committed to protecting access to Victoria’s natural areas for all Victorians” and aims to expose “the effects of Greens policies and we will aim to embarrass the government, hopefully assist in its defeat, or at least reduce its majority unless it changes its direction.” Liberal party member for the Central Highlands Graeme Stoney is involved. Website highlights include anti-Bracks rants The Octopus and The Pineapple.

Expert’s verdict: Global web-watching firm Hitwise told Crikey political parties have room to campaign more effectively online leading up to the November 2006 campaign. Visits to the major parties have increased significantly in the past four weeks, indicating that users are comparing policies across all parties online and could be undecided. This traffic, however, appears to be generated by search engines and news and media, rather than email campaigns and referrals from other websites.

And finally, some stats:

  • The Greens attracted more visitors online in search category “Lifestyle – Politics”,  ranking at #64 for the week ending October 28 compared to Liberal Party – Victoria division at #78.
  • Internet searches for “Steve Bracks” and “Ted Baillieu” are neck-and-neck in share of searches, with searches for “Steve Bracks” increasing by 80.6% and 170.9% for ‘Ted Baillieu’ in the previous week.