Does visiting a campaign Web site influence people? Does a Web site visit affect how much and what voters know about candidates? Does it help shape their feelings toward candidates or their votes? The picture that emerged in the last chapter shows that audiences for campaign Web sites are composed of well-informed, politically interested citizens, most of whom (but not all)have quite clear preferences among candidates. For that very reason, one should expect that whatever effects Web sites have on their audiences are likely subtle. Rather than persuading large numbers of voters to change their minds, or even helping undecided voters choose a candidate, Web sites are likely to influence citizens on a small scale and in nuanced ways, at best. In this chapter, we turn to these “so what?” issues.
The ultimate goal of candidates' use of Web sites is to strengthen the commitment of voters in some way. How that might happen can be broken down along a hierarchy of potential effects of Web sites, from the least to the most consequential politically. The first of these simply involves motivating a site visitor to return. This is perhaps the least consequential way in which a site could influence its audience, but it is potentially important because it creates the opportunity for