The Changing Face of Incumbency: Joe Lieberman's Digital Presentation of Self

By Cohen, Diana Tracy | The New England Journal of Political Science, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Changing Face of Incumbency: Joe Lieberman's Digital Presentation of Self


Cohen, Diana Tracy, The New England Journal of Political Science


ABSTRACT:

This paper explores how Joe Lieberman's digital presentation of self changed throughout the course of the 2006 election. Based on content analysis of Lieberman's campaign website, three unique self-presentation phases are identified: Democrat, Transitional, and Independent-Democrat. The Lieberman case study demonstrates how a consistent presentation of self is not necessarily required for electoral success. Collectively, these three phases also present a dramatic shift in how elected officials can choose to represent themselves in a digital context. It indicates that as the larger political scene changes, politicians adapt in both the online and offline contexts. Finally, this work emphasizes the importance of engaging cross-disciplinary scholarship between political science, political marketing, and sociology.

With digital technology having become commonplace in United States campaigns, the Internet has become a medium for elected officials to express and negotiate their presentation of self in an online context. This negotiation includes wearing certain types of clothing, using specific language, and putting particular images on their website. While most candidates seek to remain consistent in their presentation of self, this is not always possible to achieve. This is especially true when an incumbent decides to switch political parties. This paper explores how Joe Lieberman's digital presentation of self changed throughout the course of the 2006 election, the year when he switched from Democrat to Independent. Based on content analysis of Lieberman's campaign website, three unique self-presentation phases are identified: Democrat, Transitional, and Independent-Democrat. Collectively, these three phases present a dramatic shift in how elected officials can choose to represent themselves to their constituency.

The Lieberman case study demonstrates how a consistent presentation of self is not necessarily required for electoral success. This poses a direct contradiction to Erving Goffman's (1959) emphasis on consistency as a key to successful self presentation. Further, adding to the scholarship of Lees-Marshment (2001, 2004), these findings suggest the importance of engaging cross-disciplinary scholarship between political science, political marketing, and sociology to help explain complicated campaigning behavior.

The Political Players

It was no surprise when Democrat Joe Lieberman announced that he would be seeking his fourth term in the United States Senate in 2006. A popular incumbent in years past, Lieberman came to power in 1988 by upsetting moderate Republican Lowell Weicker by a margin of 10,000 votes. He won his next three elections by significant margins. In 1994 he landed the biggest landslide ever in the history of Connecticut Senate races, raking in 67% of the vote. While the Senator's vice-presidential bid failed in 2000 and his presidential bid failed four years later, he was still able to retain his seat in the Senate. He won reelection in both 2000 and 2006. However, 2006 proved to be a far cry from his previous landslide victories. Months out, no political forecaster was able to predict the viability of Democratic Party challenger Ned Lamont.

Ned Lamont, a successful businessman from the southwest region of Fairfield County, announced his candidacy for United States Senate on March 13, 2006. A virtual political newcomer, his only experience in office was in the capacity of a selectman for the town of Greenwich. He also served on various civic boards. Given that he started the campaign as a virtual unknown throughout Connecticut, few could have predicted the fight that he would give Lieberman. Amidst heated negative sentiments towards President Bush and the Iraq war, Lamont consistently attacked Lieberman on the television, radio, and Internet. Accusing the Senator of being an avid Bush supporter, Lamont painted his opponent as a staunch Republican and disloyal Democrat. …

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