Showdown on the Internet:
the Aesthetics of Al Gore's and George Bush's Campaign 2000 Websites

Paper delivered at the 2nd International Colloquium of the Political Internet Watch, Strasbourg, March 30-31, 2001


This paper attempts to draw up the aesthetics of American political websites, using the data provided on the Internet sites of the two main presidential candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush. Choosing the two mainstream parties rests on the assumption that they are more likely than smaller parties to be representative of emerging Internet-based aesthetics.

The first part is descriptive and lists the distinctive features of each site, stressing the relative weight of text, pictures, sound and video. It relies on the original meaning of the word 'aesthetics' to ascertain the feelings and impressions caused by the perception of each site. Drawing on the theory of communication as well as on popular representations of the effect of the Internet on political processes, it investigates the potential impact of those sites.

The second part addresses the meaning(s) of the interpenetration of text, pictures, sound and video. It then attempts to provide an explanation for on the one hand, the nature and on the other hand, the content of the documents chosen to represent both the candidate and his party. Special attention is paid to the choice of issues made by Democrats and Republicans and to the medium preferentially used in each case. The candidates' biographies as shown on each site are also examined.

The third and final part looks at the Democratic and Republican candidates' websites from a comparative perspective to find out whether aesthetic strategies reflect political differences. It also investigates the polemical use of computing techniques such as Flash or Javascript so as to provide the broad outlines of a more comprehensive aesthetic theory of political Internet sites.