WASHINGTON — In a world where social media is king, Maryland Senate hopefuls Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards are in a new battle for voters: a battle for domain space on the web.
The media has recently reported that JebBush.com redirected people to Donald Trump’s campaign website, but the political mischief has hit closer to home with a very similar incident in the Maryland Senate race.
Visitors to the domain “ChrisVanHollen.org” are not taken to Van Hollen’s campaign website, but instead redirected to “Donna Edwards for Senate,” where voters can contribute donations and sign up to volunteer.
Van Hollen’s actual campaign website name is VanHollen.org.
His campaign is not amused.
“Chris Van Hollen is confident that misleading voters with these kinds of tactics only reinforces that he is the best choice for Maryland families in this Senate campaign,” said Bridgett Frey, campaign spokeswoman.
The Edwards campaign stated that it had no connection with the redirect and could not provide any further information about the website.
The domain “ChrisVanHollen.org” was last updated in July 2015 and is registered to an owner in Auckland, New Zealand, according to whois.net, a domain registration look up service. The owner could not be determined.
“Donna’s closed the gap in the polls because she’s focused on the real issues that matter to Maryland’s hardworking families: expanding Social Security, investing in education, and ending the special interests giveaways for Wall Street Banks and the NRA,” said Benjamin Gerdes, communications director for the Edwards campaign.
Researchers have found that negative political tactics such as buying up an opponent’s web domain may not be particularly effective in securing more voters.
“When people type in the domain name of a candidate’s campaign website and the other’s pops up, they might be in for a shock – but who visits candidate websites during a primary election? It’s likely that these visitors are intensely steeped in politics already,” said Ian Anson, University of Maryland Baltimore County political scientist.
However, it is not always the candidates who are responsible for these kinds of political ploys.
“We find that candidates can benefit from having a party or group ‘do their dirty work,’ but particularly if a group does, and that the most likely explanation for why this is the case is that many voters simply do not connect candidates to the ads sponsored by parties and groups,” Conor Dowling and Amber Wichowsky wrote in a study for the American Journal of Political Science.
“Most citizens don’t have the time, resources, or interest in politics to visit candidate websites at all; the ones who do are likely members of a highly-sophisticated subset of the American population,” especially during a Senate primary race, Anson said.
But with the April 26 primary approaching, Anson said, whoever goes after a candidate’s web site could make a larger impact on the direction of a campaign.
“This doesn’t mean that such a strategy can’t have an effect on citizens or campaigns. If a URL redirect catches the attention of journalists or content creators on social media platforms, widely-shared critiques of the strategy could damage a candidate’s carefully-constructed image,” he said. “As the election draws nearer, these types of stories can become more impactful among wavering or undecided voters.”