A growing body of American research based on analysis of campaign websites in US elections suggests three propositions. Firstly, party and candidate websites in America are more effective in strengthening representative democracy via pluralism rather than direct democracy via participation. In particular, there is evidence that the virtual world does provide a more competitive playing field for minor parties and candidates than traditional forms of campaign communications like paid TV ads and coverage in newspapers and television. Nevertheless, most campaign websites by mainstream parties and candidates have proved relatively conservative in design, acting more like electronic "top-down" electronic pamphlets than as a radically new forum for interactive "bottom up" participation. And lastly, among the electorate, campaign websites serve primarily to activate the active, rather than reaching the apathetic.
Are similar patterns apparent in the European context? To consider these issues, Part I lays out the debate about the function of the Internet for pluralism and participation. Part II outlines the research design including content analysis of 134 websites, and survey data of users in the fifteen European Union member states from the Spring 2000 Eurobarometer. Part III examines the evidence for patterns of competition in European party websites while Part IV analyzes patterns of participation among European users. The conclusion summarizes the key results and considers the consequences for representative democracy and for public policy.