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December 7, 2007

Although it remains to be seen just how influential the Internet will prove to be in deciding the next President of the United States, it's clear that the candidates, their supporters and opponents, are utilizing new media like never before.

"There's an unprecedented amount of useful information available on the Web," explains campaign expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson in her interview with Bill Moyers.

"Being able to just simply when you want to, on demand, maybe 3:00 in the morning, go on the Web to say, 'I'd like to see what the difference is on education, on healthcare, on Iraq,' and be able to get the answer when you want it from the candidate. It's a very important first step in becoming knowledgeable."

Social Networking

One of the virtues of the Web is its ability to build community and connect users with similar interests. Since the 2004 presidential election, sites such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter have made this virtual interaction much more user-friendly and efficient, and candidates this time around have begun vigorously taking advantage of these existing networks.

Some candidates have even created personalized social networking components on their own Web sites, such as Rudy Guiliani's Team Rudy, My.BarackObama, and McCainSpace.

As the Howard Dean campaign proved in 2004, penetrating new media campaigns can translate into lucrative fundraising dollars, particularly vital for candidates who afford less coverage from mainstream media. Republican candidate Ron Paul (R-TX) notably raised $4.07 million in one day, and later joked during a debate that there's so much money pouring into his campaign from the Internet that he's 'struggling to figure out how to spend' it all.

But will popularity within these online communities, primarily populated by voters under 30, translate to actual votes?

Sites such as the bipartisan TechPresident, seem to think so. Created by Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, TechPresident, a blog which focuses upon how 2008 presidential candidates are using the Web, features a consistently updated ticker on its homepage that keeps a running tally of major candidates' Facebook friends, YouTube views and Myspace friends. As Rasiej and Sifry recenty wrote:

"Over time, online strategies that shift power to networks of ordinary citizens may well lead to a new generation of voters more engaged in the political process. That, in turn, could make politicians more accountable, creating a virtuous circle where elected officials who are more open and supportive of lateral constituent interaction, and less top-down, are rewarded with greater voter trust and support."

As John Della Volpe, the director of polling for the Harvard Institute of Politics, explains, "Most campaigns go after seniors. But more people under 30 voted in the last election than people over 65."

Virtual Citizenship

With all the negative and partisan materials floating around the Web, it's often difficult to find the independent sites that truly take advantage of the Internet as a tool to better inform, bolster citizen participation and let voters coherently discuss the issues that most affect their lives. Here are a few examples of such sites:

10 Questions is a virtual forum sponsored by THE NEW YORK TIMES, MSNBC, and many others, allowing for constituents and candidates to dialogue with one another, on various issues that the public decides are most important. First, voters submit questions for the candidates, and these questions are voted upon as to their level of coherence and relevance to the campaign. Now that the 10 most popular questions have been chosen, the candidates now submit individual answers, allowing citizens to see first hand the differences in position, before they cast their ballots.

YouChoose '08 is the election portal within Youtube, and as with, allows voters to click a particular issue, such as "immigration" or "healthcare" and watch each of the candidates explain his/her stance. Voters can then comment on particular videos and even post their own video response. As Chad Hurley, YouTube Co-Founder and CEO, explains "At its core, YouTube is about democracy and self-expression and we're proud to be providing politicians with an environment where they can share information with voters."

Issue Tracker from THE WASHINGTON POST follows press coverage (print and Web) of all the major candidates, broken down by topic and chronology. Users can easily find out which candidates are getting the most press mentions, on which issues, and track trends over time.

Published on December 7, 2007

References and Reading:
Additional Election '08 Web tools

Spartan Internet Political Performance
"The Spartan Internet Political Performance (SIPP) Index is the first quantitative metric to measure the Internet-wide performance of each Presidential candidate for the 2008 election. The Index is comprised of over 650 quantitative factors measuring the level of support and how well each candidate is connecting with individuals across the Internet. The score for each candidate represents their overall Internet market share."

Why '08
Join this social netowrking community which asks voters the simple question: "Why do you support," or "Why don't you support" a particular candidate, or one of his/her issue stances.

Yahoo: Campaign '08
Visit Yahoo's 2008 Presidential election portal, offering candidate video and audio, latest poll data, candidate discussion groups, and other ways to learn more and participate in the upcoming election.

iGoogle: Presidential News Tracker
Add this widget to your iGoogle homepage, to help follow your favorite candidates on the campaign trail. The viewer tracks YouTube videos, news and blogs and charts where in the country candidates are campaigning.
This blog strictly follows YouTube clips related to the 2008 presidential election.

This independent blog focuses upon how 2008 presidential candidates are using the Web, and features, among other tools, a consistently updated ticker on its homepage that keeps a running tally of major candidates' Facebook friends, YouTube views and Myspace friends.

NPR: Election 2008
Visit National Public Radio's election 2008 portal, offering the latest reports on candidates, audio from the recent NPR Democratic debate, and an interactive primary map.

Online NewsHour: Presidential Election Coverage
Learn more about the candidates and their positions through NewsHour interview video, the latest headlines, and post comments on the reporters' blog.

Also This Week:

Bill Moyers talks with Kathleen Hall Jamieson about how the Internet has transformed the political campaign in the United States.

With pastor and denominational leader Mike Huckabee surging in the polls and Mitt Romney giving a widely anticipated speech on his Mormon faith, Moyers and Jamieson are joined by scholar Melissa Rogers for a discussion of religion in politics.

Explore the evolution of campaign ads and get tools to fact-check the candidates.

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