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
"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."
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
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
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:
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."
"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."
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 10Questions.com, 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