CAMPAIGNING IN CYBERSPACE
NOVEMBER 13, 1995
John Dickerson of Time Magazine examines the new trend in political campaigning: using the Internet.
JOHN DICKERSON: It's February 27, 1995, in Maryville, Tennessee, and Lamar Alexander is announcing his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States. Only he's doing it where no one has done it before--online.
LAMAR ALEXANDER, Republican Presidential Candidate: This is the first time anybody's ever done this, the first time anybody's ever announced for President by, by cyberspace, by computer.
JOHN DICKERSON: Alexander is chatting electronically with hundreds of potential supporters who want to know who he is and what he believes in.
LAMAR ALEXANDER: The last question was: What ideas do you intend to use in order to win over Bill Clinton? And my answer was, my major goal is to move decisions out of Washington. President Clinton seems to want to reinvent America in Washington. I trust people here in Maryville to make their own decisions.
JOHN DICKERSON: Three months later, Alexander opened a campaign headquarters on the World Wide Web, that part of the Internet where users can browse and download text, sound, images, and video.
LAMAR ALEXANDER: I invite you to join me. This will be a different campaign. But if you believe that the arrogance of Washington is the problem and the character of our people is the answer, then I invite you to come on along.
JOHN DICKERSON: Alexander was the first candidate in cyberspace, but he wouldn't be the last.
SPOKESMAN: It is my pleasure to introduce the next President of the United States, Bob Dole.
JOHN DICKERSON: Every presidential candidate is expected to have a so-called "home page" on the World Wide Web. Typically, what voters can get there are the candidates' speeches, their biographies, their positions on the issues, press releases, campaign schedules, and information on how to support the candidate or contribute money to the campaign. And the voters can also talk back directly to the candidates' campaigns with e-mail or online polling. Mike Murphy is chief consultant to the Alexander Campaign.
MIKE MURPHY, Chief Consultant, Alexander Campaign: You can pull down pictures here from his walk across Tennessee as governor, him playing the piano, anything you want to know about him in this box, and it's a lot more effective way for us to get the information out. And the people who go looking for it we know are interested enough to go through that effort, we know they're probably going to vote. It would cost us millions of dollars to mail all this stuff out. Instead, we have this big electronic file cabinet people can look at.
JOHN DICKERSON: People on the Internet can look into those big electronic file cabinets anytime they want, getting more information than they ever could before. That's beginning to change the way political campaigns are run.
MIKE MURPHY: The old days, you'd have TV commercials. We're going to have them too, they're very important; radio, phone banks, newspaper ads, all the standard things you do in a campaign. But in those, you pretty much polish your message down to the core, but the Internet allows us to give people in-depth speeches they can look up on Bosnia, metric system, any topic they want they can get a lot more information that they can look at than we can give them in the normal way you communicate a campaign, the two minutes you get on the Nightly News or the thirty seconds you get in a political ad.
JOHN DICKERSON: Most campaigns are well aware of the benefits of going directly to the voter, bypassing the press and controlling their own message. A case in point is the campaign of Sen. Richard Lugar. His son, Mark Lugar, manages his father's home page.
MARK LUGAR, Volunteer, Lugar Campaign: We can, in essence, craft the message, put the candidate's viewpoint, stances there, for you to take in when you want it. Now where else can you hit twenty to thirty million users, which is growing approximately, I think most estimates are about two million users a month, with a message that is from your campaign, from your wording, your message to your voters?
JOHN DICKERSON: The campaign's press secretary, Terry Holt.
TERRY HOLT, Press Secretary, Lugar Campaign: It used to be you'd get on an airplane, you'd fly to Iowa, you'd find your target audience, and you'd go to their neighborhood and knock on their door, hope they were home. In this case, people can log on at their leisure and get a full array of Dick Lugar's positions and his philosophy about the presidency at the touch of a button.
JOHN DICKERSON: That touch of a button, according to the former President of Public Broadcasting and NBC News, is beginning to fundamentally change our democracy.
LAWRENCE GROSSMAN, Author, The Electronic Republic: It's a throw-back to the direct democracy of ancient Greece, the small city states. But this time they exercise it through electronic means.
JOHN DICKERSON: Larry Grossman is author of a new book on the subject called The Electronic Republic. He outlines a Democratic system where politicians and voters are in direct, interactive electronic contact with each other.
LAWRENCE GROSSMAN: The Electronic Republic is probably the shape of our government for the next century, and it means a republic that's greatly transformed from what we have now based on the introduction of satellites and television and telephone and computers all coming together in a single stream, if you will. It goes back and forth so that the people become the fourth branch of government.
MIKE MURPHY: They don't need to read the paper every day to know what's going on. They can check everybody's Web page and see what we're all saying and judge for themselves. That's the change. And that helps campaigns, because it makes the power of the media less and makes the power of the campaign to get its own story out more.
JOHN DICKERSON: The candidates are using the power of this new two-way interaction to reach out to voters, hoping to inform them, but more critically, they want to recruit them into their campaigns. And the Internet allows the return to true grass-roots organizing.
MARK LUGAR: We can in a very quick way identify volunteers in California, Iowa, Florida, and organize them to do things, a very fast manner, far faster than campaigns have done before.
MIKE MURPHY: And I know it's working because we're picking up donors, we're picking up organizers, we're picking up support. People every day e-mail us, I've read your stuff in Internet, I want to help, and so the campaign is growing, and this is in a way our biggest campaign bulletin board.
JOHN DICKERSON: But some campaigns, like Sen. Arlen Specter's, are wary about putting too much information out on the Internet, where it spreads quickly, freely, and widely. They're afraid they will lose control of the message they're trying to convey. Charles Robbins is the communications director for Specter's bid for the presidency.
CHARLES ROBBINS, Communications Director, Specter Campaign: It is most dangerous if you're either--if you either contradict what the Senator said, what the boss has said before, or if you put out erroneous information, because there it is for anybody to see, and that includes not just the people who've asked the questions but your critics and, frankly, your opponents.
JOHN DICKERSON: What opponents can do on the Internet is another fear. Politics is never immune from dirty tricks, and the Internet provides some unique opportunities for tricksters to change or fabricate information about their targets. That's because once information is posted on the Internet, it's very easy to cut it from one page and paste it somewhere else, distorting its true meaning or masking its true source in the process.
MARK LUGAR: The ability to cut and paste screens, to copy information and bring it up on a site that may or may not represent your viewpoint poses some, some very interesting ramifications for a political campaign.
MIKE MURPHY: It's possible that information could be taken out of what's true in our campaign page here and manipulated and forged and sent around and somebody could have a political agenda of making trouble.
JOHN DICKERSON: It's also possible to design a bogus page that looks like official information from the candidate. In fact, there have already been several of them. One clever satirist has pages that look very official. He says he's getting lots of requests for buttons and bumper stickers from visitors to the page who were fooled. More seriously, it's possible for hackers to get into the computers where candidates' official files are kept. These are called file servers. The information stored there can be changed by the hackers. Mark Bonchek conducts a research project on political participation on the Internet.
MARK BONCHEK, Political Participation Project: We may find something where one party breaks in and hacks their way into the system and changes some information somewhere on that Web site. So that's something that the parties are going to have to be very careful about also, cyber Watergate, so to speak. Before they broke into file cabinets; now they're going to break into file servers.
JOHN DICKERSON: More than just information for a Web site, file servers can also contain private campaign information, information the campaign would like to keep out of the hands of hackers, and out of the hands of their opponents. There are independent pages on the Internet where voters can go for reliable information, ensuring that the messages the candidates put out are truthful. Project Vote Smart is a non-profit, non-partisan voter information service. It uses a traditional phone hotline and a new home page on the World Wide Web to counter the self-interests of the campaigns. Their goal is to give the others information they need to make informed decisions at the ballot box. Angela Twitchell is director of information services.
ANGELA TWITCHELL, Project Vote Smart: People can just look it up at home from their computer, and besides our own data base, we've taken and expanded that and linked into other political sites on the Web so that people can go to us, check our unbiased information, and then go out and see the home pages of some of the candidates and see if they're telling the truth, see if they're manipulating the facts, or if they're being honest.
JOHN DICKERSON: Of course, this new Internet political participation is limited to those fortunate enough to have access to computers and modems. Voters that have those also need an active willingness to use those tools to make their opinions known and their votes count.
TERRY HOLT: People on the Internet, or people that have personal computers in their homes tend to be a little bit better educated. They tend to be a little bit more affluent, although certainly not rich. So, you know, we're going after a group of people that we feel has a high propensity to vote in the election.
JOHN DICKERSON: That vote is obviously and ultimately what the campaigns wants from the visitors to their home pages on the Internet, but they certainly haven't abandoned going after those votes the old- fashioned way.
MIKE MURPHY: This Internet material is important and very symbolic, but it cannot be the core part of the campaign. The core is still votes in the early stages, but this augments it tremendously. So we're not going to rely on the Internet to win the campaign. What we do think is that hundreds of thousands of people will get more information about us than was possible in other campaigns, and that will make our campaign stronger in Iowa and New Hampshire.
JOHN DICKERSON: Technology has always had a large influence on political campaigning. The railroads brought voters face to face with the candidates as they whistle-stopped across the country. Radio and television brought the presidential aspirants into every voter's home. Both those advances in technology changed the way presidential campaigns were run. And now the Internet, the newest technology available to millions of Americans, is also changing the way we choose the President.