There is a useful piece in this morning’s New York Times about how the internet is introducing "sweeping change into US politics":
"What the parties and the candidates are undergoing now is in many ways similar to what has happened in other sectors of the nation — including the music industry, newspapers and retailing — as they try to adjust to, and take advantage of, the Internet as its influence spreads across American society. To a considerable extent, they are responding to, and playing catch up with, bloggers who have demonstrated the power of their forums to harness the energy on both sides of the ideological divide."
Here are eight observations about the internet’s impact on politics from the NYT article:
- The internet is a powerful fundraising tool in the US – and a big part of the solution to the funding crisis facing Britain’s political parties, too. For more see this on The Guardian blog.
- It’s an important source of news – "The percentage of Americans who went online for election news jumped from 13 percent in the 2002 election cycle to 29 percent in 2004, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center after the last presidential election. A Pew survey released earlier this month found that 50 million Americans go to the Internet for news every day, up from 27 million people in March 2002, a reflection of the fact that the Internet is now available to 70 percent of Americans." The BBC dominates internet news in Britain. In America internet news-based sources are more diverse and democratic.
- It encourages intimacy – "In 2004,
John Edwards, a former Democratic senator from North Carolina and his
party’s vice presidential candidate, spent much of his time talking to
voters in living rooms in New Hampshire and Iowa; now he is putting
aside hours every week to videotape responses to videotaped questions,
the entire exchange posted on his blog." The image at the top of this page is of Democratic presidential hopeful Mark Warner’s ‘Forward Together’ website. As the site loads a minature Warner appears talking about his campaign.
- It affords interactivity – most sites
have blogs, fora and votes where average punters can have their say and
shape policy and the campaigns. The community, peer-to-peer dimension
of sites is also vital: "[Campaigns] include Podcasts featuring a daily
downloaded message from a candidate and so-called viral attack videos,
designed to trigger peer-to-peer distribution by e-mail chains, without
being associated with any candidate or campaign. Campaigns are now
studying popular Internet social networks, like Friendster and Facebook, as ways to reaching groups of potential supporters with similar political views or cultural interests."
- It hosts a lot of negative campaigning –
"Both parties have set up Web sites to discredit opponents. In
Tennessee, Republicans spotlighted what they described as the lavish
spending habits of Representative Harold E. Ford Jr. with a site called
www.fancyford.com. That site
drew 100,000 hits the first weekend, and extensive coverage in the
mainstream Tennessee press, which is typically the real goal of
creating sites like this… For their part, Democrats have set up decoy
Web sites to post documents with damaging information about
Republicans. They described this means of distribution as far more
efficient than the more traditional slip of a document to a newspaper
reporter. A senior party official, who was granted anonymity in
exchange for describing a clandestine effort, said the party created a
now-defunct site called D.C. Inside Scoop to, among other things,
distribute a document written by Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of
Florida, discussing the political benefits of the Terri Schiavo case. A
second such site, http://capitolbuzz.blogspot.com,
spread more mischievous information: the purported sighting of Senator
Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, parking in a spot reserved
for the handicapped."
- It permits very targeted advertising –
"One of the big challenges to the campaigns is not only adjusting to
the changes of the past two years but also to anticipate now the kind
of technological changes that might be on hand by the next presidential
campaign. Among those most cited are the ability of campaigns to beam
video campaign advertisements to cell phones." Mobile phones have much
higher market penetration in the UK than the USA and may be relatively
more significant here.
- It is largely a young person’s medium –
"Analysts said that the Internet appeared to be a particularly potent
way to appeal to new, young voters, a subject of particular interest to
both parties in these politically turbulent times. In the 2004
campaign, 80 percent of people between the age of 18 and 34 who
contributed to Mr. Kerry’s campaign made their contribution online…
For all the attention being paid to Internet technology, there remain
definite limitations to its reach. Internet use declines markedly among
Americans over 65, who tend to be the nation’s most reliable voters.
Until recently, it tended to be more heavily used by middle- and
- It can empower the more extreme voices –
"Bloggers, for all the benefits they might bring to both parties, have
proved to be a complicating political influence for Democrats. They
have tugged the party consistently to the left, particularly on issues
like the war."