MarkwarnerThere 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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."
  5. 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 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,,
    spread more mischievous information: the purported sighting of Senator
    Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, parking in a spot reserved
    for the handicapped."
  6. 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.
  7. 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
    upper-income people."
  8. 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."