The Internet election

Web’s popularity among voters draws candidates into cyberspace.

AS THE election campaign in the US hots up, expect more and more of the battles to be waged on the virtual battlefields of MySpace, Facebook and Flickr.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Centre has found that the young voters who are returning in droves to the political arena are looking to the Internet as their main source of information on the White House race, not the television or newspapers.

And presidential candidates, sensing the shift, are venturing into cyberspace, driven by a new maxim: To find voters, look online.

A snappy slogan, a blistering attack ad on TV and a roadside sign are just not enough these days to get the message across.

The Pew survey found that roughly a quarter of the American public regularly turns to the World Wide Web for election news – less than television, but still double the number from 2004 and nearly triple 2000 levels.

The number soars to 42 per cent for those people under 30 years old, who are also more likely to use “social networking” sites such as MySpace.com or Facebook.com to promote a politician as they would a favourite movie or music group.

“These smaller niche websites combine with other news sources online to make available a larger selection of tools for everyone out there to gather news on the election,” Mr Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Centre told The Straits Times.

“2004 was supposed to be the Internet election, but it may well be that 2008 is the year of the Internet,” he said.

Although television remains the public’s main source of information on the presidential poll, it is not as dominant as it once was.

Some 60 per cent of those surveyed said they received most of their news from TV – down by eight percentage points from the last election.

By this measure, the Internet is still a secondary news source. Only 15 per cent said they get most of their campaign news online. Overall, 26 per cent mention the Internet either as their first or second choice.

But for the Generation Y voters – those between 18 and 30 years old – the Web is now the leading source of political news, ahead of TV, radio and newspapers.

Indeed, they are almost twice as likely to mention the Internet as newspapers and other traditional sources of information.

In contrast, those 50 years old and above cited the broadcast and print media as where they received the most information about the campaign, even if they are turning increasingly to the Internet for data.

Pew also found that three mainstream websites – MSNBC, CNN and Yahoo News – are widely used by Americans of all ages.

But there is also a remarkably “long tail” when it comes to online sources of campaign news. While only 13 individual websites were named by 1 per cent of those surveyed, hundreds of others were also mentioned by an even smaller figure.

For those under 30, MySpace and rival networking site, YouTube, are among the top political news purveyors.

Once the headquarters for aspiring rock bands and photos of drunks, these sites, together with Facebook, Flickr, and Party Builder, have become critical for presidential hopefuls spreading their message.

They use them to raise money, rally volunteers and spread the word, going far beyond what Democrat candidate Howard Dean did four years ago when he was one of the first candidates to turn to the Internet to raise funds.

“Social networking is taking the political world by storm,” said Mr Lee Rainie, founding director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “This is a real coming of age moment.”

Long-shot Republican White House hopeful Ron Paul grabbed headlines when his Web-centred donation drives – known to his supporters as “money bombs” – helped scoop up roughly US$20 million (S$28.4 million) in the final months of last year.

In the Democrat camp, Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s aides say 60 per cent of the 500,000 people who donated to his campaign did so online.

For some of the sites, supporters can make donations and place a banner, which looks like an ad, on their personal pages. MySpace, which has 300 million members worldwide, calls them the yard signs of the 21st century.

YouTube, on its part, has launched “You Choose ’08 Spotlight”, which puts videos of candidate interviews online.

Here you can find a video of Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton asking people to vote on her campaign song. Or see Republican John McCain schmoozing with racecar drivers before speaking about America’s role in Iraq.

Regular citizens weigh in too, cheering on or slamming the candidates. And Facebook claims to have mobilised more than a million of its users into launching a heated debate over the presidential election.

More than 500 American politicians, including the leading candidates, have their own profile pages, which include detailed information about their campaigns and personal life.

For now, TV and newspapers are still the most important media for most American voters. But politics is clearly going digital.

Select the fields to be shown. Others will be hidden. Drag and drop to rearrange the order.
  • Image
  • SKU
  • Rating
  • Price
  • Stock
  • Availability
  • Add to cart
  • Description
  • Content
  • Weight
  • Dimensions
  • Additional information
  • Attributes
  • Custom attributes
  • Custom fields
Click outside to hide the compare bar
Compare
Compare ×
Let's Compare! Continue shopping