As more people have broadband, more people are going online to get their news. The latest research from Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 50 million Americans went online for news in a typical day in late 2005 — up sharply from the number in 2002. And with the upcoming 2006 mid-term U.S. elections, you can count on more people going online to get their political news from mainstream media sites, blogs, podcasts and other new media.
So my question to you was how will you use the Net to follow the elections. Many of you mentioned blogs as a helpful source of political information. But when I queried Michael Cornfield (pictured above), a senior researcher at Pew Internet and an adjunct professor in political management at George Washington University, he told me that blogs would play a big role in amplifying campaign messages, but email would be where the political action would take place.
“The political blogs we read will echo the moves of campaigners and big [email] lists: sometimes to amplify a campaign message, sometimes to jam it with nasty feedback,” Cornfield told me via email. “Bear in mind that while bloggers get most of the media attention, to campaigners the blogosphere contains a much smaller, if more active, population than the population which receives campaign emails. Email remains the main channel for online politics.”
Cornfield says we might even get a call on our cell phones reminding us to vote this year. But we can surely expect our inboxes to be brimming with invitations to house parties and such, as well as solicitations for donations.
“The owners of big political email lists (Kerry, MoveOn, the national parties) will act as escorts (OK, pimps) for campaigns around the nation,” he said. “Bottom line: I expect a year of maturation and proliferation in online campaign techniques, with significant boosts in the amount of dollars raised and volunteers networked. The reasons: there’s been a jump in the number of Americans on broadband, and more campaigns have learned from the [Howard] Dean and [George W.] Bush examples.”
Russ Walker, an editor at Washingtonpost.com, said his site would be expanding its political section this year in hopes of getting attracting readers who want to learn more about the candidates. One of those efforts is a Congressional Votes Database, where you can learn how any member of Congress voted on any measure for about the past 16 years.
“We also plan to roll out more information on candidates’ fundraising and links to their websites for more information,” Walker said. He was curious what mattered most to readers: horse-race journalism, analysis of voting records, or issue positions and fundraising. Though no one took him up on that question, I would say as a voter, I’d like to see all of that covered by the Post and other outlets.
One reader, Tom Rogers, said he would definitely use the Congressional Votes Database at Washingtonpost.com. Plus, like most other readers, Rogers mentioned how important political blogs were for following the campaigns. “Since I retired, I’ve filled my RSS reader with all the political blogs that I follow, and check them once a day,” he said.
Charles Clark warned that blogs give more information — and also more propoganda to analyze and assess. “Facts are very difficult to find in political activities,” Clark said. “I think the blogs tend to bring more out, but also to distort what is known. Those of us with time on our hands will have something to do as the time draws near.”
Kiersten Marek, who blogs at Kmareka, said she has been blogging about the Senate race in Rhode Island. Marek says there are upsides and downsides to doing campaign blogging.
“Blogging about this race has been invigorating so far, and will likely prove to get even moreso as the election season progresses,” Marek said. “One caveat — blogging about campaigns brings in the campaign trolls, some of whom are aggressive propagandists. It’s best to screen comments and ask people to back up their assertions with links to verifiable information.”
At one point, Marek says she was invited to introduce Democratic candidate Sheldon Whitehouse at a dinner in Cranston.
“I talked about blogging in my introduction — how Whitehouse’s campaign blog impressed me as a social worker and a member of his constituency,” she said. “This occurrence, to me, signals a sea change in how politicians are running campaigns. They are inviting bloggers to the table. It’s great to feel like my voice matters, and that political leaders value the time I put into researching and writing my blog.”
And finally, we got a long-distance perspective from Cao Kun in Shanghai, China, who said that the Internet lets him follow the American elections — something he couldn’t do previously.
“The Internet acts as a telescope for me who’s witnessing what’s going on both within and beyond the boundary of my nation — China,” Cao said. “What’s been incredible to me over the Internet is taking a first and initial outline of what the U.S. political game looks like and [how it] functions.”
I’ll be curious to see how this year’s mid-term elections play out online, and how much useful information you find on blogs and other news sites and forums. Be sure to keep me posted on any interesting political sites you find — either via the comments below or through the MediaShift Feedback page.