Never So Few

Internet – 2007 Candidates’ Secret Weapon
by: Jerry Liao

By now you must be so tired watching and listening to election news and stories on television and in radio. I cannot blame you; I myself am starting to feel the same way too. With all the killings, maneuverings and other tactics of politicians to gain some publicity, it’s like watching Sesame Street and Batibot on evening primetime. No pun intended.

I would just like to share with you a study recently published by PEW Internet and American Life Project that discusses the role of the internet in the 2006 U.S. Election. It is an insight on how candidates and voters are slowly relying more on the internet to get their news and election related developments.

The report indicated that the number of Americans who got most of their information about the 2006 campaign on the internet doubled from the most recent mid-term election in 2002 and rivaled the number from the 2004 presidential election year. In all, 15% of all American adults say the internet was the primary source for campaign news during the election, up from 7% in the mid-term election of 2002 and close to the 18% of Americans who said they relied on the internet during the presidential campaign cycle in 2004.

Some 25% of all Americans (or 37% of internet users) say they got information online about the 2006 elections and 10% of Americans (15% of internet users) say they exchanged emails about the candidates. Many people used the internet both ways, that is, for news and for communication about politics. Altogether, 31% of all Americans (or 46% of internet users) say they were online during the campaign season gathering information and exchanging views via email. They represent more than 60 million people.

While television and newspapers still dominate political communication for the majority of Americans, there is now a group of citizens who use the internet more than newspapers.

They are relatively young, under 36 years old, and they have broadband connections at home. Some 35% of those in that category say the internet was their main source of political news during the 2006 campaign, compared with 18% who cite newspapers. For older broadband users, the internet still seems to be a supplemental source of political information and activity.

For most, the internet’s value lies in its convenience. But many also cite its virtues as a source of information beyond that which is available in other media.

– 71% of campaign internet users cited convenience as a major reason they get political news online.

– 49% said a major reason they got political news online is that they could get information on the web that is not available elsewhere.

– 41% said a major reason they got political news online is that they don’t get all the news and information they want from traditional news sources such as the daily newspaper or network TV news.

– 34% said a major reason they got political news online is that they can get perspectives from outside their community on candidates and issues

– 28% said a major reason the got political news online was to get local perspectives on the races.

The internet’s role in campaigns has grown dramatically in the past decade. Several forces are driving this. At the top of the list is the growth of broadband.

Those always-on linkages and faster delivery make it easier for people to get news online. Second on the list is the increase in the number of internet users with veteran status. Third is the growth of news content online.

News is a primary information “currency” online. Many thousands of web sites now offer news and headline services, even sites that are not run by news organizations. Fourth is people’s increased fluency with web communication tools. It is natural people will use email and instant messaging and now even cell phone text messaging as ways to discuss politics, share jokes about candidates, or forward the latest insider political information to friends.

Other revealing information provided by the study is that internet users often bump into political news when they were doing other things online and voters aren’t always looking for information that supports their point of view. Many seek contrary material.

The study may not be as relevant to us here in the Philippines but it somehow gives us a glimpse how the internet is starting to influence elections both for the candidates and for the voters. I am certain that most of the candidates will have their personal website available months before the election.

Websites will be a great venue for candidates to promote and publish their achievements, platform of government and their never-ending promises. The reason why voters don’t bother to visit a candidate’s website is because most of them are self-serving. Most of the sites don’t even allow comments posting as it may be damaging to a candidate’s image and campaign efforts.

A candidate website without free-flowing discussion is simply a campaign brochure/leaflet available online.

If there’s one area where I think candidates can make use of the internet is in the solicitation of campaign funds. People can now do fund transfers online. Supporters from all over the world can now provide funding to a particular candidate they believed in.

In so far as the voters are concerned, information gathering is still the greatest gain one can get from the web. Visit candidates’ websites and painstakingly go over their achievements, if any. But I suggest you join newsgroups or visit election independent websites and read the latest developments about the candidates. Post your comments as well, and make it as fair as possible. Put in mind that you’re posting to share information so that the general public can select the right candidate and vote wisely.

*****

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