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Are voters more informed using the Internet?

January 14, 2008

by Mark Ollig

The 2008 presidential season is off and running.

During this latest election cycle we are witnessing the increasing role being played by the Internet.

I am writing this column Tuesday evening Jan. 8, the evening of the New Hampshire primary.

While writing this column I am occasionally glancing up at the television, alternating between CNN and MSNBC.

I am also online at C-Span.org, checking for the latest news and information about the primary.

Recently, the Pew Research Center found 70 percent of adults polled said they are especially looking forward to the November 2008 presidential election.

This same poll found 49 percent of adults were also looking forward to the 2008 Super Bowl.

These poll results are part of the national survey from the official “Pew Research Center for the People & the Press” report released on January 4, 2008.

The report includes poll results from a asking about the upcoming elections.

This election year is showing strong interest by the public, with more folks getting actively involved.

It appears we want to learn as much as possible about the candidates and the issues.

What sources are we using to find all this information?

In 1996, according to the Pew Research report, 3 percent of adults polled used the Internet as a political source, while 72 percent watched television and 60 percent read newspapers.

By 2006, 15 percent were using the Internet, 69 percent looked to television and 34 percent were reading the newspaper for information.

When I was in high school we held a student debate in defense of the politician we were supporting in the presidential election. We researched our candidate’s record and position on the issues.

We also researched the opposing candidates to find their vulnerabilities.

Without having the resources of the Internet back then, we went to the school library, read the newspapers, and even leafed through the candidate’s political literature.

We watched the politicians being interviewed on television and took notes.

Some of us called the telephone number of the candidate’s state campaign headquarters to ask our questions.

A few of the student opinions were also based upon strong family political influences.

Today, many voters – young and old alike – use the Internet for more than just finding political information.

Many are also making known their opinions about the issues using online video venues like YouTube and social online networks such as MySpace and Facebook.

In New Hampshire, television station WMUR has a special web page for voters called "Your Fate '08" at http://www.wmur.com/yourfate08/index.html.

This web page has a special link set-up in cooperation with YouTube. The link encourages people to upload their own home-made political videos.

Some of the uploaded videos communicate individual experiences during the New Hampshire primary campaign.

Other videos recorded questions people asked of the candidates.

I watched one video made by a young college person talking about his experience spreading the word among folks in Keene, New Hampshire, about presidential candidate Ron Paul. He was walking the streets and canvassing the area. This young person made the trip from Florida to encourage others to support his candidate.

YouTube is one of the more popular sources for political interaction on the Internet.

There are also countless individual political blogs, forums, and candidate websites, along with major media websites providing election coverage and campaign information.

No, I did not forget the good folks using Wikipedia and Google.

The Pew Research report said in a summary statement some 25 percent of all Americans (or 37 percent of internet users) say they got information online about the 2006 elections. 10 percent of Americans (15 percent of internet users) said they exchanged e-mails about the candidates.

The report also stated traditional mainstream news sources still dominate the online news and information gathering by “campaign internet users.”

Pew Research said a majority of us will get our online election and campaign information from political blogs, government and candidate websites and through our e-mail correspondences.

A January 17, 2007, Pew Research Center for “The People & the Press” report stated 2006 saw a new “online political elite” emerging as 23 percent of campaign internet users became online political activists.

Looking back to 1993, the first website for a U.S. Senator was started by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The first e-mail campaign conducted by a presidential candidate was from Jerry Brown of California in 1992.

Today on the Internet, there is no shortage of individual political blogs . . . each with their own perspectives on the issues.

Anyone can start their own Internet political blog – at no cost. Just go to http://blogger.com. Blogger.com is supported by Google.

You will be up and running in minutes.

Having your own online blog will give you a national audience to express your views.

To find your local polling place here in Minnesota, go to http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us/.

Are we more informed in our political knowledge by using the resources on the Internet?

I sure am.