The Online Election

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This past fall’s national election was historic and groundbreaking in so many ways. Add the public’s unprecedented use of the Internet to that list. Thanks to a new survey by Pew, we now know more than half of the voting-age population accessed the Internet to get information and/or to get involved in the process during the year. Some 74 percent of Internet users–representing 55 percent of the entire adult population–went online in 2008 to get involved in politics or to get news and information about the presidential and congressional elections, according to a report just released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

With blogs and social networking sites coming to the fore during the election cycle, some have dubbed 2008 the YouTube election, with interested citizens increasingly sharing their views on the campaign online. I think of it as the Online Election. According to Pew’s report:

* Nearly one in five (18 percent) Internet users posted their thoughts, comments or questions about the campaign on an online forum such as a blog or social networking site. * Fully 45 percent of Internet users went online to watch a video related to a campaign. * One in three Internet users forwarded political content to others. Indeed, the sharing of political content (whether writing and commentary or audio and video clips) increased notably over the course of the 2008 election cycle. While young adults led the way in many political activities, seniors were highly engaged in forwarding political content to their friends and family members. * Young voters continued to engage heavily in the political debate on social networking sites. Fully 83 percent of those age 18-24 have a social networking profile, and two-thirds of young profile owners took part in some form of political activity on these sites in 2008.

The survey also found, among the entire population (Internet users and non-users alike) the Internet equals newspapers and is twice as important as radio as a source of political information. Nearly half of Internet users accessed five or more news sites during the election cycle. And those citizens that went online for news were increasingly gravitating toward news cites that promoted a point of view.

It’s fascinating to see how the Web is increasingly becoming THE marketplace of ideas. Comparing the 2008 election cycle to the couple that preceded it reveals this in stunning fashion.

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  • So if the campaign was conducted online, why can’t we vote online? There must be a way to do that while protecting both voters’ identities and the integrity of the vote. It would boost participation dramatically, particularly among the sometimes participation-deficient under-30 demo.