Unlike previous campaigns, the Internet has become the essential tool for all political candidates to announce their campaigns, release new campaign ads, answer questions posted by voters, post videos and photos, and raise awareness, as well as lots and lots of money. Using the Internet, candidates can attract and connect with younger voters who spend most (if not all) their time on the Internet. The Net is where the younger generation of voters hangs out, gets their news, and shares ideas with friends, family, colleagues, and classmates (via blogs, video-sharing, photo-sharing, and social networking sites).
Tech-savvy candidates are offering Web sites, blogs, "create your own campaign" blog tools, and "be my friend" with links to Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Flickr. Even so, a recent study by iCrossing has found that even with candidates' attention to these social networking sites and tools, most citizens/voters looking for information about candidates do not go to a candidate's Web site or MySpace page. Instead, they seek information about candidate voting records, position statements, etc., by going to both Web search engines and the online versions of traditional media--NYtimes.com, CNN.com, and the Washingtonpost.com. (1) The tech tools are available, but how well the candidates use them and whether the savvy ways their campaigns introduce them into grass-roots outreach and fundraising operations will benefit them remains one of the open questions of this current election cycle.
The Internet is also revolutionizing and reshaping the influence mainstream media has--or doesn't have--on presidential elections. Newspapers, news magazines, radio, and the major television networks used to be the way citizens and voters learned about candidates, the issues, and the solutions the candidates offered. I think it is safe to say that those days, if not over, are numbered. The Internet has opened up other avenues of news, commentary, discussion, and discourse. The growing number of options for learning, finding, and sharing news and information about candidates has dramatically altered public dependence on the mainstream press. In July 2007, iCrossing released a report entitled "How America Searches: Election '08" that found new media options more important than ever to the upcoming presidential election. The report stated that the Internet has "emerged as the number-two channel after television among potential voters looking for election-related information, and is tied with newspapers." (2) The survey revealed that "forty-two percent of voters look to the Internet for information about issues and candidates in the upcoming presidential election, with the Internet a considerably more popular information source than newspapers among respondents between the ages of 18 and 34." Indeed, more than half of younger online voters are turning to social media for election information; 61 percent of 18 to 24 year olds and 55 percent of 25 to 34 year olds seek answers on user-driven content sites such as blogs, YouTube, and Wikipedia. (3) Traditional news media organizations need to use the Internet and Web 2.0 tools to reach younger voters, as well as to hold on to older voters.
Technology is forcing mainstream media to sit up and pay attention. CNN jumped in by holding the first CNN-YouTube Democratic Debate on July 24, 2007, in which the entire field of Democratic candidates faced video questions submitted from voters and citizens, rather than journalists. Slate.com (owned by the Washington Post), Yahoo!, and The Huffington Post (HuffingtonPost.com) hosted the first ever online-only presidential candidate mashup on Sept. 12, 2007. All Democratic candidates agreed to participate in this event in which anyone could send questions via email, podcast, or video to The Huffington Post with moderator Charlie Rose asking the candidates questions from those submitted. Responses will be videoed and coded and then released to the public to make mashups of the candidates responses. (4) CNN-YouTube has also convinced Republican candidates to participate in their own version on Nov. 28, 2007, with The Huffington Post also working with Republican candidates to host a presidential online mashup too.
While candidates use technology to raise money and interact with voters, mainstream media sites use it to deliver political news to a diverse and growing audience that often turns to alternative sources for political news. The interplay between the candidates, the mainstream press, citizens/voters, and the Internet is making for a very exciting, dramatic, real-time, "in your face" presidential campaign. Tracking presidential candidates, campaign and election news, fundraising news, political strategies, debates, primaries, successes, and missteps--this is happening more and more online.
So, what tools can you--the political junkie, the technology geek, the concerned citizen--use to find out about the current crop of presidential candidates; to track them; to monitor political news, campaign events, debates, and the money pouring into campaign coffers? To help monitor the campaign, we have put together a collection of tools and resources that can assist those interested in learning more about the 2008 presidential campaign. We begin with the candidates and how they use technology tools to present themselves to the voting public, raise funds, and hold campaign events and meetings. (See Table 1, beginning on page 22.) Next, we look at mainstream media online sites and how these sites cover and monitor the presidential campaign and its candidates. What tools are being used to bring news, blogs, candidate videos, user-generated videos, pictures, and other information about the candidates to the interested and uninterested voting public? Third, we look at a select group of blogs that provides timely news, commentary, reports, and debate on the candidates and the campaigns. Don't have the time to wade through all the blogs and news sites? Aggregator tools can help you find the news you want. We include a list of the really useful aggregator tools that cover both mainstream press and major political blogs. All of these tools--blogs, video/ audio, social networking sites, etc.--can help you investigate candidates, major issues, and the solutions candidates offer to solve problems.
As of August 2007, there were eight officially declared Republican candidates and at least one undeclared candidate. Though Fred Thompson had not officially declared himself a Republican candidate, he had launched a "testing the waters" candidacy, built largely around his Web site. (As we went to press, Thompson had finally declared in early September during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.) The Democrats had eight officially declared candidates. Unlike 4 years ago, all the political campaigns have embraced the use of technology to reach out to the public. Today, every candidate has a Web site. Compared to 4 years ago, the online tools available to raise funds, reach out to the grass-roots, and provide a voice and channel of communication between candidates and voters have improved dramatically. At the YearlyKos Convention in Chicago, the Democratic candidates were asked if they would appoint a White House blogger if elected; all said yes. (5) The question, let alone the response, would have been unthinkable 4 years ago. The Internet and the blogosphere together have energized the political debate.
All the campaigns have Web sites and can take donations up to the maximum of $2,300. What tools and features are provided at these Web sites? We have looked at the different features and tools the candidates offer to supporters, volunteers, and interested citizens. First, not all candidates have a blog. On the Democratic side, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were without blog (WOB); on the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani and Duncan Hunter were also WOB. Campaign blogs are authored by campaign staffers and, for the most part, allow comments from those who register with the campaign. By allowing comments, the campaigns create an important dialogue between campaign staff, individual bloggers, and a broader community of bloggers. Opening the blogs to comments promotes direct communication. In another interesting development, some campaigns allow supporters to create their own blog space on the candidate's site. John McCain offers this feature on his site, McCainSpace. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, and Dennis Kucinich also offer this tool. Those who feel passionately about their politics have a direct line of communication with the campaign.
Social networking tools have been embraced by most if not all candidates in one form or another. The only candidate not using social networking tools is Giuliani. Links to the major social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Meetup, and Flickr) are all prominently displayed on the main pages of candidate sites. In the report "Election 2008: Candidate Web Sites, Propaganda or News?" the authors found that "social networking sites likes MySpace (the most popular), Facebook, YouTube, Meetup and Flickr facilitate interaction among people who have something in common--in this case, interest in a particular candidate. Users who register on one of these sites can then 'meet and network' with any other registered user, including the presidential candidates." (6) John Edwards's campaign site wins the award for the most social networks--23. I am not sure if this helps or hurts him. Social networking sites have to be kept fresh with new content (pictures, videos, and information about the candidate and the campaign). Failure to do so sends a message to "friends" that the candidates cannot afford the time or resources or the site isn't very active. It remains to be seen if the social networking tools will have an impact on the primaries and the general election, but "presumably, social networking creates enthusiasm, drives traffic, and might translate into both fundraising and votes. In theory, it might be particularly helpful in caucus states, such as Iowa, where getting someone to actually turn out involves more than just going to a polling place for a few minutes to cast a quick vote." (7)
In terms of grass-roots activity, the campaigns provide a quick way to donate money and other tools to help develop community involvement. Some campaigns provide tools to host fundraisers and house parties; others provide email form letters for supporters to send out. One underrepresented feature is helping citizens sign up to vote. Three Democrats (Clinton, Edwards, and Obama) provide a link for registering to vote; on the Republican side, only Fred Thompson has a register to vote link. This seems like a no-brainer, but most of the candidates--Republican and Democrat--clearly give it low priority. In terms of fundraising, several of the campaigns provide a "build your own" fundraising campaign with goals. Contributors agree to raise money on behalf of the candidate, set their own goals, and watch their progress right on the campaign site. This is a powerful motivator.
The top Democratic candidates appear to be doing well with the new tools. According to Hitwise.com [http:// www.hitwise.com/political-data-center/key-candidates. php], a service that tracks the surfing behavior of 10 million Americans across 1 million sites, "online interest in Democrats is way ahead of the Republicans. For example, for the week ended Aug. 4, the Democrats drew a whopping 66 percent of all the traffic to candidate websites." (8) Democratic candidates are raising record sums of money online and signing up thousands via social networking sites. In early August, Barack Obama "led the pack ... with about 122,000 Facebook contacts--more than twice the combined total of all the Republican candidates combined--and more than 158,000 MySpace friends." (9) In terms of raising money, the Democrats appear to be winning at this as well. "mall contributions via the Internet have given Obama, who is the fundraising leader, and Edwards about one-third of their funding. Candidates prefer small donors (usually defined as those giving less than $200) because they can be tapped repeatedly without violating giving limits.
The tools are available; how well the candidates use them, incorporate them, and embrace them--only time will tell. Democratic consultant Zack Exley hit the nail on the head when he remarked, "Online politics will not reach its potential until overall campaign strategy is planned with the Internet in mind." Likewise, Patrick Ruffini, the former online strategist for the Republican National Committee and Webmaster for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, put it this way, "The campaign manager should be the Internet director and understand the Internet as the essential platform for communication." (10) By 2012, the Internet will be so essential and mainstream to presidential politics, it probably won't even warrant an article like this.
Mainstream Media and the Presidential Campaign
These days mainstream media faces attacks from many directions. In its "State of the News Media 2007," the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that newspapers were suffering from declining circulation, flat revenues, dropping earnings, and deep newsroom cuts and layoffs. (11) Television news also has suffered from a declining audience and cable news "is beginning to lose its claim as the primary destination for what was once its main appeal: news on demand." (12) To top it off, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that the American public has a negative view of the press. Many Americans criticize the press "for political bias, inaccuracy and failing to acknowledge mistakes." The Pew Research Center poll also found that "some of the harshest indictments of the press now come from the growing segment that relies on the Internet as its main source for national and international news." In fact, the poll found that "as many as 38% of those who rely mostly on the Internet for news say they have an unfavorable opinion of cable news networks such as CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, compared with 25% of the public overall, and just 17% of television news viewers." (13) Coupled with the decline in readership of newspapers, the media has taken a hit in both its pocketbook and its credibility. Ouch!
The only bright spot, it would appear, is the Internet and online news. News organizations are moving the focus towards online and instant news. Online news sites have begun offering a whole range of tools--RSS feeds, podcasts, online video, etc. But even with these cool new bells and whistles, "it is not clear if the Web will ever make enough money to support journalism as we know it in print." (14) The Project for Excellence has identified one of the main criticisms of digital journalism as the failure of news sites to really tap into the power and depth of the Web--"to enrich coverage by offering links to original documents, background material, additional coverage and more." (15) However, I think that with the upcoming presidential election, we will see a change--we already have. The online news sites are trying to reach out to those who spend most of their time on the Internet by offering useful, interesting, fun, and dynamic tools for the presidential campaign. These sites are trying to stay relevant and important for this campaign and, in so doing, have begun offering some pretty amazing Internet resources, ones that should appeal to just about any political/news junkie.
On July 23, 2007, CNN and YouTube teamed to hold the first ever presidential debate in which Democratic candidates were asked questions by YouTubers, questions submitted via video (CNN-YouTube questions for Democratic Candidates [http://youtube.com/democraticdebate]). The Republican version of the CNN-YouTube debate is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 28, 2007. Questions for the Republican debate are also available [http://youtube. com/republicandebate]. Many bloggers and political observers hailed this first attempt at a video debate as an innovative and creative use of technology and online video to give "real people" all over the country (well, all over the Net) to ask presidential candidates their questions. The debates were televised; CNN has made the complete transcript available [http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/ 07/23/debate.transcript/index.html and http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/07/23/debate.transcript.part2/inde x.html]. CNN and YouTube have also agreed, as have ABC and NBC, to allow the video footage to be used, blogged, remixed, and posted on the Internet. (16) What does this mean? As Greg Sterling blogged, "[T]his debate and the related videos and commentary will have a long afterlife that political debates have not had historically. Archiving of these questions and responses will allow millions of people who didn't tune in to watch CNN to see the video. We've entered the era of 'debates on demand.'" (17)
Not to be left out, The Huffington Post teamed with Yahoo! and Slate.com to host the first ever online-only presidential candidate mashup. The event was scheduled for Sept. 12, 2007, with moderator Charlie Rose. All the Democratic candidates have agreed to participate. A Republican candidate mashup is in the planning for Nov. 28. After the debates, the videos will be coded and made available on the Net. (18)
These are some of the offerings mainstream media is serving up for viewers, political supporters, candidates, and the voting public. What else is mainstream media doing to be relevant and useful in this upcoming presidential election of 2008? We have chosen eight news sites (CNN.com, CQPolitics.com, MSNBC.com, NYTimes.com, Politico.com, USAToday.com, WSJ.com, and Washingtonpost.com) to examine the tools offered in the daily coverage of the presidential campaigns. (See Table 2 beginning on page 31.) How well do the mainstream sites provide news, interactive tools (comments to the reporters, comments on news blogs), sharing tools (Digg, Newsvine, Facebook, del.icio.us), email, mobile, and RSS alerts, and election guide tools--information about the candidates (biographical information, careers), candidate fundraising activities, campaign issues, calendar of scheduled events, and polls and surveys of the candidates?
All of the news organization sites listed use what the Internet has to offer by providing their …