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18 September 2008

US politics and the internet

Were the election to be decided on clicks alone the Democrats would be walking away with both a land

By Iain Simons

The internet and social software has already been a highly visible force in this extraordinarily connected US Election contest. The candidates are seemingly wanting to join us in every conceivable way, as well as utilising third-party services like Myspace and twitter, both camps have created social networks of their own in my.BarackObama and the wonderfully named McCainSpace.

This isn’t necessarily translating into active engagement from all voters though, indeed were the election to be decided on clicks alone the Democrats would be walking away with both a landslide victory and lots of Facebook friends.

In an effort to engage the population in the political process, last month the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it was developing ‘educational partnership’ with Myspace. Earlier this week the site, MyDebates.org launched, and it’s surprisingly good.

The profiling begins with an ‘issues quiz’, a series of fourteen questions which are designed to inform you which candidate you are most closely aligned with on key policy points. Your responses are then put into the context of the rest of America, allowing you to interrogate the response data with a combination of state-by-state and demographic-based criteria. MySpace users can then go on to add this information to their profile should they wish to wear their party colours more visibly.

Whilst all very well executed with the slick visual language of news infographics, the site is going to have to really prove itself during the first live debates. Promising to offer live coverage streamed onto the site combined with spot polls on key questions that arise, this would appear to be one of the most exciting meetings of new media with the political process yet.

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The only stumbling block at the moment seems to be a rather slow start. At the time of writing, with just over a week to go until the first debate there’s only 3330 friends registered onto the page.

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