The Internet as new political landscape
By Cheryl May
Like Franklin D. Roosevelt and radio, and John F. Kennedy and television, today's politicians are looking for success and identity in a new media.
Today it's the Internet.
Increasingly, huge numbers of voters can be reached via the Internet. According to a Kansas State University marketing expert, one of the best ways to reach the 18-25 year old market, in particular, is by sending e-mail, creating a blog, and building a Web site.
Dawne Martin, assistant professor of marketing, has looked at how politicians use Internet marketing. She also has taught a course at K-State on electronic marketing."The Internet has become a huge factor in marketing political candidates," Martin said.
She said statistics show that 42 percent of Americans get most of their news from local television, while only 13 percent get most of their news from the Internet. The latter percentage represents a large bloc of young voters.
"Young people in the 18-25 age group use the Internet as their primary source of information," Martin said. "Those over 25 get most of their news from television."
She said close to 60 percent of the American population has Internet access, at work, at home, or both.
She said sites like meetup.com have enabled politicians to organize support in local communities all over the nation. Such sites bring people together in face-to-face meetings, initially organized over the Internet.
"Howard Dean used both meetup.com and another similar service to allow his supporters to form a community using grass-roots support," Martin said. "Using the Internet, Dean raised $40 million."
Although Dean is credited with being among the first to successfully harness the power of the Internet, politicians have been using electronic communication to gain support since Jerry Brown did it in California in 1992, using e-mail, Martin said.
During the 2000 campaign, the Republican Party used the Internet -- both Web sites and e-mail -- to recruit volunteers. In 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura used the Internet to recruit volunteers and organize his campaign. The Web site PoliticsOnline said Ventura is the first candidate to win because of the Internet.
Other political sites tap into the interactive capabilities of the Internet, using games, which Martin said are more likely to pull younger people into the site.
"The interactive nature of the Internet has been important to political campaigns," she said. "Interactivity is the most important advantage the Internet has over other media. It is amazing what can be done if you are creative with electronic marketing."
Laura Bush is featured in an Internet ad promoting her husband's education policies. The ad has been on Web sites likely to be visited by young mothers.
"The Bush campaign is using the Internet to shore up his support among the faithful and to increase activism," Martin said. The Republican Party is using a FLOG -- short for Fact Log -- to challenge statements made by others and correct the record as they see it. (http://www.gop.com/flog/)
Today the Internet has made it possible for politicians to reach out in personalized ways through interactive Web sites and e-mail, increasing their ability to connect with their constituents. It's a huge change from the old days of door-to-door campaigning. Interactive blogs allow users to share their thoughts instantly.
Martin's father, Dr. William Martin, was a Colorado state legislator for eight years, 1990-98. She recalls long days going door-to-door campaigning with him. Using the Internet, today's candidates can reach a million people in a few moments, and e-mail can be targeted to an individual sending a specific, personalized message.
Martin said more than 34 percent of Americans -- 40 million people -- have gone online this campaign season to look at campaign information. Of those, 11 million have participated in online campaign activities. Politicians, long adept at going where the crowds are, have spotted the crowds on the Information Superhighway.