Exploring the uses and effects of the Internet in the 2008 U.S. election

For the fourth consecutive election, Tom Johnson, professor at Texas Tech University, and Barbara Kaye, associate professor at University of Tennessee, are exploring both the uses and effects of the Internet in the presidential campaign.

This study, like its predecessors, will explore motivations for using the Internet and its components, credibility of online and traditional media and the degree to which Internet components are taking time away from traditional media.

The new study also explore the degree to which the media are polarizing public opinion by examining selective exposure and hostile media effects. The 2008 study also includes measures for reliance, credibility and motivations for using social network sites and YouTube. Finally, this study doesn’t simply look at blogs and political websites, but distinguishes between media journalism, political and candidate blogs and political websites and studies their uses and effects.

We invite you to click on the link below and fill out this survey.

Although we recognize that the Internet is a global medium, we asked that
only those individuals who are eligible to vote in the U.S. participate in
this survey. Click below to start!


What can news publishers learn from the Obama campaign?

Congratulations to everyone who worked late into the night yesterday this morning covering the U.S. elections. Barack Obama’s victory in the Presidential race made history, but not simply for his becoming America’s first black president. The Obama campaign rewrote the roadmap on how to win an election, something that journalists ought to note not just for its importance to politics, but for its soon-to-be-certain influence on any effort to win public support.

Such as, oh, say, building readership for a news website.

What can news publishers learn from the Obama campaign? Lots.

Republicans mocked Obama’s experience as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. But Obama’s community organizing skills defined his campaign. I think that the single best piece of political journalism this fall came from Zack Exley at the Huffington Post, with this examination of Barack Obama’s volunteer-driven ground campaign.

I think that this will be the new roadmap for election campaigns: do not rely on ads and news coverage to convince people to vote your way on election day. Instead, recruit volunteers throughout your community and use the power of their personal relationships to build a network of loyal supporters that expresses its support through publishing, demonstrating, organizing, recruiting and, ultimately, voting. Then send those volunteers into new communities, to build new personal relationships that can extend your campaign into fresh territory.

You can sell a lot more than a presidential campaign this way, too.

The Obama victory marks more than a change in American eras on race relations. It marks a change in American eras for public relations, as well. No longer can we consider public relations primarily a function of media relations. In the Obama campaign, public relations was even more a function of community organizing (or, to use the more online-appropriate term, social networking).

According to Politico, more than 130 million people turned out to vote yesterday, shattering the U.S. record. Here in Los Angeles County, the county clerk yesterday estimated the local voter turn-out at 82 percent. The era of “voter apathy” is done, dead and buried. The number of people engaged in their civic life, in the most fundamental way, is rising. That tells me that the market for civic engagement is growing. That ought to be thrilling news for publishers, and potential publishers.

So why is circulation dropping at so many newspapers? So why are so many online start-ups struggling? There are as many specific reasons as there are publishers, I suspect. But allow me to suggest that if all you are doing is reporting, writing grant applications and taking whatever advertising falls your way, you probably are not building the personal relationship network that could allow you to develop readers and advertisers the way the Obama campaign developed its voters.

Here’s my suggestion, whether you work at a newspaper or a hyperlocal start-up: Read Exley’ story. Then find a few local Obama campaign leaders and take ’em out for coffee or lunch. Tell them what you are doing and ask about how they built their connections within the community. Learn how you can build a passionate loyal following among new (and newly energized) voters, as well as among local businesses.

Friday, I’ll continue these thoughts with some comments from Markos Moulitsas about how he built a hugely influential multi-million dollar website network from scratch (including his flagship DailyKos), using some of these same social networking ideas.

Online technology can help any website use people, not pundits, to drive public debate

My mind spent much of its thoughts this week on the U.S. presidential campaign – specifically, on this week’s, final, debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. What inspires me to write this piece, though, is the disconnect between some of the hired pundits who watched, and reacted to, the debate and the “snap” polls conducted of viewers after the event.

CNN’s John King, for one, called the debate for McCain, only to have his own network’s snap poll show that the viewers, resoundingly, thought Obama the winner. That got me thinking about the opinion sections that many newspapers run in print, and on their websites.

Many now run Web polls where any reader can click to vote which candidate won a debate or to show which position on an issue they support. These polls of self-selected readers can be useful in eliciting discussion, but are worthless in providing good data about the public’s collective opinion on something.

But online polls don’t have to be garbage. The same technology can be tweaked easily to enable a previously selected, demographically balanced, random sample of individuals to log in and record their votes on an issue, such as a local candidates’ debate.

So, why not? Why not provide marry online technology with random-sampling techniques to build a readers’ panel than provides a scientifically accurate measure of your community’s response to important issues? Why ask a hired reporter or pundit to guess the public’s reaction to something when you have the ability to gauge the public’s reaction directly?

Several large news organizations commission public opinion surveys on a regular basis. I’m suggesting something less ambitious than that, something cheaper and faster, using online polling exclusively.

Who won a debate is a great application for this technology because the call of a winner is purely a matter of opinion. There is no empirical evidence that one can tap to render an indisputable judgment on a candidate debate, as one might use a tape measure to determine how far atheletes had launched a shot put, for example.

News organizations still need critics and commentators, people who can put an issue, or a debate performance, into a broader perspective and challenge readers or viewers to consider a different point of view. For things that can be judged with “tape measure” accuracy, such as voting records and scientific research, we also need reporters who make or report those measurements to better inform the public. (These are very different responsibilities than simply reciting partisan talking points, or shilling 24/7 for one party, as too many news pundits now do.)

Technology has made obsolete the need for pundits to tell us how we think. I asked on my Facebook page, “How many times does a Washington pundit get to be wrong before s/he is fired?” (To which Huffington Post political editor Marc Cooper replied: “4,000?”).

I’d love to hear from news organizations that are using online polling, not just for fun, but for serious, random-sample audience reaction. E-mail me via my blog page if you have a story you’d like to share with OJR readers. Or if you’d just like some guidance on how to make this happen. If there’s demand, and I think there should be, I’d be happy to help find a way to get more news organizations using better public opinion polling techniques online.