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Campaign 2008; How the Internet has Made Supporting a Candidate an Interactive Process

May 14, 2008

Based on view counts, most shared, most discussed, top rated and general popularity, the Top 10 Videos of 2007 was released by YouTube this past December. Among the videos, one in particular, achieved over 7 million hits for a music video revering a democratic candidate.

“I Got a Crush on Obama” is an amateur produced music video, created by the group, Obama’s Girl. While the video is unique, in that it portrays a girl who has fallen for Sen. Barack Obama, it is not the only politically based YouTube video that has gained mass popularity. In fact “three of the dozen most popular videos on YouTube this month [March] are about Barack Obama, not Paris or Lindsay or Britney,” reports David Carr in a New York Times article, “More Than a Sound Bite, This Clip has Some Teeth.”

While many YouTube videos reflect issues in popular culture, politically focused videos that have gained popularity over the past year reflect the use and role of the internet in the 2008 political election.

Specifically, the advent of the internet has revolutionized the ways in which we collect information with regard to news. News is no longer limited to specified morning and primetime timeslots, or even the morning paper; the public is provided with a variety of news sources ranging from constantly updated news websites such as CNN and  The Times, in addition to user generated sites such as blogs, YouTube and social networking sites. This is particularly important in terms of understanding the internet’s role in the 2008 campaign.

A study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, entitled The Internet’s Broader Role in Campaign 2008, revealed that nearly a quarter of Americans have indicated that they learned something about the campaign from the internet. This is approximately double the percentage of those who learned something from the internet about the 2004 campaign.

However, one of the most striking findings of this study revealed that the internet has become a leading source of campaign news for young people. Over 40 percent of individuals between the age of 18 to 29 revealed that they learned about the campaign from the internet, which is double the percentage of young people who said that learned about the campaign from the internet in 2000.

A brief look at voting practices amongst youths ages 18 to 24 over the past several years reveals that voting decreased after the Vietnam War; however voter participation increased from 36 Percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2004, says Susan Milligan of the Boston Globe in the article, “Youth Voters a Force in ‘08 Race.”

In the past, young voters have played a “marginal role in electoral politics,” Milligan says. However, “they have emerged as a powerful new force in the 2008 elections and are poised to determine the next president as a result of an explosion in political activity among youth.”

Milligan suggests that increased young voter participation may be attributed to the advent of the internet, which has provided young people with a “cheap and efficient tool to organize rallies, recruit volunteers and exchange information about candidates.”

Similarly, an article written by Brian Stelter in the New York Times entitled, “Finding Political News Online, the Young Pass It On,” reveals that the internet has made the political process into a “social one.” He suggests that “according to interviews and recent surveys, young voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events, but act as conduits as well — sending out e-mail links and videos to friends and their social networks.”

In an effort to clarify his point, Stelter quotes the director of Pew Internet and American Life Project, Lee Rainie, who suggests “They [young voters] read a news story and then blog about it, or they see a YouTube video and then link to it, or they go to a campaign Web site, download some phone numbers and make calls on behalf of a candidate.”

As a result, the internet has transformed the way we gather political information. We are no longer forced to serve as passive observers of the political process. The internet has provided us with the opportunity to gather as much or as little information needed to shape our political perceptions, a medium to communicate with others who share similar political views and even a way for voters to communicate directly with political candidates.

Making its debut in the 2008 presidential election campaign is WikiCandidate, a site that allows users to contribute to a campaign site for a hypothetical presidential candidate. The site displays a user-generated biography of Maria Montoya Correa, a native New Yorker of Catholic descent. Theoretically, WikiCandidate should portray what the public would like to see in a presidential candidate.

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