Sunday, September 14, 2008

The New Democracy

The New Democracy

Back in march, I talked about how the internet will change democracy, by fundamentally changing the way we get our news, and how we share it with each other.

There are indications that this election is starting to see those effects already. Previously, I suggested that, in the future, "Electoral success depends on motivating people, not donors, because people can't be swayed by an increasingly irrelevant broadcast media".

Sen. Obama is burning money at almost 2:1 over Sen. McCain, yet McCain's seen a decent enough boost since the pick of Gov. Palin to break even. Granted, a lot of this is due to the sensationalist coverage of her in the broadcast media, but that coverage comes as a result of the media scrambling (and sometimes clumsily so) for details on someone they thought was an unknown.

So why have I been hearing about Sarah Palin, potential VP pick, since before she had her 5th child? Because I keep my eye on the conservative blogs. I'm not saying that she was the expected pick, but the media reacted as though it came completely out of left-(or, maybe, "right")-field. Traditional media doesn't know what the Internet literati do. That's a powerful statement.

The Internet has the potential to produce an undesirable insulating effect when it comes to politics, however. It allows us to sift through the noise and filter content that we wish to see. It allows us to build our community and social ties around shared interests, instead of shared geography. The more we get entrenched with like-minded people, the more we end up talking to ourselves, and shutting out outside information. This is particularly dangerous for the campaigns themselves, because it distances them from the thoughts, worries, concerns, and ideas of independent voters they need to win any election.

This election cycle, I've noticed the following trends due to this:

* "Message Discipline" is way up among people who aren't on campaign staffs. The True Believers on both sides, dedicated to circulating their propaganda within their own circles, get increasingly out of touch with Independent and swing voters, and increasingly parrot their party lines.

* The campaigns themselves target those swing voters as a demographic needing coercion. While this is not something new, what is new is that these independents are busy informing themselves on the issues that matter to them.

* The media isn't helping these people find the information they want. The media is busy reporting on which demographic segments are leaning which direction, and playing the campaign smear commercials in between. Instead of illustrating the issues and policies of each candidate, they are instead following the populace, who is digging for that information on their own thanks to the Internet, blogs, RSS feeds, and links and writings by the people in their social network. The media, instead of bringing the issues from the candidates down to the people, are lagging behind the people who are using the Internet to go straight to the source.

More evidence that the people are going straight to the candidates to make their decision? The Democratic Convention was the most watched convention, ever. For one week. Then the Republican Convention was the most watched ever. I predict that the debates are seriously going to determine the outcome of this election. America is paying attention. The broadcast and print media just haven't figured out what they paying attention *to*, yet.