Living in a digital age

Maria Nann

New technology affects how people get political information

Technology seems to be taking over the world, and for politicians, that may or may not be a good thing.

Especially during this year’s election, the technological expanse that is the Internet has had an immense impact on not only how the public views the candidates, but also on how people are receiving information.

Informational political Web sites to consider: – Search engine for political information, as well as news and policy. – Provides lists of top political Web sites according to how many people have visited each site. Lists broken down according to personal political views. – Official Web site of CNN Election Center. Provides information on each presidential candidate, breaking down his or her views on each political and social issue.

Official political party Web sites: – Official Web site for the Democratic party. – Official Web site for the Republican party. – Official Web site for the Libertarian party. – Official Web site for the Green party. – Official Web site for the Independent party.

Online political quizzes to consider: – Political quiz developed by a political journalist. Series of questions leads to response, eventually indicating where the reader falls on the “political compass.” – Election survey-Series of multiple questions about political and personal beliefs leads to a summary page explaining results. – Requires that reader first choose which issues are more important to he or she. Then, series of multiple-choice questions places reader on continuum, matching he or she with a presidential candidate whose views most closely represent the reader’s.

“Probably every politician has a Web site,” political science professor Ryan Claassen said, “with ways to give money, explaining their stances on issues, and showing their proposals.”

But according to Claassen, researching on the Internet can sometimes be risky.

“You have to be careful,” he explained, “because there are a lot of shadow sites. It’s easy for someone to find an arrangement of the words ‘Barack,’ ‘Obama’ and ‘president’ and put them together in a way that looks official.”

Claassen said that most often, he trusts sources like The New York Times Web site.

“A lot of reputable news organizations will provide links to political organizations,” he said. “You know you’re getting real information because they will invest a lot of money to find good information.”

The thing to be careful about, Claassen said, is that there is an immense amount of information on the Internet, and it’s all unregulated.

“Donations are a good example of how one becomes inspired to find a good and reputable site,” he said. “Obviously, you don’t want to give out credit card information to make a political donation and find out that it wasn’t an official site.”

Aside from informational Web sites, other popular political outlets on the Internet are online quizzes that align the reader with a politician.

Claassen explained such quizzes as a continuum.

“Essentially, it takes your views on certain topics and places them on a continuum,” he said. “On one end, you have a liberal point of view. On the other, you have a conservative point of view. The quizzes place you somewhere on that continuum and then match you with the candidate whose views most closely represent yours.”

Most of these quizzes, Claassen explained, are designed by political scientists.

“The problem,” he added, “can be if that’s not how people look at politics. Some people don’t care about certain issues, so the results can vary.”

The wave of politics on the Internet is a fairly new trend. Claassen sited Howard Dean as one of the earliest candidates to capitalize the Internet.

“It’s almost hard to imagine the Dean campaign without the Internet,” he said. “What was significant about his campaign was that it went beyond providing information to providing a social connection for people.”

That, Claassen said, is what is different now.

“Now that the innovation has occurred,” he explained, “I think it’s the social networking.”

The Internet, Claassen said, benefits younger people because, on average, young people are more comfortable with the Internet than older people.

“The things they are used to doing,” he explained, “is how politics is going now.”

For freshman communications major Miranda Reed, the Internet has yet to impact any political views she has.

“I use it, obviously,” she said, “but I haven’t been able to vote in an election before now, so I don’t have anything to compare this election to yet.”

As for the Internet, Claassen said he isn’t sure it has changed politics, but “it has changed how we view it.”

“We’re doing the same things we’ve always done,” he said. “We’re just doing it differently.”

Contact features reporter Maria Nann at [email protected].