How will the internet affect the election?

How will the internet affect the election?

    Has the power moved from the party spinners to the bloggers?

The January ICM survey for the Guardian discovered that the proportion of adults with internet accesss is now, at 69%, more than two-thirds of the population. Those who have it at home was down at 56% – the balance get their access at work.

So we are going into an election camapign with what for many people is a new means of communication which challenges the traditional agenda-setting monopolies of the media and the party organisations.

Of course the Internet was in existence at the 1997 General Election when we saw sites on tactical voting emerge – but access was restricted to a very small section of the population. In 2001 the penetration was much larger but it is only in the past four years that the explosion that has made it into a mass medium has happened.

    We are just about at the stage where more people use the internet than read national newspapers.

On a simple level a site like this or Anthony Wells’s UK Pollingreport bring together almost all the polling information that’s available and allows critical analysis across the range. Concepts like “tactical voting unwind” have got into mainstream opinion as a result of discussion on Anthony’s and this site.

But it’s the ability of the net to generate stories and create issues that’s much more significant. The recent skirmishes on Labour’s posters would not have happened before the internet. This is how the blogger, Guido Fawkes, described the sequence of events in a comment on Politicalbetting.

On Friday I noticed the pigs advert and blogged about it, I then got an email from a source attaching the Shylock-Howard advert from a campaign email from Fraser Kemp. I thought, like the source, it looked much more dodgy. I searched through a holocaust evidence website to find similar Nazi images. Cropped the images, wrote a blog piece inviting readers to compare and contrast. Thought to myself, hmmm, thats got legs. So I emailed major newsdesks the images and blog-story.

The Standard ran the pig poster story but only when the Shylock-Howard poster pictures hit the papers did it go crazy. As Fraser Kemp protests – nobody in the mainstream media noticed for two weeks – until I emailed them. I was not put up to it by Tory HQ or anyone else. I did it out of pure mischievousness. I knew juxtaposing the nazi imagery and the poster would set off controversy – but I didn’t think it would be this big a story. What do I think? I think its possible that some young idiot at the advertising agency just did not realise the associations. But Alan Milburn has really given Brown ammunition – he signed off on the posters – and should have known better.

With bloggers like Guido about the world is a less safe place for those who like to control the agenda. How do you deal with somebody whose only motive is to make mischief? There is now a mass medium that is not under the diktat of the spinners or the media owners.

But the internet can go wrong for politicians. The big issue of the Hartlepool by-election in September was an ill-considered comment made by the Lib Dem candidate in her blog about some residents in the town.

The internet has revolutionised election betting. As well as being able to bet on line punters can get access to a wider range of information ahead of the conventional media. This is not always a good thing as the hundreds of thousands of punters who lost money on John Kerry on the night of November 2 will testify. A lot of this was based on blogged versions of exit poll returns which turned out to be misleading.

    One thing’s for sure – the internet will impact on this election in ways that we cannot foresee. Watch this space!

Copyright 2005 Mike Smithson

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