[Air-l] 1$CAN on sophisticates and lefties over candidates

Philip N. Howard pnhoward at u.washington.edu
Tue Jul 15 07:12:09 PDT 2003

I think JSG should paint her room fire-engine red.
If this is boring somebody has to tell us to go off list.
JSG's post has me thinking of what other 'media effects' on political life
that academics have tried to look for.  Here maybe the three most plausible,
bottom-line, large scale internet effects on American political culture:

INTERNET CANDIDATE?  I think this is JSG's favorite, a candidate who could
not possibly have won without the internet.  However it is hard to imagine a
candidate ever admitting this for a recording.  Perhaps we could survey 100
pundits by asking them true/false if candidate X only won because of their
internet strategy.  One might argue that with web-based campaigns many
districts have more 3rd candidates than ever, internet candidates whose only
organization is online.  This is a new, important phenomena that would not
be interesting to someone waiting for a mainstream candidate to win with
their internet campaign.

POLITICAL SOPHISTICATION?  There are many studies about whether citizens are
smarter or dumber than they were 30 years ago, when verba/king/nie first
started asking political sophistication questions.  I think consensus point
is that we are only modestly more politically sophisticated than we were,
more credit due to rising level of general education than any particular
news media or inspiring political leader.  Unfortunately, simple questions
about voter sophistication like "Who is your mayor?" are only asked
occasionally.  Respondents often feel they are being tested by such
questions, so professional polling houses are afraid that respondents will
get discouraged and decline further questions; academics rarely have enough
grant money to ask the same questions over time.  But I imagine that a small
battery of questions
about which media people used, demographics, and voter sophistication could
be run through statistical tests to see if there is a relationship between
the kinds of media people use, their political sophistication, and change
over time.  Do any AIRers know of datasets with internet use and political
sophistication questions asked over time?

MOVING LEFT?  There are many studies about how the American public is
slightly more left leaning than average pollster samples, and slightly more
left leaning than the group of voters who show up on election day.  I think
consensus point is that reducing the transaction costs of political
participation makes the median political norm shift slightly left.  For
example, in states where Moter-Voter legislation made it necessary to
register at the time of renewing a car license, there was a slight increase
in Democratic registrations and marginal increase in Democratic voting.  But
voting is NOT the only way to express political preferences, and since the
Internet is a great tool for bugging your representatives after you have
elected them, maybe the mark of impact would be a rise in the number of
people who consider themselves political engaged (regressed on media
choices).  The number of people who contact their rep between elections?  A
slight left lean in the median political norms of the electorate would be an
incredibly important bottom line media effect - a shift in the tectonic
plates of the political landscape.  Much deeper structural impact than a
single candidate winning 'because of the internet'.

A couple of weeks Christian Sandvig made a bet about warchalking that added
both added mystic to his research and allowed him to collect data.

Maybe an important part of becoming a sub/discipline is having inane bets
and rivalries.  So I'll bet Jen 1$Canadian that I can show that Americans
are more politically sophisticated after making the Internet one of their
regular media tools OR that the Americans are slightly more left-leaning
after making the Internet one of their regular media tools BEFORE she finds
a national political leader for whom their campaign internet strategy was
the sufficient condition for winning.  In other words, I'll either find more
people engaged in politics, their political sophistication higher, or their
political norms more lefty because of the Internet before she can find a
candidate who wins office because of the internet.

This may take years, but I'll wager another 1$CAN that I collect from JSG
before she makes Emeritus.

Open to friendly amendments.
Philip N. Howard
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication
University of Washington

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