A dozen years after presidential politics first moved online, it's remarkable how entirely unremarkable it is to page through the findings in a newly published Pew report on the Internet's role so far in the 2008 election.
In increasingly greater numbers, adults are using the Web to regularly contribute to the political conversation--if not to contribute to the politician of their choice. And no surprise, that's why three of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination basically declared their candidacies on the Internet.
None of this has been lost on the party hacks managing the Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns, who have followed the voters to their cyber hang-outs on social networks. I wonder how an increasingly Internet-savvy electorate will react to blatant attempts at crowd manipulation. I'm not saying this is going to happen, but the past is often prologue when you're talking about presidential politics. Take a gander at the following table. Already, most adults have a healthy distrust of what they deem to be misinformation and propaganda.
The more intriguing trend is that the promise and the potential of the Internet are fusing in a way that may--and here I'm hedging--help us break out of the quadrennial descent into stupidity which informs most modern presidential campaigns. Politicians may still treat voters like children, but according to Pew, people are using the Internet to move "beyond the sound bite." To wit:
More than one-third of adults have watched politically-related videos.
Some 16 percent of adults have read candidate position papers online while 9 percent have read the full text of a candidate's speech online.
39 percent of adults say they've gone online to fetch original, or unfiltered, documents, or observe campaign events.
Pretty good, but there's ample room to grow. And of course, this remains part of a slow-motion story in development. Not surprisingly, the young grok this stuff more quickly than the their parents.