by Brian Lee
The top Republican contender, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, offers the most interactive campaign site available on the Internet. To keep you posted, he's included a clickable nationwide map detailing his schedule in each of the primary and caucus states. Most innovative, though, is Dole's use of the Web to enlist support. You can download campaign items, including screensavers and posters. Or you can send a postcard with a statement from Dole. And there's an online trivia quiz about the senator and his political life that tests your knowledge of him and the issues. The site has become so popular among politicos that it was visited more than two million times before New Hampshire. Pat Buchanan's home page gets my vote for the best looking candidate site — it also got Time magazine's vote for the most information-packed page. It's designed to mimic a 19th century campaign, complete with logo and slogans. The site is worth a visit for any of you history/nostalgia buffs. But it also offers a chance to get back up to speed on the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. You can find out about the state's U.S. Senate race, too. Republican Bob Kustra and Democrat Richard Durbin have created pages. Clinton Krislov designed the most attractive site, but then dropped out of the race. Interestingly, he was also the only candidate who used the Internet as a way to attack his opponents and their positions on the issues.
I have a few suggestions
24 * March 1996 Illinois Issues
National Politics and Personalities (http://www.rtis.com/nat/pol) is another
site that lists all the possible links to
every political party. The Republicans
and Democrats offer home pages through their national committees. You
can find out about the Republicans at http://www.rnc.org. The Democrats are
located at http://www.democrats.org.
For conservative Generation Xers, several students attending the University
of California at Berkeley created a site:
So, what are the pros and cons of this new political tool? Louis Liebovich, who teaches journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says there is currently no means for determining what influence the cybercampaign is having on voters.
But David VanHeemst, a political scientist at Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, believes it has to be positive. He says use of the Internet for politics demonstrates "the heart of democracy, where citizens can obtain knowledge about public affairs, political events, public policy, issues and candidates themselves."
Still, VanHeemst does see a potential downside when politicians intertwine with the Internet. He warns that cyber-campaigning could create a new class of haves and have-nots: those who have access to information by Internet and those who don't. And he questions the impact of unfiltered information.
Because there is no distillation of the information flowing through candidate home pages, the politicians are free to frame it in any way they see fit. "It is yet to be determined," he says, "if the information they provide is reliable, or just political propaganda."
Ray Schroeder of the University of Illinois at Springfield believes more candidates can be expected to make more use of the Internet. In fact, Schroeder, who teaches communications, is an unabashed supporter of all things cyber. He says while there is no security against the potential for political dirty tricks — false home pages spreading misinformation — the Internet remains the most efficient and cheapest way for a candidate to deliver a political message to anyone in the world.
Schroeder notes, though, that politicians may be limited to a narrow slice of their constituency. Internet users are an elite group of people who represent 15 percent to 20 percent of the population. He says net surfers have certain characteristics. Two-thirds to three-quarters are male users who have completed a college degree.
Nevertheless, Schroeder believes we face a revolution in the way people will get their political information. *
Brian Lee is working on his master's degree in history at the University of Illinois at Springfield. He has designed a home page for Illinois Issues magazine that will go online this spring.
Illinois Issues March 1996 * 25
Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator