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by Brian Lee

Tired of being bombarded by all those negative campaign ads on TV? Why not take some time to surf the political Internet? Anyone with a web browser, Internet access connection and computer equipped with modem will get a chance to study the backgrounds and positions of all of the White House wannabes as well as a few of the states congressional candidates. And, so far at least, the cybercampaign remains relatively free of hype, misinformation, disinformation and dirty tricks.

So what can you expect when you go online? For starters, every presidential contender has created a home page. A few of those pages, including Bob Dole's, provide opportunities for interactive browsing. But most of the candidates' pages are rather ordinary.

There is plenty of information, though. You can expect to find speeches, issue papers, campaign schedules, press releases, biographies of the candidates and their families and mailing lists for both electronic and home mail. So far, none of the sites offers chat boxes. Apparently the candidates aren't yet confident about interacting with the voters in real time via computer. And, of course, that kind of interaction doesn't look as good on television as the smiling candidate knocking on that Iowa farmer's door, or sitting in that New Hampshire voter's kitchen. My own favorite sites? Democrat Bill Clinton's and Republican Bob Dole's. President Clinton, who is running for re-election, offers a virtual tour of the White House and a rundown on former first families. He also offers a site for kids hosted by First Cat Socks. That site is interactive and designed to educate children about presidential and White House history. Kids can even send e-mail to Socks and expect a reply.

ii9603241.jpg

All the presidential candidates have created home pages for
their campaigns. The best are Bill Clinton's and Bob Dole's.



ii9603242.jpg
First Cat Socks
takes kids on a
virtual tour of the
White House.

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




ii9603243.jpg
Pat Buchanan's home page won Time magazine's vote for offering the most information.
Surfers can get up to speed on the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

for the net surfer who wants to get political information outside of candidates' home pages. Cable News Network and Time magazine co-developed a site entitled ALLPOLITICS (http://www.allpolitics.com). It provides an up-to-date listing of political happenings.

Meanwhile, Project Vote Smart (http://web-tek.com) is a site devoted to sifting through false information on the Internet and providing accounts of the best political sites on the World Wide Web. Newsweek, The Washington Post and ABC News have created a new site: ElectionLine (www.electionline.com), a site that will be updated twice daily.

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:
http://server.berkeley. edu/herald.

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.



A list of politicians and their home
page addresses via the Internet

Candidacy

Candidates

Party

Addresses

Presidential

President Clinton

Democrat

http://www.whitehouse.gov

Presidential

Bob Dole

Republican

http://www.dole96.com

Presidential

Pat Buchanan

Republican

http://www.buchanan.org

Presidential

Steve Forbes

Republican

http://www.forbes96.com

Presidential

Lamar Alexander

Republican

http://www.nashville.net/~lamar

U.S. Senate

Bob Kustra

Republican

http://www.kustra96.org

U.S. Senate

Richard Durbin

Democrat

http://www.house.gov/durbin/welcome.html

U.S. Congress

All Incumbents

http://www.house.gov





Illinois Issues March 1996 * 25
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