Americans turn to the Internet, more than any other single source, to find out what’s going on in the world.
A recent We Media/Zogby Interactive online poll showed that the Internet is by far the single most influential type of media.
We probably knew that.
In fact, nearly half of those surveyed indicated that they turn to the Internet as their main source of news.
We probably knew that, too.
What does this mean for television?
The rising influence of the Internet on American public opinion is a radical departure from earlier decades, when television reigned supreme as the main influencer of public opinion.
Now the challenge for politicians campaigning for position is to find the right blend of television advertising and online advertising to reach a wider market – and to target specific groups of individuals as well.
After all, if a person doesn’t know what you’re saying because you aren’t using his or her medium of communication, what good is shouting your message?
The influence of television
There is no doubt that television has played a major role in U.S. elections for over 50 years. Since the 1950s, television has allowed the public to not only see their candidates in action, but also to hear them. Since the Eisenhower campaign, every major U.S. presidential candidate has spent a considerable amount of money on television advertising.
For many years, television advertising was a great investment for a political candidate. There were only three major networks (and public television) on the air, and most Americans watched those channels religiously. Political advertisements were guaranteed an audience and a candidate was pretty much guaranteed a return on his advertising investment.
Slowly, however, the television audience has changed. First, it was diluted by competition from the cable television networks in the 1980s and more recently by the satellite networks. Now, television advertising faces its biggest competitor ever: the Internet.
According to a recent study from George Washington University, a record number of candidates are turning to paid Internet advertising in 2008. But savvy marketers and advertisers know that focusing on only one medium of communication is political suicide. Direct television advertising is still a good investment – finding the right combination between both means of influencing audiences is key.
The Internet’s usage and influence…increasing, increasing, increasing
As people spend more and more time online, it only makes sense that the Internet also plays a greater role in influencing people.
The truth is that the number of activities that people do online is increasing daily. Even one decade ago, it may have been hard to believe that we could work, shop, pay bills, find entertainment and even get a degree without ever leaving our keyboards.
So it’s only natural that now Americans are turning to the Internet to make major decisions such as which car to buy, what community to live in and yes, even which candidate they should vote for.
The Internet’s influence on politics is measurable
Since 2004, the Internet has been playing an increasing role in U.S. politics. That was the first year that candidates really embraced and effectively used Internet technology to raise political awareness among the American public.
Candidates have primarily used the Internet in two ways:
- Fundraising and/or
- Campaign websites.
With the Internet, even small contributors can easily donate money to the candidate of their choice. (Those small contributions can really add up.) As for the second way candidates use the Internet, today’s public expects that, without exception, today’s candidates will each have a campaign website.
And the trend continues with the 2008 elections
Having an Internet presence allows relatively unknown candidates to skyrocket to political fame with an unprecedented speed.
This happened for Democratic candidate Howard Dean in 2004 with his site, Blog for America. It’s happening again in 2008 with Democratic candidate Barack Obama with his website, BarackObama.com, his e-mail campaigns and Facebook presence among young voters.
Internet usage isn’t just limited to the campaigns of one political party, however. Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain each have had their own unique web presence as well. And a great deal of non-major candidate Ron Paul’s success has been attributed to his website.
Like today’s voter, today’s candidate is Internet-savvy
If it hasn’t already happened, it won’t be much longer before a political candidate simply cannot succeed without effective usage of the Internet as a communications medium and campaigning tool.
Clearly, a candidate who doesn’t use and master Internet advertising as well as direct television advertising won’t have much of a chance of success in future elections.
While online political advertisements still lag behind television political advertisements in both dollars spent and numbers due to its relative newness as a means of reaching audiences, the gap will continue to narrow considerably and rapidly in coming years.
No doubt that in future elections, online advertising dollars spent by politicians will equal, or exceed, dollars spent on television advertisements.