The technological impact no-one was expecting

I’ve often written about my scepticism of excited comments about 2010 being the first internet general election both because they miss how much at the organisational level has already been altered by the internet over the last two general elections and also because people looking at the internet’s impact on the external side of politics spend far too much time looking at the national scene when instead they should be looking at the local scene.

After the first TV debate you could already imagine the election post-mortems headlined, “First internet election? Or first TV election?” Old-fashioned TV has shaken up the election: long programmes, no ad breaks, broadcasting out the same words and pictures to millions. It’s not even as is the form of the program is anything much new, with TV debates pioneered in the 1950s Sweden before hitting international headlines with the 1960 US Presidential election.

So where does this leave technology; is this election just a triumphant flourish of the old showing the new kids on the block that it’s still got some life left in it?

Well not quite. Because part of what made the impact of that first TV debate so dramatic was that the reports of who did best and who did worst were not shaped by the editorial preferences of newspapers who have long since decided who they support nor was it filtered that much by journalists with half an eye on hoping to work for the winning party’s press operation post-May 6th.

No, instead the reporting was shaped by the public’s views – because, thanks to the technological changes that allow credible quick polling (when done right) it was the public’s verdict, not that of editors or media moguls, which shaped the reporting.

Internet polling and automated phone surveying is no newer to elections than email or websites, but this is the first election in which that sort of instant polling has had a clear impact on the course of events in the way that traditional, slower polling would not have. Slow post-debate polls would have reported the public’s reaction to the media’s response to the debate; with instant polling the media’s influence is drastically reduced.

So, yes technology  has had a big impact – but not in the way anyone was expecting.

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