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Futurewatch: Politics

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Article Featured Image

Political campaigns have come full circle in the last 60 years. Before widespread television coverage, candidates had to depend on direct contact with voters to get their message to them. Campaigning was all about one-on-one connections—shaking hands, eye-to-eye contact, engaging candidates and constituents on a personal level. As broadcasting technology matured and voters became increasingly dependent on television news for their information, the era of the sound-bite campaign was born, and whether candidates and voters liked it or not, the personal connection became much less important.

Streaming technology has brought about a rebirth of the more personal grassroots campaigning that went on in pretelevision days. For the candidates, no better medium than streaming exists for presenting an unfiltered message to voters. For voters, streaming media provides a more nuanced and comprehensive view of the candidates and where they stand on the issues—arming people to make informed, intelligent choices when they go to the polls to place their votes.

In the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, streaming media benefits both the voters and the candidates. The majority of voters do not have the time to follow all the media coverage of the candidates. The technology of streaming media gives voters the ability to process a vast amount of information within a shorter period of time through viewing webcast speeches, debates, and other events in their entirety, without interruptions and—most importantly—at their own leisure. Streaming media content provides the ideal information source for voters. In one of the earliest examples, a May 3, 2007 Republican presidential debate aired live on MSNBC. This debate was also streamed live on MSNBC.com and politico.com, and included audience questions gathered on politico.com. Later in the year, CNN and YouTube joined together to sponsor debates in which video questions from YouTube viewers were delivered to candidates, rather than questions posed by a moderator.

Making It Personal
Some of the most personal interaction between voters and candidates occurs on the candidates’ own websites or blogs. The implications of the ability of a grassroots audience having the technological capabilities at hand to ask questions through a blog are exciting for voters, journalists, and candidates. Ironically, this scenario is similar to a candidate such as Abraham Lincoln campaigning, traveling via train through tough the country, and stopping in one small town after another to give campaign speeches. This type of experience provides voters with tangible, real candidates who personally answer the voters’ own questions. Voters are engaged; they feel as if they are a part of the process, whereas before, voters could easily feel isolated and unengaged.

Before the evolution of streaming media, the only audience for a candidate’s appearance at, say, a pancake breakfast in Dubuque, Iowa, would have been the attendees in the room. Now, viewers of video streams can personally experience the way the candidate relates to those voters at the event. Streamed content offers voters a chance to get to know the candidates on a more personal, authentic level. Authenticity is one of the magic keys that spark the interest of people watching and listening to streaming media.

Breaking Down Barriers
In earlier times, media technology often seemed to create a barrier between candidates and viewers. The media technology could make the candidates seem cold and insensitive, and the nature of highly produced TV events actually made the candidates seem to live in a different world from that in which the average person lives. This created a sense of distrust between the candidates and their audiences. With the use of streaming media, that barrier has been reduced, creating more of an authentic human connection between the candidates and their audiences.

For an example of just how streaming media can help voters make informed decisions in the 2008 presidential campaign, let’s look at a hypothetical situation.

Kevin, an undecided voter in a logging town, anxiously awaits the arrival of a presidential candidate to the stump. Video camera in hand, with live internet streaming equipment engaged, Kevin pans the crowd of eager listeners. Once a thriving community, this lumber town has suffered setbacks, and residents are seeking change and hope from their new commander-in-chief.

Kevin’s hands shake, as does his camera, as he walks through the crowd of familiar faces. The crowd wants answers about what the candidate will do to help the town out of its economic crisis. Almost out of nowhere, the candidate appears on-stage to the ample-enough applause of the crowd. Kevin quickly turns his video camera towards the candidate as he walks up the steps to the stage. The candidate speaks, stating that he wants to do everything possible to help the economy of the town. "Whatever it takes," he says.

Kevin’s camera catches a close-up of the candidate’s smile, his body language, his $5,000 suit. It then catches views of the applauding audience, and after that it catches a glimpse of a small group of men in the crowd neither cheering nor applauding. Kevin knows these men. These men, dressed in worn jeans and faded flannel button-down shirts, worked in the lumber mill that shut down 6 months ago. They have been severely affected in all financial respects by the economic downturn in the town.

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