October 30th, 2007 | Published in Google Public Policy
Elections bring new and interesting uses of the Internet. A case in point is Denmark's snap election in November.
The country is very Internet-savvy and was recently found to have the highest broadband penetration in Europe. So it comes as no surprise that Danish politicians are extremely interested in finding effective ways to use the Net for their campaigns. They are buying keywords, emailing videos with political messages, and blogging. Commentators are arguing that the Net will revolutionize the elections. Some are using their blogs to craft policy reform proposals in collaboration with readers on issues such as VAT reform (a fairly technical issue).
At the same time, political analysts are complaining that political parties need to do a better job of designing websites that rank well in search engines. A study mentioned here tested 100 politically important search terms and checked if political parties came up in the first ten hits. The party that ranked best -- the Socialist People's Party -- had 18 hits in the top ten of the 100 words (that is, their website showed up somewhere in the top ten search results for 18 out of the 100 words tested). And some candidates still treat the Net as a broadcast medium, failing to invite dialogue and interaction.
By contrast, some Danish candidates are going all the way. Bent Soelberg, a candidate for Venstre (the Danish Social Liberal Party), has decided to campaign for a seat in parliament solely on the Internet. No signs, no meetings, no stickers, no printed leaflets -- just the Net. The large Danish daily Berlingske Tidende calls him the "first virtual candidate" and has written an interesting piece on his adventures in Net politics, calling him a "voter-seeking missile" Hmm. Mixed imagery, there. If he gets in he will both have made an interesting point about the importance of the Net in political campaigning and saved a lot of trees.
Any lessons here? Well, as one researcher points out, we have now moved into a new phase of online politics, at least in Scandinavia. It is no longer enough to use the Web to look cool and future-friendly. It is about being where the voters are, and realizing that the Internet is a two-way medium, opening up for citizen participation as well as engaging in passionate discussion with voters. The Net is a great tool for political communication, but perhaps even better for political conversation.