Online electioneering fails as voters demand more interaction

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Online election campaigning is failing to engage voters according to a survey from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA).

The wide-ranging survey, which lifts the lid on the role of the internet in influencing voters, reveals a wide gap between what the electorate is looking for and what political parties are providing. 79 percent of respondents could not recall seeing any online presence, such as emails, adverts and websites, from the main political parties. This figure drops only slightly, to 65 percent for 18-24 year olds who are more likely to be online.

However the results also show that voters have an appetite for improved online political engagement. The survey of 2,550 people says that 40 percent would like more opportunity to interact online with politicians and political parties. This figure rises to 60 percent for crucial votes in the 18-24 years range where only 37 percent voted at the last election.

Yet political parties are failing to deliver. Voters are not impressed with how politicians use the internet for electioneering, with one in four (25 percent) saying that they don’t use it well at all and a further 52 percent unsure of the effectiveness of their online electioneering.

NESTA argues that politicians need to move beyond top-down traditional campaigning and maximise the power that online technology offers to engage people on critical issues. This is despite considerable investment by political parties in using the internet as a way of rallying their activists.

Commenting on the results, Jonathan Kestenbaum, NESTA’s Chief Executive says: ’Although its being talked of as a ‘digital election’, political parties are falling short in delivering what voters want online. Currently, they are using tactical measures such as buying Google AdWords to raise brand awareness but the internet provides the means to have a much more dynamic dialogue with voters.’

NESTA’s survey also found that better use of online technology would address the UK’s voting apathy. Of UK adults who were eligible to vote in the last general election but chose not to, 44 percent claimed they were more likely to vote in a future election if they could do so online. With only 61 percent of the nation voting in the 2005 general election, this could significantly enhance democratic participation to almost 80 percent (a further 8 million people1).

Jonathan Kestenbaum continued: ‘So far we’ve seen a triumph of superficial tactics over genuine engagement and voters aren’t falling for it. It’s a missed opportunity particularly if we are to remedy our historically low turn-out rates”.

The research will be launched at an event  - ‘Will it be the Web Wot Won It’ - at NESTA on Monday which asks the question:  Will digital win the election? Speakers at the event will consider the role of traditional media in the election race and the impact that new technology will have in determining the winner.

NESTA / Expatica

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