Gaffney on America: Surfing USA: why it's time the politicians gotthe internet bug

You Brits don't get hammered on an annual basis with this twisted media event we call elections.

Normal people will show up at a completely archaic voting booth (probably the same one their grandparents used) and pull levers. They will pull those levers with minds polluted by accusations, images, untruths and all that good old American negativity that goes along with politics.

There's a way out, and we haven't embraced it. Our politicians haven't embraced it either. It's called the internet. We don't use it in the electoral process, with the exception of opinion polling. I don't understand why we trust banks online with our money, yet we won't trust internet providers with our vote. There's a huge technological leap to be taken here and there is no good reason why politicians and government can't develop a secure voting system via the net.

I might be a bit naive, but web marketing provides a vehicle for getting away from the image-based garbage we see on TV. If any consumer goods company was as dishonest about its product as politicians are about their voting records, it would be sued. And rightfully so. If web marketing were embraced more by citizens and politicians, we would have constant access to objective information, and we'd use it. We'd take advantage of blogs even more than we do. We'd see politicians become more creative with podcasts, social media and even microsites for issue-based information.

In the local US senate race I'm voting in (as this magazine went to press), I've seen an endless series of bad 30-second spots and taken more interactive voice calls than I ever cared to. Why don't the Democrats simply point me to the voting record of the Republican incumbent online? Why don't the Republicans simply email me links to learn more about the actual job growth in the state of Connecticut (where I live) instead of asking me to believe it as a matter of faith?

And politicians don't use the trackability and laser targeting the internet enables. I guess it's because they don't want their name so closely allied to the news these days, which is dominated by corruption and Iraq. But that's another leap of faith. The internet is the news vehicle. Newspapers as a print medium are falling apart. Politicians are, at some point, going to need to have the guts to go there.

- John Gaffney is executive director of Peppers and Rogers Group. Email: john.gaffney@haynet.com

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