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Third Party

The Internet: Limitless Space

Click for full screen image One of the biggest advantages of the Internet is the limitless amount of space it provides. Presidential debates are often the subject of concern because they are usually reserved for the two main parties, Republicans and Democrats, unless a third party meets a set of stringent criteria. On the Internet, third parties are able to participate in E-Debates (The Democracy Online Project).1 Internet sites are an ideal forum for voices that were once left out, including races at lower levels. Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura, an underdog candidate for governor in Minnesota, stated that the online debate was "truly made for my campaign. It's reaching a huge amount of people at a very low price" (Whillock, 1997). 2 Instead of dominant, elite voices, new players can emerge through electronic communications. These dominant voices are also the voices that get covered in the news media. Katz (1998)3 writes of the 1996 presidential campaign, "By spring '96, it seemed clear to me that this campaign was a metaphor for all that doesn't work in both journalism and politics. I couldn't bear the New York Times pundits, CNN's politico-sports talk, the whoring Washington talk shows, the network stand-ups." In 1996, in an introductory mass media and government class at Rutgers, students were assigned to report on the Ralph Nader campaign. The students were unable to find much information about him in the news media during the campaign. After the election was over, however, and after the students found his campaign Web site, students downloaded a tremendous amount of information about his positions on campaign finance reform, and corporate mergers (Kern, 1998).4 Similarly, supporters of Ross Perot turned to the Internet for his positions, and encouraged other voters to visit his site as well.

Leveling the Playing Field?

In 1996, winning campaigns averaged $673,000 for Congress and $4,700,000 for Senate seats (Makinson, 1997).5 Television advertising and production are the number one cost of all campaigns. Second, is direct mail. As it stands now, third party candidates can compete with Republicans and Democrats by creating and maintaining their Web sites. As it has been used, the Internet is not, however, the killer application. It has so far been used as a way to complement other media. If, one day, the Internet does become the main medium by which candidates elect to get their messages out to the voters, then it still will not "level the playing field" (Johnson, 1999).6 "The Internet will become the tool of choice for the best financed, most resourceful campaigns. They will have the fanciest Web sites, with all the three-dimensional, video, and interactive bells and whistles, skillfully merging their Web sites into coordinated communication packages. The Internet will help the needy, but it will also become another weapon in the arsenal of the well endowed" (Johnson, 1999).7

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Created On November 29, 2001
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