Forget about handshakes and stump speeches. Political candidates should take the advice of the people and brush up on their HTML.
In a poll released today, a majority of Americans said they want to learn about their candidates on the Internet, and nearly half would rather vote by computer than head to a polling booth.
The poll was conducted for AT&T by Bruskin, Goldring, a New Jersey-based polling firm. It surveyed 1,012 people on August 6. This is one of the first such polls, but close scrutiny of the Internet's potential for politicking is expected as the medium catches on.
Political parties, as well as local and national candidates, already are turning to the Net to promote their views.
Almost half--45.7 percent--of those polled said they would rather vote on their PCs than at their neighborhood precincts. And 66.7 percent said they would use the Net to find out more about candidates if the information was available.
But the ranks of voters in cyberspace still are small. Nearly 25 percent of those surveyed said they had access to the Net. Of those, 20 percent said they were planning to follow the 1996 presidential elections on their PCs.
That didn't surprise Lorena O'English, the director of legislative services for Project Vote Smart, a non-partisan, non-profit voter information system that has posted a Web since July 1995. The response to the site has been better than expected, O'English said. The Internet "expands the ability to get information, to evaluate it and communicate," she said.
But, she added that the Net won't replace newspapers, commercials or even stump speeches. It simply adds another way to get information.
Most people don't believe the Internet will change how people vote. Eric Oliver, an assistant professor in Political Science at Princeton, doubted that the Net, even with its vast resources, would expand the horizons of most people.
"Conservatives will be seeking out conservative Web pages," he said. "Liberals will be seeking out liberal Web pages."
Another concern is that people who own computers also might not reflect the nation's demographics as a whole.
AT&T spokesman Kevin Compton acknowledged that there was an element of self-interest involved in the survey. "There is self interest in wanting to bring the Internet to everyone with our service," he said. But, he added that the independent survey also helps anyone who is interested in learning more about the Internet's potential.
"The more people find the Internet useful in their lives, the more the Internet use will grow. We think that can benefit us but that benefits everyone."