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Cyber-Democracy & E-Elections

More than 100 participants came to the Research Group of the Global Future's conference in Munich

20.11.2000 · Research Group of the Global Future


More Americans get their news from AOL than from the top five major newspapers combined. With that simple statistic, Tracy Westen showed the irrefutable place of the internet in American life and politics, just six years after the introduction of the world wide web. Speaking in broad outlines, Westen said that in politics, no one has yet taken full advantage of the net's interactivity, but he presented four important lessons of the elections in 2000.

1. The net has a definite impact on voters informing themselves; this is an addition to, rather than a replacement of, traditional media. Candidate sites mostly draw pre-motivated voters; specialty sites did not draw large numbers; news sites, especially those with trusted names from outside the internet, drew vast numbers of visitors.

2. Candidate behavior was different on the internet. While television is still king of all media for those who can afford it, the internet allows candidates to speak on more topics and at greater depth. There is also very little negativity on the net.

3. Impact on campaigns: a web site is now a standard part of the repertoire of political campaigning. Only a few campaigns are using their sites to raise money, but some of those have been massively effective, and they are drawing a completely new group of donors compared to other fundraising channels.

4. Impact on political organizations: net users are politically active and part of a generational change. The cost of internet organizing is about 1/6 of mailing costs, and some quick-reaction organizing can only be done well with the speed that the internet brings.

Phil Noble opened by saying that the internet is no more about computers than television was about vacuum tubes. It is a new communications medium, the fastest growing medium the world has ever seen, and it is shaking communications at their base.

Between 1994 and 2000, the precentage of US members of Congress with web sites went from 1% to 99%, percentage of journalists using the net went from 5% to 98%, the number of new voluteers that political campaigns found through the net went from 0% to 20%, and the number of voters using the net in some form went from 3% to 70%.

Each of the major presidential candidates in the 2000 US election introduced useful innovatons:

Bill Bradley

  • Credit card contributions

  • Local community involvement

  • State-by-state organizing

John McCain

  • Combined credit card contributions with media presence to raise $5 million within a week of his victory in New Hampshire

  • Recruited 140,000 volunteers via the web

Al Gore

  • Sent the first video e-mail

  • Conducted interactive town hall meetings

  • Enabled downloads to PalmPilots

George W. Bush

  • Online financial disclosure

  • Was the victim of a parody side

  • Was the victim of cyber squatters.

One additional development that Noble noted was that of "flash campaigns," groups that coalesce quickly around a narrow issue, organize through the net, and have an impact on the political process. He cited MoveOn.org, a group that believed the impeachment of President Clinton was politically motivated and distracting to the nation. They collected donations to be used by the opponents of the Congressmen who were the driving forces behind impeachment. The organization raised more than $2 million, and four of the five Senate candidates they supported won.

In the video conference with Dr. Moira Gunn, the discussion ranged over the technical infrastructure necessary to begin voting online, the ability of the internet to empower individuals rather than organizations, and the need for increasing media literacy in citizens. She also discussed flash organizations as the natural successor of flash crowds - spontaneous gatherings on the net about time sensitive issues. Finally, she said that by making original documents available to a very broad public, the net was increasing the general transparency of government, making secrecy more difficult and boosting public oversight.

How far such perspectives also will change German politics is not quite clear. German politics, because it is more party-driven rather than candidate-driven, probably will adopt more slowly to the changes and opportunities offered by the net. However, the German party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen did one first step: From November 24 to December 3 they carried out an regional party convention in the German Bundesland Baden Württemberg in the internet.

Niombo Lomba from the green party explained the advantages of these form of political communication for her party: In this way a convention could be organized faster and many persons can participate at the same time. Already today 95 percent of party members use the internet as tool and realize a communication form beyond hierarchies. Hence, the internet is an ideal tool for them. It realizes transparency and is in accordance with the self-awareness of the party. However, Minister Huber from the Bavarian State Government was a little bit more sceptical about the revolutionary potential of digitalization and politics due to the reason that it could lead to a trivialization of elections. Although, the capital Munich consequently is going to build up modern concepts of e-governance one would also be sceptical about the total penetration of digital concepts for all areas of politics.


Consul General Robert W. Boehme
C.A.P's Deputy Director Josef Janning
State Minister Erwin Huber

Internet and Politics: The Future is Here to Stay
Tracy Westen, Co-Founder and Chairman, Grassroots.com

Leberkäs and PowerPoint: How the Internet is Changing Political Campaigns
Phil Noble, President & CEO, Phil Noble & Associates and PoliticsOnline

Session I
Internet and Politics: Digital Agora or Bonfire of the Vanities?

Prof. Dr. Winand Gellner, University of Passau
Thorsten Schilling, Head of the department for Multimedia and Information Technology, Federal Institute for Political Education
Moderator: Josef Janning, Deputy Director, CAP Additional Discussant: Tracy Westen

Session II
Internet, Parties and Elections:
From Spinmeisters to Webmasters,
from Online Mobilization to Online Fundraising

Prof. Dr. Michael Cornfield, Director, Democracy Online Project, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Niombo Lomba, Member of the Federal Board of Directors, Bündnis90/The Greens
Moderator: Dr. Markus Söder, Member of the State Parliament, Chairman of Junge Union Bayern
Additional Discussant: Phil Noble

with Dr. Moira Gunn, Host of TechNation
Moderator: Douglas Merrill, Senior Fellow, CAP

Closing Remarks
Ambassador John C. Kornblum

Speakers & Moderators

New Technologies enable communication but they are not communication. They enable discussions but they are no discussions. Similar to the invention of the letterpress, it will depend on people and society which positive or negative use will be made by new technologies."
U.S.-Ambassador in Germany, John C. Cornblum.

Prof. Dr. Michael Cornfield
Prof. Dr. Winand Gellner
Dr. Moira Gunn
Erwin Huber
Josef Janning
John C. Kornblum
Niombo Lomba
Douglas Merrill
Phil Noble
Thorsten Schilling
Dr. Markus Söder
Dr. Tracy Westen

Around 100 Participants from Business, Politics, Mass Media, Culture and Science from Bavaria and Germany.

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