Shopping for the Next President

We comparison shop on the Internet for books, music, and clothes, so why not elected officials?

by Sky Dayton

(Originally published December, 2000)

I woke up one day in October and realized the presidential election was only two weeks away. I started to panic. If you are anything like me, you probably spent more time emailing than paying attention to the election.

I don't consider myself a very political person, but I do feel I have a responsibility to study the issues and vote for the candidate who I believe will do the best job for all of us. The only problem is that making decisions like that takes time and effort.

Then I realized that maybe it wouldn't take quite as much time and effort as it used to. With a burst of inspiration, I logged onto the Internet and began to participate in what I believe will become a new phase in democracy: shopping online for the next President.

During election years, it seems I typically only hear about the top two candidates. These are usually the guys buying lots of TV ads, and they are the ones featured on televised debates. Their pictures tend to be all over the newspapers (even if you're just looking for the crossword).

But on the Internet, the view is a little different. Within five minutes of beginning this unusual shopping spree, I discovered something I never knew before. There were over a dozen candidates running from different political parties. And dozens more running campaigns as independents or write-ins. I guess I had a vague inkling that other people besides the Republicans and Democrats were campaigning this year, but I never realized how many.

What's more, suddenly I had access to information about all these other parties and what they stood for. Every one of them had a Web site in 2000, which is probably the first national election year in which this was the case. And it means that researching all of the candidates is suddenly possible for all of us.

After looking at official Web sites, I started browsing message boards where people were discussing the election. Although people spend a lot of time arguing with each other in these groups, they also do try to answer each other's questions, when possible (like, where can I find out this candidate's actual voting record?). This was a whole new resource.

I spent about an hour online, and in that time, I learned more about this year's presidential candidates (mainstream and less mainstream) and their parties that I had ever learned from watching TV, listening to radio talk shows, or arguing over dinner with friends.

This is what I love so much about the Internet. It removes the time and space between you and the rest of the world. Suddenly we all have access to information about almost everyone involved in politics and the current election. This means that every political party has a better chance of reaching people with their message.

Sure, it may be a long time before alternative parties make a real dent in our two-party election process, but the Internet can certainly help to make this happen. Whatever your personal opinion of Ross Perot, eight years ago he performed a valuable service by forcing Democrats and Republicans to address subjects they most likely would have ignored otherwise. He made the national debt a national priority.

Because the Internet makes it possible to learn about other parties and other points of view, third-party campaigns will become much more feasible, and reach many more people. As a result, I believe people will start demanding that the mainstream parties pay attention to other issues, rather than following their own agendas. Election politics will have to become more responsive.

If every party and every candidate had a Web site this year, imagine what things will be like in four years, or eight years. The Internet will become a fundamental part of getting your message out, reaching people, and getting people to vote. It will become an incredible tool for democracy.

We're still at the beginning stages, but already I can tell that the way I approach voting and elections has changed. With a little Internet research on my part, I can make informed "buying" decisions about who I'm going to vote for. Like most other shopping on the Web, shopping for the next President online is easier than it is offline, and I'm much more confident that I'm not overlooking a better deal somewhere else.