Get Involved

You no longer need to be a media expert, with a long and storied background in politics, to become an influential commentator on campaigns and elections. The Internet has had a democratizing effect upon political punditry. Now, with each new election cycle in the United States, amateur bloggers and nonpolitical professionals acquire wide followings.

The 2008 presidential election, for example, saw the advent of a popular website, www.fivethirtyeight.com, which was created by Nate Silver, who worked as an analyst at a sports company, Baseball Prospectus. A baseball and a politics junkie, Silver employed some of the same methods he had used analyzing baseball players and applied them to politics. His website quickly gathered a wide following on the Web.

There are many other stories of successful Web startups by political amateurs. In 2000, a former options trader, John McIntyre, and an advertising executive named Tom Bevan formed the website www.realclearpolitics.com. The website helped to aggregate different news stories from a wide range of media outlets. It quickly won praise from campaign managers, pundits, and professional media publications like the Washington Post, and it ranked as one of the most-surveyed political websites in 2008. If you have an interest in politics, and a good story or idea to share, websites like fivethirtyeight and realclearpolitics show that there is an audience waiting to listen.
The Internet is a tool to study the history of American presidential elections. The Living Room Candidate features archived television ads from 1952 to the present. It allows you to view some of the ads used in previous contests (and ads from the most recent election in 2008, some of which are featured in this chapter’s Video Exercises page). When you watch previous ads, keep the following questions in mind: How have the messages of campaign ads changed over time? How have campaign messages stayed the same?

As an example of how advertising has changed over time, look at one at the earliest presidential ads run in the 1952 election, “Ike for President.”

1a. Describe this ad. What groups were backing Eisenhower for president? Why? What do you think this ad’s reception would be if it were run today?
1b. As an example of how campaign messages stay the same over time, compare the 1972 Richard Nixon ad, “McGovern Defense,” and the 2004 George W. Bush ad, “Weapons.” McGovern Defense, 1972
Weapons, 2004


What are some of the similarities between these ads?
1c. The ads focus on candidate characteristics (Ike’s likability) and an ongoing issue (national security). Can you think of other candidate attributes or issues around which campaigns might develop ads? Try putting in a one-word description of a presidential attribute or issue into the search box at http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/ and watch a relevant campaign ad.

Which candidate attribute or issue did you use for your search? Describe the advertisement you watched. How well did it make use of the attribute or issue you had in mind?
The Internet can be a tool to help you better understand how candidates for office match up with your own ideological preferences.
2a. Which candidate for president did you support in the 2008 election, or would you have supported if you could have voted in the most recent election?
Minnesota Public Radio has currently compiled a Web survey where you can match your issue preferences against candidates for office, located at: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/projects/ongoing/select_a_candidate/poll.php?race_id=13

Compare your own preferences to the 2004 and 2008 presidential races.
2b. Did the right candidate win, in your opinion, based upon your preferences? Explain.

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About This Exercise

This exercises provides resources that will help you participate in the political process.