I was just discussing this subject with a colleague, when Jane at Slugger Central sent me a link to this piece on the BBC website: Was this an internet election? For journalists, the answer is “no”. For web junkies, it’s “of course”. And for electors? Well, that may be the most interesting question.
Party membership, for example, is plummeting, and party loyalty a much more fluid affair than it was a generation ago. Nowhere was this trend starker than in the plethora of tactical voting sites. Rather than putting a cross in the same box as last time, voters have been using the net to make a choice based on other factors: the likelihood of it making a difference, the past record of the candidates (regardless of their manifesto pledges), or to prioritise specific issues, especially Iraq.
It is tempting to characterise this kind of voting as the consumerisation of politics, but that trend is better reflected in the limited but depressing phenomenon of votes for sale, illegally, on the auction website eBay. By contrast, online strategic voting and vote swapping is far more passionate and dedicated, as with the massively popular voting advice websites we have been looking at, like Who Should You Vote For? and The Public Whip.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty