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Internet Becomes Powerful Political Tool

While political campaigns in the United States have used the Internet since the 1990s, the importance of the Internet has grown dramatically in the current campaign for the White House. In this segment of "How America Elects," VOA's Jeffrey Young looks at how candidates and their parties make strategic use of cyberspace.

If you are running for the White House in 2008, the place to be seen -- and to persuade a growing percentage of voters -- is the WorldWide Web.

Television changed the U.S. political landscape in the 1950s and 60s. Fifty years later, the Internet has greatly expanded how candidates communicate with voters. And, vice versa.

In the 2008 presidential race, when candidates make appearances and state their positions, video of that is posted to their campaign websites.

Unlike TV, that video can be seen on the Internet countless times for no additional candidate expense.

Campaigns also embrace the Internet because, on it messages go out to voters without commentators or others directly challenging what the candidate wants voters to hear.

The role of fundraising on the Internet also is huge. In fact, most campaign websites have a fundraising appeal as the first page Web users see.

And it's not just presidential candidates taking to the Internet. Candidates for statewide races such as the U.S. Senate have also embraced the Web for communications and the search for cash.

One of the big differences between TV and the Internet is that the Web allows for two-way communication between candidates and potential supporters.

While the Internet joins TV as a powerful campaign tool, it also can be a counterforce, as Benjamin Ginsberg at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. explains. "Television sort of shifted the balance of power in favor of the politicians. They could structure what you saw. Well, the Internet to some extent shifts the balance of power back to individuals because they can film or take pictures of things politicians did not want them to see, and show them on YouTube," he says.

Professor Ginsberg and other observers say that the Internet's power as a political communications tool will continue to grow -- perhaps to the point where someday, elections themselves may be conducted with a click of a mouse.