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Presidential Primaries on MySpace

We're playing this election like it will be decided online. The question: will enthusiasm on the web translate into long lines at the polling stations?

This campaign season is a study in firsts. Candidates banking on the fact that voters are tired of the hidden agendas of rich old men. Campaign chairmen focusing resources on media that was thought to be irrelevant not a decade ago. An entire nation is counting on the fact that change is coming, but is it all just a game?

MySpace made the dubiously newsworthy announcement this week that they would be holding their own presidential primaries on January 1st and 2nd, 2008. The voting will be open to all American members of MySpace, regardless of age (an interesting experiment in itself). The results, once compared with the results of the ensuing primaries, may demonstrate the internet's newfound power to influence and even predict the outcome of elections. Conversely, they may demonstrate a lurching monster's awesome capacity to fall flat on its face.

Less than 48 hours after the announcement, every man and his confused e-dog is up in arms over the question of how MySpace could carry out any sort of voting process that could be construed as “fair” or “accurate.” Obviously, the accuracy of the MySpace vote will be put to the test during the “real” elections, where no kind of voting shenanigans or discrepancies will take place.

The most common criticism of the MySpace primary is that MySpace accounts in no way represent real people. Controlling who votes and how often will be nearly impossible. On the other side of the fence are those who claim that frauds and duplicates will make up such a small percentage of voters that the results will still be statistically valid. Of course, that's what the producers of American Idol say about the whole Sanjaya controversy. Who will the Sanjaya of the MySpace primaries be, I wonder? Someone who would probably do a good job but that no one is taking seriously…Kucinich maybe? Behold the power of the interenet!

Another popular complaint is that this is an only thinly disguised effort on the part of Rupert Murdoch to regain control of the minds of voters, since no one is taking Fox seriously anymore. The mock election is expected to attracted older, more politically involved members to MySpace, who will, of course, be offered some form of election coverage at MySpace Impact.

Last but not least, many have been quick to point out that the democratic supporters dominate these intertubes in such a way that will wildly skew any type of online voting data in favor of Obama. By far the most 2.0 candidate, Obama is head, shoulders, and entire upper torso above the competition in terms of friends on MySpace, views on YouTube, and online campaign contributions.

My own concern comes, perhaps, from my own work in the past as a print buyer for political campaigns. Having had my fingers in all the pies, as it were, I've seen firsthand the difference between interest shown in a product or service online, and the motivation required to follow through on a purchase or an investment. The fact is that a consumer who puts time and energy into engaging with print advertisement, such as a brochure, a flyer, or a door hanger, is far more likely to become a completed sale than a consumer viewing online advertising.

This isn't a major factor in cases where advertising online is so cheap and the traffic so high that even a very low conversion rate makes the grade. However, in cases where your consumer actually does have to go out and BUY the product, or as we say in politics, “vote,” the difference can have an enormous impact.

Someone who sends away for a brochure in the mail has a relatively high likelihood of converting into a sale. Conversely, it is in no way proven that the people who show their support for candidates online are the same people who will get out and vote on election day. In fact, people who are learning to play their role in society online may be less likely to come through, and actually get out of their homes, go down to polling stations, and cast their ballots during an allotted voting period.

At this point, all we can do is speculate. The results of what all this online campaigning and enthusiasm will only be revealed once the votes are counted. Until then, and it is a very long time until then, all we can do is wait and wonder. Is the digital revolution happening? Will the 2008 vote make history? Only time will tell.

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