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Archive for Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Forum focuses on technology’s political influence

December 14, 2004

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The latest technology is taking elections to new heights when it comes to real-time, instant measurements of public opinions and the way information about candidates and issues is presented over the Internet.

During debates the use of dials allow political scientists to study instantaneously how some people react to what the candidates are saying, according to Mary Banwart, assistant professor of communication studies at Kansas University. Dials also can be used to measure reaction to political commercials.

"What we're able to do during the debates is measure second-by-second feedback," Banwart said during a forum Monday night at KU's Dole Institute of Politics.

Banwart conducted her own study using dials with KU students and first-time voters this fall.

Dials allow the user to adjust ratings on a candidate by turning a knob on a small hand-held box instead of typing reactions on a keypad.

Banwart was one of three panelists who spoke to about 80 people attending the forum, which was moderated by Dole Institute director Bill Lacy. Also on the panel was Rob Curley, director of new media and convergence for the World Co., which owns the Journal-World and 6News; and Don Haider-Markel, KU associate professor of political science.

Curley explained how large amounts of information about candidates and related issues were placed on ljworld.com and how readers could offer feedback. He noted that online sessions led candidates and other politicians to answer questions from readers that they sometimes wouldn't answer when the same questions were posed by reporters.

Cell-phone technology and the phones' ability to connect users to the Internet also have affected online processes, he said. Not only are game scores presented online but calls are made automatically to cell-phone users who want to be notified.

The increasing use of cell phones also is an issue pre-election pollsters will have to deal with, Haider-Markel said. Cell-phone users generally aren't called by pollsters because the phone owner must pay for the time and it is against the law for computer-aided calls to be made to cell phones, he said.

Surveys during the 2004 presidential election were accurate throughout the campaign, Haider-Markel said. Yet he also noted that surveys "are but one snapshot in time."

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