The Internet offers myriad opportunities for political candidates, including fundraising from supporters and advertising for new voters, according to a new study.
The survey, commissioned by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) in conjunction with the University of Connecticut’s Center for Survey and Research Analysis, found that more than two out of three U.S. voters are likely to turn to the Internet to find information about a candidate.
The OPA poll, which questioned 642 people and has a margin of error around 4 percent, found voters from both parties eager to use a candidate’s Web site for research: 68 percent of Republicans said they were very or somewhat likely to do so; 59 percent of Democrats responded that way; and 57 percent of independents said the same.
Of all voters, about 29 percent said political ads online would interest them to some degree. However, despite the frequent complaints about the blitz of political ads on TV, 73 percent of those polled disagreed that they would rather see Internet political pitches over those on the TV.
Still, the survey held out hope for the potential effectiveness of Web political ads: 60 percent said they were likely to notice a candidate’s online ad and 39 percent said they would click on one.
“A lot of politically active people are on the Internet,” said Michael Zimbalist, the OPA’s executive director. “There are two things that politicians and candidates really need to take away: you can use this to energize your base and you can use this to reach swing voters.”
The OPA, which represents the Web sites of the nation’s top newspapers, sees great potential for grabbing a chunk of political ad spending. In the first five months of this year alone, with elections far away, political ad spending on TV topped $50 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. In 2004, the advertising industry is expected to thrive, thanks to both political spending and the Olympics.
National news sites, such as washingtonpost.com and NYTimes.com hope their politics-savvy audiences can help them win ad dollars currently earmarked for TV spots. The OPA found that 75 percent of visitors to national news sites said they were likely to research a candidate’s position and 46 percent said they would click on a political ad.
“We’re talking to campaigns and the political community, including the consultants and media buyers and the various people in campaigns, about the clearly established advantages of Internet advertising,” said Cliff Sloan, vice president of business development at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. “This is one area where there’s a tremendous gap between the corporate and the political worlds.”
Sloan said the Internet ad industry needs to make the same case it makes to traditional advertisers for moving money from untargeted TV buys to targeted Web buys: The Internet offers a more qualified audience at a better price.
So far, Sloan said the uptake has been slow, other than a campaign for Democratic hopeful Howard Dean that ran on Newsweek’s site in August. He said advertising would pick up as the campaign heats up this fall.
“We think there’s about to be a real breakthrough and a development of really significant advertising on the Internet,” Sloan said. “The reason is Internet advertising works.”
So far in the presidential campaign, Dean has been widely hailed for his use of the Web for direct response. In addition to keeping a blog, his Web site has used MeetUp.com to organize numerous small gatherings of supporters and tap into fundraising opportunities.
The OPA survey confirmed the Internet’s potential for reaching small groups of highly motivated supporters: 17 percent of voters said they would use the Web to volunteer for a campaign and 14 percent said they would donate online.
(Dean has also experienced the downside of using the Internet as a grass roots tool. Last month, his campaign acknowledged that it sent out unsolicited e-mail pitches through two contractors.)
Perhaps most importantly for improving his viability in the primaries, Dean has successfully raised money online. In the second quarter of the year, Dean reported he raised $3.5 million of his $7.5 million total through the Web.