Blog Post 7: Voting and the Internet

This week, we talked about the implications of the internet on voting patterns and the potential future effects of the internet on how we actually vote and what that might mean. I thought this discussion was pretty interesting because it related directly to my introductory political sociology class. In sociology, we’ve been thinking a lot about how societal forces shape the way people vote and also about what causes people to participate in politics at all. Essentially, with a sociological perspective in mind, the internet is largely affected by the way people vote, but it also has the potential to affect the way way people vote and to change elections.

The aspect of the internet that I am most interested in here is the interaction between individuals and websites, social media platforms, and internet political platforms that feed them information. When I see a political story on the internet, am I seeing it because : A) the internet has analyzed my behaviors and political interests and targeted me for this political story because there is a strong likelihood that I will be interested and click on it -or- B) the internet (or more accurately the people in charge of platforms and other entities with power on the internet) are attempting to shape my preferences by sneakily showing me only certain political stories. My suspicion is that A is mostly correct, but B is probably true to a limited extent as well.

The reason that I am more of an A guy is because our conception of democracy as a system where informed voters make informed decisions about government is largely untrue. In reality, nearly all people know extremely little about the policymaking process, the history of certain policies, the effects of policies on life, or what the majority of government policy even is. When people vote for a candidate, they choose him or her because they identify with him or her best, and/or because he or she is the candidate of the voter’s party. This is not to say that only educated or well informed people are clued in about politics and can make informed choices. In fact, the people who are most politically informed are actually generally least open to rational lines of argument because their political involvement is strongly entrenched in party positions. The educated, moreover, are no more likely to be making informed choices than any other people; it’s not like doctors and lawyers and teachers are spending their free time pouring over thousands of pages of policy briefs and proposals and considering which ones are right for the country and which ones are supported by which candidate. We all just vote based on how we feel, who we identify with, and how our parties tell us.

The result of this is that voting patterns are, for the most part, quite stable. People vote for their party’s candidate nearly every single time (that’s why even Donald Trump will likely get at least 40% of the vote). Elections, as a result, are very close and depend on swing voters, who are generally even less informed and politically involved than the general public, and on trends such as incumbency (advantageous for the president after 1 term, but not for his party after 2) and extremely recent economic conditions. When I see a political news story on the internet, it is quite likely that the internet and the powers that be have placed it there based on an understanding that my identifiers-who I am, where I live, my race, age, and education, what I am interested in-shape my political interests in a pretty stable way. The result is that I am more likely to click on certain kinds of stories, so in order to make money off my internet use and to keep me using the internet more, the internet shows me stories I am likely to click on.

That said, however, although voting preferences and political identities are largely stable for the majority of the population, there are a select few swing voters for whom preferences are quite changeable and who typically decide elections. The possibility of B-that the internet attempts to manipulate voter preferences by showing certain headlines-is certainly real for these select few. If companies are able to figure out who has truly malleable preferences and is vulnerable to propaganda and targeting, then the internet represents a new arena for election changing ground game. The internet may not have the potential to shape how most of us lean politicall, but it does have the potential to decide elections by affecting how a limited few of us vote.

2 Comments »

  1. Mike Smith

    October 25, 2016 @ 8:42 PM

    1

    I’m far from an expert on the ideas of stable voting patterns and a few swing voters, and so the following are honest questions you might be able to answer from your other classes. Your explanation sounds like it picks a point in time (an election). I want to ask about these qualities over time. It doesn’t seem right to me that a person is either a stable voter or a swing voter for his or her entire life. It’s certainly not my own personal experience. Am I wrong? What is the situation if you look at voters over a lifetime of voting?

  2. school of applied science

    November 10, 2016 @ 8:33 PM

    2

    I hope you can continue this discussion, thank you discussion about this “Voting and the Internet”

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