Internet takes greater role in election campaign

Opinion

Internet takes greater role in election campaign

Well, the final debate is over, and now just six days of increasingly frenzied campaigning, soundbites and stunts remain before Britain goes to the polls for the 2010 General Election.

Throughout the campaign, supporters, candidates, comedians and interested onlookers have taken to Twitter to debate, harangue and share their thoughts, many of them tweeting along to TV reports on programmes such as Newsnight, Question Time and, of course, the historic leaders' debates.

SME Internet provider Eclipse today released figures on the final debate between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, showing that on the night of 29 April, streaming sites saw a massive 118% increase in traffic compared to the first debate, and 26% compared to the second.

Eclipse claims it saw a 67% increase in traffic to the BBC iPlayer site between 8pm and 9:30pm.

Director Clodagh Murphy said: "It's clear we're at a time when online TV is taking prevalence as our stats recognise. It was interesting to see that with the final debate focusing on mainly economic issues, online traffic was at its highest point than at any time previously across the three weeks."

Early figures suggest that more than six million viewers tuned in to watch last night's debate on BBC1, up two million on last week (although apparently this is not as many as watched Doctor Who on Saturday).

I also heard from Virgin Media Business ( formerly ntl:Telewest Business), which has conducted a voter survey that found the number of people backing a digitised ballot system had jumped from 19% to 43% since the 2005 election, and called for the next government to consider allowing online voting.

The survey reflected the fact that voter engagement with the political process has suffered in recent years, with many seeking greater communication from their PPCs via email and other channels.

Virgin public sector director Lee Hull said: "Technology could be critical in helping to ignite more interest from the public. The absence of an e-voting system is ironic when you think how many people will schedule a visit to the polling station in their digital calendars, and check their emails, texts and Facebook while queueing to vote."

Honestly, I'm torn on e-voting. Maybe an online voting system would help younger voters - those least likely to vote - more likely to do so. I can certainly see the logic behind the theory. But I'm a bit of an old romantic and still find stepping into a little booth to physically vote far more exciting than the prospect of pushing a button online.

At any rate, I'll be off down my local polling station in Tooting next Thursday. I'm not sure if the Tooting Popular Front is putting up a candidate this time round; I hear  Wolfie lost his deposit. And whatever your views, please do remember to vote yourself next Thursday. It doesn't take long, and only then can we be sure that we'll get the government we want and deserve.

For a deeper dive into some of the online trends shaping the election, pop on over to ComputerWeekly.com's  Vote IT Up!  blog, where editor James Garner has been assessing the impact of social media on the election in greater detail.

This was first published in April 2010

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