ELECTION information has never been more extensive, easier to access or more difficult to interpret.
The old tools for understanding elections are still there in the form of newspapers, TV and radio. However, now there is a myriad of new devices that provide information on elections. All of them have their pluses and minuses.
Interpreting the print media by understanding the influence of people such as Rupert Murdoch, comprehending the biases of journalists and commentators has been understood by educated and interested people for a long time. The story is similar with radio and television.
However, the new social electronic media including email, Facebook, Twitter and interactive sites provide a plethora of options and range of opportunities for the voters as well as the parties and the candidates.
The ABC provides an excellent example of an interactive site providing information to voters. “Votecompass” (abc.net.au/votecompass/) has already had over half a million people using the electronic tool to see where they stand in relation to the policies of the major parties.
It is fun to use and to see how you rate and to examine how you are placed on a chart in comparison to the major parties and the Greens. On the plus side, the tool looks at issues from recognition of indigenous peoples in the Constitution to climate change, refugees, the economy, health, education and same-sex marriage. In fact, they explore attitudes to around 30 issues to determine how aligned the participant is with the parties.
On the negative side, this is a tool that cannot explore all options. For example, voters might be influenced by the possibility of a hung parliament being used to hold the government accountable, by the personality, intellect and hard work of a local member, by the ability of a minor party or independent to really influence the day to day workings of government. It might just be a case of liking or disliking a particular candidate who is somewhat known to the voter. However, by using the tool and by taking the other issues into account the voter becomes more informed.
And the ABC has access to an in-depth data base which provides much more insight to what influences voters’ intentions rather than the simple polling that simply asks who a person intends to support at the next election. It goes further in actually understanding the extent of voters’ feelings on a range of political issues.
Facebook is another device that provides understanding. Messages come through that are either scathing of the behaviour of the leaders or candidates or strongly supporting their candidacy. Because the information comes from Facebook friends the source carries a stronger element of trust and is likely to have more influence.
Twitter is a similar story. A person using Twitter chooses who to follow. The information might be limited to 140 characters and for my own account (@mmoore50) I am reasonably selective about whom I choose to follow. It does include some prominent journalists, a few politicians and a range of academics. The 140 characters often carry a pointer to a webpage providing insightful comment or information to expand understanding. On the down side it can be quite an effort to trawl through a barrage of short sharp statements trying to work out which will provide further insight.
These few examples of the new election tools hardly scrape the surface of what is happening with new media. Let’s hope that the profusion of information assists in decision making rather than having voters throw the overload switch and become completely turned off our democratic processes.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.