Web sites are digital aids in election, candidate research

The way students make the age-old decision of "Whom do I vote for this year?" has gone high-tech, thanks to Web sites like Votesmart.org.

With the 2008 presidential election less than one month away, more students are turning to the Internet to research candidates' opinions and help them make decisions.

"It's important voters be informed; they're deciding the future of our country," said Chris Sabatini, a Garden City freshman.

Sabatini said he did most of his presidential research this year on the Internet.

"Kids our age should try and pay attention to it," said Stephanie Burns, a Grand Rapids sophomore, about the election. Burns said she does most of her research online, including watching speeches on YouTube.com.

Students can use Web sites like Project Vote Smart, votesmart.org, to have all the candidates' views in one place. Politifact.com also provides a detailed truth analysis of candidates' claims. A service of the Center for Professional and Personal Ethics at CMU also provides a website, cmuvote.cmich.edu, to assist voters.

Political science assistant professor J. Cherie Strachan said Votesmart is a credible source that gets most of its information through independent research, such as following candidates' voting records.

Strachan also recommends visiting the candidates' official campaign Web sites, which are another good source to find the candidates' policy statements.

Not all students do their research online. Strachan offered advice for sorting through all the other ads out there. She believes that just one ad can't express a candidate's views, but voters can get an idea throughout the campaign.

"I don't think you see what a candidate stands for in a single advertisement, but over the course of the campaign you can start to identify their policy positions," Strachan said.

When it comes to TV ads, Strachan advises paying the most attention to the candidates' own ads where they discuss their own views, instead of the ones where they attack their opponent.

Campaign ads themselves have gone high-tech with the rise of digital technology. Peter Orlik, School of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts chairman, said campaign ads can be made in as little as three to four hours.

"It's a process that was done primarily by advertising agencies in the 1980s but is now done more by political consultants using outside post-production houses," he said.

Orlik added that not every ad is personally approved by the candidate; this task is often delegated to most trusted members of his staff.

When it comes to TV, Strachan recommended watching the presidential debates.

"They want to differentiate themselves," Strachan said about how the candidates answer the questions they field during the debates.

Strachan also mentioned that although some parts of the mainstream media can be slanted at times, there are good sources such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor.

"It makes sense for students to pay attention and form opinions about things that affect their lives," Strachan said.



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