The last of three presidential debates between Senator John Kerry and President George W. Bush took place this past week in Tempe, Arizona. The end of the debate series sparked the expected attempts by both sides to spin the facts via news stories, Web blogs and email campaigns. The beauty of the Internet is not only the speed with which information can travel, but the sheer amount of data that becomes accessible to the average person.
Political debates, especially presidential debates, are often filled with facts and statistics that can be used to make a variety of points. Two sides can look at the same exact information and come up with entirely different points of view. So what is a confused voter to do? Turn to the Internet. In no other election in history have American voters had such a wide range of information and data from official government agencies available to them with the simple click of a mouse.
There are quite a few excellent resources out there, depending on the type of information you are looking for, but it's important to remember the sources you are reading when you do your research online. Getting your "facts" from the DNC, GOP or any other political parties Web sites is not likely to give you the entire picture. Take the time to get to the source of data and you're more likely to end up with accurate information.
Curious about a candidate's record? Political records are public information and can easily be accessed by visiting the appropriate government Web site. The official site of the U.S. Senate has a variety of non-partisan information on Senator John Kerry's record. Users can look up any bill that the Senator has sponsored, co-signed, voted on, etc...
Looking for a non-partisan site that provides a strong overview of the candidates and their stand on the issues? Take a few moments to check out Project Vote Smart. This site is a non-profit, non-partisan information Web site designed to give an unbiased overview of various political campaigns. The site was founded and is overseen by a variety of political figures on both sides of the aisle, including former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and former Congressional representatives Newt Gingrich and Geraldine Ferraro.
Perhaps you watched the presidential debates over the past few weeks and heard some facts and data thrown around that you simply weren't sure about. FactCheck.org is the site you'll want to check out. Created and maintained by The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, FactCheck.org is recognized as one of the most accurate non-partisan sites on the Internet.
For example, during the presidential debates, George Bush accused John Kerry of voting for tax increases 98 times. In reality, that figure counts multiple votes on the same bill, including 16 votes for the 1993 Clinton tax increases. While the number Bush quoted is accurate, the message it was looking to send was misleading. On the flip side, John Kerry claimed that under President Bush "500,000 kids lost after-school programs." That's actually not the case. While a budget cut was proposed that could have potentially caused these figures, the bill was never passed and the government has continued funding the program at the same level that it had previously.
Moving beyond the pure and simple facts, the Internet is also an outstanding tool for disproving the many urban legends that have run amok via email and blog sites during the campaign. Perhaps you've received an email that talks about how President Bush has the lowest IQ of any elected president in history (he doesn't), or that John Kerry is responsible for the Heinz corporation moving jobs overseas (he's not). Thankfully, a few excellent sites like About.com's guide to Urban Legends and TruthorFiction.com have risen to the challenge of debunking the many political urban legends that fly through cyberspace. Both are worth taking a few seconds to check out before you hit the forward button on your email.
Even beyond hitting specific Web sites, a quick Google or Yahoo! search can provide amazing resources. Just this morning I was able to quickly locate the Federal Reserves historical record of interest rates so that I could compare the current rates with those of past election years. I’ve also used Google to locate the Tax History Project, an excellent site that features PDF copies of the annual tax returns of presidential candidates. (I was able to use that site to refute an email that claimed John Kerry paid only $90K in taxes compared to the $250K that George Bush had paid…upon reviewing each candidates tax records I learned that George Bush’s return was a joint return with his wife and included each of their taxes. John Kerry’s return was filed separately and did not include the taxes that his wife paid, thus explaining the seemingly large gap.)
The elections are only a few weeks away and the political ads will be flying during that time. Responsible voters have plenty of resources to turn to, if they’ll just take a few moments to hop on their computer and do a little research.
October 15, 2004
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jenniferâ€™s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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