The Political Internet

Sometimes, it seems the Internet's only purpose is the speedy dissemination of misinformation and urban legend. However, with the presidential elections nearing, it's important to note that the Internet is also the single greatest source for factual information ever compiled. You just have to know where to find it.

Recent controversies over the bias of reporting in main stream news media have cast doubt on the truthfulness of broadcast news. In some instances, online Internet bloggers have successfully called the big guys to task over their reporting.

They are able to accomplish this because of the wealth of information that is the Internet. For instance, government documents are routinely made public on GPO Access. Others become available through The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Sites like The Electronic Privacy Information Center make such documents available.

This information coalesces in sites like OpenSecrets.org. OpenSecrets.org tracks money in politics including those people, organizations and businesses that donate to political campaigns. In addition, OpenSecrets.org publishes easily digestible information about campaign finance law.

Sites like FactCheck.org provide reasonably unbiased reviews of political ads and public statements. As it turns out, the truth behind the ads is often more interesting than the bald faced lies in the ads. Of course, there's always Snopes.com for disproving (and sometimes proving) all those political e-mails filling our inboxes.

After sorting through the articles on FactCheck.org, you may be even more disenchanted with the major parties. Sites like AOL's President Match will take you through a Q&A which attempts to reveal your preferred candidate.

For a variation on the same test, try SelectSmart.com (warning: contains annoying, flashing banner ads). The SelectSmart.com results include several third party candidates. Consequently, the answers that you can choose from are more varied to reflect the positions of the third party candidates. You might be surprised at the results from this test.

For information about the two party system and how we ended up here (mathematically speaking), read this Science News article from the mid-term elections. Duverger's law states that a plurality voting system (what we have here in the United States today), will always boil down to a two party system.

This isn't to say that we'll always have the same two parties, just that our voting system hastens the demise of a failing political party and impedes the rise of third parties. Duverger himself didn't consider it an absolute. For him, it was more an observation, one that suggests there may be better alternatives.

For a run down of several other voting systems, check out ElectionMethods.org. ElectionMethods.org is not shy about its preferred system, the Condorcet method. The Condorcet attempts to minimize the effect of Duverger's Law by having voters rank each candidate by preference. But, with two major parties and at least five viable third parties, that's a lot of hanging chads.

This leads us to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem (good name). Kenneth Arrow argued that, more or less, a perfect voting system is impossible. It seems you can't be all things to all people. In fact, the voting paradox illustrates a whole in the Condorcet method.

Regardless, most people agree that the time of the Electoral College has come and gone -- if it was even a good idea in the first place. The electoral college inhibits the already stunted plurality voting system producing situations where a President can be elected without the popular vote, something that's happened 4 or 5 times in history.

Of course, for the moment, we're stuck with the Electoral College. To this extent, sites like the Electoral Vote Predictor try to forecast how states will go based on current polling data. RealClear Politics also aggregates national and state poll data. The site also includes links to relevant stories and even transcripts from of the recent Bush/Kerry debate.

So, whether you're just looking for aggregated news from major outlets, the truth behind the ads, or for general knowledge of the United States voting system, the Internet is often your best source for information. It's even possible to find sites that at least strive to be unbiased in their coverage and presentation. Of course, if you like your bias just the way it is and enjoy a good argument, the Internet has that too.


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