WASHINGTON, DC—The Markle Foundation and Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government today joined with industry leaders representing hundreds of Web sites to unveil “Web White & Blue Day” on October 7, an awareness campaign promoting easy access to election-related information. The campaign seeks to harness the power of the Internet to strengthen democracy by giving Internet users a more informed and authoritative voice in the 1998 elections, which are just four weeks away.
Commercial sites are leveraging their massive audience appeal to encourage participation among the broadest possible range of Internet users. More than 350 commercial and nonprofit Web sites—including ABC News, Microsoft, the Democracy Network, Infoseek, the League of Women Voters, Compaq, Hispanic Online, iVillage and Yahoo!—have joined together for the first time at a national level to get Americans informed about politics by displaying an icon on their homepage that links Internet users directly to the Web White & Blue Day site. The campaign’s Web site—at www.webwhiteblue.org—will be live October 7 and remain active through the election, November 3. Web hosting services for the campaign are being provided by America Online.
The Internet recently passed a milestone in cementing its role in American politics: Last month some 20 million people used the Net to gain access to the Starr Report within 24 hours after the report was released.
“Participation in our democracy just became easier,” Markle Foundation President Zoe Baird said. “Web White & Blue Day will insure that the vast array of political information on the Web is as accessible and user-friendly as possible. As 1998 unfolds, the public clearly feels that the Web is an important part of the political process. This unique partnership will further that trend.”
Based on historical traffic records for Web usage, it is estimated that more than 25-30 million Web users will see the Web White & Blue Day icon throughout the campaign.
Almost 35 percent of the U.S. adult population now uses the Internet, and Americans have adopted this medium faster than they adopted television, radio, and the telephone. While citizen involvement in politics is at an all-time low – less than half of the voting age population in the U.S. voted in the 1996 election according to the Federal Election Commission – 60 percent of “connected” Americans vote, according to a 1997 study by Wired magazine.
The Internet can “fundamentally change our political process by empowering people to educate themselves,” America Online Chairman and CEO Steve Case said. “Web White & Blue Day illustrates this tremendous power – how the Internet can provide a depth and breadth of information in one place that’s simply impossible to duplicate in the traditional media.”
The Web White & Blue Day site offers election-related resources in the following categories:
- Voter Information – polling locations and youth resources
- Your State – government and non-profit election-oriented Web sites, by state
- Issues -comprehensive issue directories, candidate positions and public opinion poll results
- Campaigns – candidate directories and more
- Election News – national, regional and state news sites
- Participate – discussion about politics and election issues
All together, Web White & Blue Day links to 45 Web sites that offer a range of political information, from ELECnet, which links to state, county and city sites in all 50 states, to the Center for Responsive Politics, which offers in-depth campaign finance information, to Project Vote Smart, which tracks information on more than 13,000 candidates and elected officials, to the Newspaper Association of America’s Newspaperlinks.com, which is creating a new directory of local election coverage by its 850 members.
The more than 350 web sites carrying the Web White & Blue Day icon represent organizations ranging from major Internet search engines and services, to media organizations, online directories and general-interest sites that focus on sports—types of Web sites not usually associated with politics.
“The value of the commitment by commercial sites to putting the Web White & Blue Day icon on their homepage cannot be overstated,” said Baird. “It means that millions more Internet users will visit the site, and we hope they will be motivated by what they see to actively participate in the political process.”
Web White & Blue Day has also attracted wide online involvement by families, local governments, small businesses, libraries and local citizens’ groups.
“What we learn from Web White & Blue Day about educating voters on-line in 1998 will help us make the Internet more effective for voters in the presidential election in 2000,” said Marvin Kalb, director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
The John and Mary R. Markle Foundation is a private, not-for-profit grantmaking foundation that was incorporated in 1927 in the state of New York by John Markle and his wife, Mary R. Markle. The Foundation has assets of $180 million, and makes charitable contributions of approximately $9 million per year in the development and use of technologies of communication and information to enhance lifelong learning and promote an informed citizenry.
The Media and Political Participation program aims to study the democratic process and develop new practices for how media and technology can improve citizen participation in national politics. Currently, the Markle Foundation supports applied research on political campaigns and creates innovative experiments that use new media technologies to enhance political dialogue, deliberation and participation among citizens.
The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy is a Harvard research center dedicated to exploring the intersection of press, politics and public policy in theory and practice. The Center strives to bridge the gap between journalists and scholars and, increasingly, between them and the public. Through teaching and research at the Kennedy School of Government and through its program of fellows and conferences, the Center is at the forefront of discussions in this area.
Established in 1986 with a generous gift from the Shorenstein Family, the Center has emerged as a major source for research on U.S. campaigns and elections, journalism and public policy, international news, and race, gender and the press. It is a widely respected convener of journalists, scholars and political activists working to help the press improve its role in democracy.