When it comes to debating the issues, the public has a hard time sifting through all the political theater, biases, and endless muckraking. Between boilerplate-spewing press secretaries, 30-second attack ads, and swiftboating, it's often difficult to figure out where candidates and elected officials stand on hot policy topics like health care and the economy without out-of-context buzzwords (Death panels! Socialism!).
Today, however, politicians may finally have a fair and balanced platform to speak directly with potential voters about specific issues. Earlier this morning, YouTube launched Town Hall, a Congressional debate forum that enables the public to see where elected officials stand on issues, head-to-head, and choose which stances they support.
"Users can select an issue of interest, such as the budget, and watch side-by-side videos of two Congress members explaining their stances on the topic," reports Politico. Additionally, YouTube users can vote on topics they're most interested in, and each month, Congress members will upload video responses specifically made for the service's Town Hall platform.
YouTube's Town Hall platform has the potential not only as a service to the public but as a new method of polling the public on issues. Users of the service can click a "Support" button under each video to vote for the stance he or she agrees with most; YouTube keeps running track of these votes on its Town Hall Leaderboard, where Senators Harry Reid and Richard Lugar currently top the charts. (In a savvy move, YouTube has made it so viewers will not know the political affiliation of each Congressional member until after clicking the "Support" button.)
Such a platform could help politicians and pollsters learn more about which issues and stances are most resonating with the public. And if YouTube is ever willing to share its demographic information with elected officials and potential candidates, data from its Town Hall service could be even more valuable.
YouTube now joins the ranks of other high-tech platforms moving in on the space of traditional polling methods. In the last election, we saw a slew of novel methods to tracking a candidate's popularity. HP Labs analyzed 22 million tweets to determine the most influential House members on Twitter. Several studies compiled data to decide whether the number of Facebook Fans and Likes correlated to mid-term election success. And analytics firms like Crimson Hexagon monitored chatter on social media to figure out how the public was swaying.
[Image: Cornell University]