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How Websites Affect Undecided Voters

Thanks to the ever vigilant Docuticker, I ran across the following report:

2008 Undecided Voters: How the Obama & McCain Websites Impact and Sway Their Decisions (PDF; 3.2 MB)
Source: First Insights

I wanted to highlight one item from the summary because it really spoke to me:

The Obama splash page presented a major obstacle for 15 of 43 participants as they did not see the Skip Signup button at the bottom of the page. Some mentioned they would have abandoned the site at that point since they did not want to provide their e-mail and zip code to enter the site.

Senator Obama was not alone during the primaries in having a splash page. It was something I found intensely annoying on every candidate page I saw. From my perspective, I was trying to learn more about a given candidate and I felt like I was being asked to sign up as a supporter before learning anything. Eventually I did find my way in, but I think if future campaigns would be willing to put the “join now” past the first page, they’d find a more receptive electorate.

How did the users find the McCain website? Sort of negative:

While many political pundits seem to indicate that negative campaigning works, it did not seem to be the case in our study as many participants did not like the negative tone in certain areas of the McCain Website – particularly the videos.

I do have to point out that “negative campaigning works” and “don’t like negative tone” aren’t mutually exclusive. At least some studies that I can’t put my hands on at the moment but vaguely remember from college appear to show that people can both be repelled by negative ads and yet still have a lowered opinion of the target. It’s still not the way to run a vibrant democracy though. And I’m happy to see that at this point in the campaign, McCain’s politics of personal attack so far have not put him back on top.

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