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Election Coverage in the Age of Social Media

By Sree Sreenivasan | November 1, 2010 6:25pm

By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo contributing editor 

A lot has changed in American politics since Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole gave out an incorrect address for his website at the end of one of his 1996 debates with Bill Clinton. Despite the error, it was the first time I'd heard a presidential candidate try to plug his website in a live situation. 

What a difference 14 years make. The web, various digital tools and social media, are integral parts of campaigns at all levels. With so much attention being paid to the U.S. mid-term elections, I thought I'd take stock of new and newish ways in which these elections are being covered. As I wrote about the World Cup this summer, some of the innovations we see in these big, hyped events will eventually become a regular part of web storytelling.

Here's a list of links worth noting - please add suggestions in the comments or via @sreenet:

NYTIMES.COM: The NYT deploys its digital teams to do smart work during big projects, and the election is no exception. "The Election Will Be Tweeted (And Retweeted)" is a way to see how many tweets are coming from (and being directed at) political candidates across the country over the last couple of weeks of the election. "Election Results 2010" is an interactive way of keeping track of the results for the Senate, House and state races (click on the tabs along the top).

On the main politics page, you'll find also find videos, graphics and even a collection of recent political tweets by staffers, along with a link to the FiveThirtyEight blog (which became part of the NYT when the blog's founder, the highly-reliable Nate Silver, was hired by the Times). 

FOURSQUARE'S "I VOTED" PROJECT: Geolocation service Foursquare (I wrote about the "check-in wars" recently) has launched a project to track people who say they've voted. The explanation: "The I Voted data visualization and badge have been designed with three purposes in mind: to encourage civic participation, increase transparency in the voting process and develop a replicatable system for the 2012 Presidential Election."

MSNBC'S VOTER CONFIDENCE INDEX: An interesting way to visualize voter confidence across several polls.

WASHINGTON POST POLITICS: The Post has several interactive tools on its site, including maps to understand races across all 50 states; fundraising by candidates; even a Palin Tracker to see how successful Sarah Palin's endorsements have been.

USATODAY'S PRESIDENTIAL APPROVAL TRACKER: An interactive look at the Gallup Organization's presidential approval ratings, almost day by day, since President Truman (you can also compare several presidents with each other). 

GOOD.IS POLITICAL NASCAR: Good is an "integrated platform for people who want to live well and do good" and it uses a fascinating infographic that lays out, Nascar-style, political giving to candidates. 

PBS MEDIASHIFT: This must-read blog about the digital media landscape has launched PoliticalShift 2010, its look at how politics is being affected by new media. Recent posts include "GOP Beating Democrats with Social Media for Midterm Elections," by Anthony Calabrese (be sure to see the social media visualization), and "Will Geo-Location Services Play a Role in Elections?" by Steven Davy.

SCRIBD POLITICAL DOCUMENTS: Scribd is the largest document sharing site on the web and, it turns out, in addition to Facebook and Twitter, politicians are turning to it to share relevant information about their campaigns. Here's a link to various documents from California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. See some other politicians in Scribd's government and nonprofits section.

BALLOTPEDIA: The Congressional races get a lot of attention, but in many parts of the country, there are important "down-ballot" items, including candidates and ballot measures the national media doesn't track very well. Ballotpedia, written as a wiki, aims to fix that and there's useful, easy to understand materials there. 

FACEBOOK POLITICIAN PAGES: Facebook has categorized the FB pages of political figures from the US and beyond. Note the number of "likes" each politician has.

HUFFINGTON POST ELECTION DASHBOARD: This features an easy-to-understand interactive map that shows you everything from polling data to social media mentions. 

It's also worth reading this item from Pew Research Center, which highlights the issue of not using cellphones in polling, considering a quarter of households have only a cellphone and no landlines. 

Of course, this list is just a start. What high-tech features did I miss?  Let me know in the comments or via Twitter @sreenet.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia Journalism School professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.