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Political Applications

Political Applications

Computers have revolutionized the manner in which the political process is conducted in at least four areas: (1) computerization of political information; (2) international communication and communication between politicians and their constituencies; (3) political data processing; and (4) political events simulation.

Computerization of Political Information

The computerization of political information is linked to the computerization of libraries, archives, and museums and to the dissemination via the Internet of documents published by governments, non-profit organizations, and special interest "think tanks." Public libraries equipped with computers allow patrons to seek books and articles in periodicals, newspapers, and web sites on any given political subject. Through these resources, the general public can stay informed about local, regional, state, national, and global political issues. A museum's inventory, including articles pertaining to historical and political events, is usually kept in a computerized database where it can be searched directly by visitors. Also, many museum exhibits now display searchable information on computer monitors for patrons to use.

The Internet has had a significant impact on the degree of political information available to the general public. Prior to the advent of the Internet, political document archives were not easily accessible to ordinary citizens. Now, many web sites allow people to peruse documents acquired via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) . Current documents are often available through the Internet immediately after they have been issued, as happened during former U.S. President Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings. In addition, most politically oriented non-profit organizations and think tanks have web sites where their presentations of political issues can be reviewed by citizens. These Internet resources enhance the democratic process because they offer all citizens the opportunity to become much more knowledgeable about a wide range of political issues.

Politics and Computerized Communication

Widespread computer use affects the direct communication of political messages as well. Political campaigns now rely on computerized mailing lists, and Internet exposure is a major media consideration in political campaigning. Education of voters and the promotion of ideas and mutual understanding take place through e-mail, chat rooms, and instant messaging. Computerization is even responsible for improving the quality of presentation at public political discussions through the use of computer-generated slides, charts, graphs, maps, and other print and video materials.

Direct Mail.

Political campaigns have long used direct mail to communicate with potential voters. The purpose of direct mailing is to influence opinion or solicit donations. Computers allow for the use of mailing lists and the production of computer letters that are targeted to specific constituent interests. This is accomplished by creating specialized letters and mailing databases based on personal characteristics such as the recipients' place of residence, financial status, religion, political affiliation, race, gender, educational background, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

The Internet.

Political communication now utilizes the Internet as well. Almost all elected officials have web sites of their own. Computers have made politicians more accessible by allowing their constituents to communicate with their elected officials via e-mail. Even the informal structures of the Internet, including chat rooms and instant messaging programs, have become part of the political process of promoting ideas and encouraging mutual understanding. For example, people from different countries engaged in chat room discussions about mutually important issues are less likely to support war efforts between their countries than people who have had little or no contact, either in person or by computer, with people from other countries. It is one thing to feel menace from an unknown "them," but people who know the views of somebody from the opposite side look differently at any potential conflict between their countries.

Political Materials.

Political presentation materials, whether print or electronic, have been influenced by computerization as well. Television and Internet coverage of political discussionsdebates between candidates, for examplerequire sleek visual presentations. Software tools, including desktop publishing and video presentation programs, help politicians present their views in attractive formats.

Political Data Processing

Political data processing includes the outlining of voting districts; the statistical analysis of polling results, voting results, and census results; voting and vote counting; and campaign-related data processing.

District Boundaries.

Non-partisan computer models are available to help with the logistical outlining of voting districts. Some computer models attempt to create an equally proportioned electorate in each district. Other models use the organization of districts on existing legislative boundaries and then connect them to other districts to achieve population parity. Although different software models take political logistics into consideration at varying degrees, all of them must recognize political boundaries such as towns and counties and geographical boundaries such as mountains and bodies of water.

Polling and Statistical Analysis.

Many companies, the most prominent among them being the Gallup Organization, conduct polls on various political topics and analyze their results. In most cases their predictions are quite accurate. The results of public opinion polls and questionnaires help politicians determine how to react to the information learned through polls. Candidates may change aspects of their campaigns depending on perceived strengths and weaknesses that may be defined geographically or demographically. Using computerized statistical models, strategists can also identify issues that may influence voters with particular political allegiances or those who are considered "independent" or "undecided."

The Internet provides an ideal medium for polling, from the perspective of access to potential respondents. It is inexpensive when compared with other methods, so more and more polls are conducted online. Their results are widely used in numerous political campaigns, although methodology and accuracy rates vary widely.

Since the 1952 presidential elections, computers have been used to perform a statistical analysis that uses a small sampling to predict the total outcome of an election. Television networks and the Internet have increasingly used computers to project election outcomes, although inaccurate early predictions following the presidential election of 2000 caused elected officials and media representatives to consider whether or not the desire to publicize early outcome predictions can skew the election process itself.

The computerized statistical analysis of census results started with punched cards more than a hundred years ago and has moved on to using modern computer technology. Census analysis is important for politicians because it can show demographic trends.

Voting and Vote Counting.

Computerized vote counting is common throughout the United States. Computerized votes are often tallied from cards on which voters fill in an oval or a square with a pen or pencil to represent their vote. Computerized voting machines are also available.

Internet technologies are sophisticated enough that they can now be used in the voting process, allowing people to vote online rather than in polling booths. Before online voting will become widespread in the United States, however, certain technological precautions will be needed to establish a voter's identity and prevent election fraud.

Campaign Administration.

Computer programs are also useful to politicians from an administrative perspective. They are useful in campaign scheduling and in calculating the distribution and allocation of funds.

Political Event Simulation

The simulation of political events is being done using both deterministic models and artificial intelligence (AI) . A deterministic model usually consists of a set of differential equations. The solutions of these equations supposedly mimic the development of real-life political events. AI is a branch of programming that attempts to emulate reasoning and perception exercised by human beings. Many mathematical methods are used to produce this emulation.

An example of using AI to model political events is an expert system . At the creation of such a system, political experts are interviewed. Based on the results of these interviews, a set of rules is established. This set constitutes a computerized model. The model can be applied to the evaluation of a new political situation. Whether deterministic models or artificial intelligence are used, simulation results should be interpreted with caution. However, it is a nice tool to have to analyze some of the possible outcomes of a political event.

see also Babbage, Charles; Government Funding, Research; Internet; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Robert Lembersky and George A. Tarnow

Bibliography

Garson, G. David, ed. Information Technology and Computer Applications in Public Administration: Issues and Trends. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing, 1999.

Hudson, Valerie M., ed. Artificial Intelligence and International Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

Patterson, David A. Personal Computer Applications in the Social Services. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Tsagarousianou, Rosa, Damian Tambini, and Cathy Bryan, eds. Cyberdemocracy: Technology, Cities and Civic Networks. London: Routledge, 1998.

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