Welsh politics seeks Obama moment

An ‘Obama moment’ could be far off in Wales, says Nick Morris:

Recent forays into the online world by supporters of Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru have set Welsh blogs a-typing. There have been rumblings of optimism about the internet’s democratic potential since President Obama’s campaign, when he gained millions of online followers and generated donations of more than $500m online. But there is evidence that the enthusiasm engendered by Obama’s campaign was shortlived.

Since then the holy grail of internet political campaigning has been to achieve an ‘Obama Moment’ – a great re-invigoration of politics, driven by the people, through the great democratising influence of the web. However, new American academic research, mentioned in the New Scientist, has thrown a measure of cold water on the feverish excitement about the new era of online political activity.

Prof Henry Brady from the University of California, Berkeley, has come up with the stats, based on a survey of more than 2,200 people just before the US presidential elections last year:

* Traditional, offline political activities vary with income: almost 80% of those in the wealthiest fifth of the US population are involved in these activities, compared with less than 40% in the poorest fifth.

* The gap in the equivalent proportions for online political activity were 60 per cent compared with about 10 per cent, even accounting for age and internet access.

It is widely thought that Facebook users have fairly diverse socio-economic backgrounds, so there is some potential for the internet to correct the social and economic imbalance in political participation. However, there are few signs that this great revival is close at hand – least of all in Wales.

Nick Morris is Research Officer at the IWA.

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