FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, August 06, 2004

Are we approaching a major political shift?

Much has been made of how the upcoming U.S. presidential election portends a major shift in U.S. politics. Some have predicted a fundamental realignment on the magnitude of 1980 (which ushered in the "Reagan Revolution") or even 1932 (the year FDR took office). Although I think a lot of these predictions are exaggerated, mainly because of the unique nature of this election season, major change is on the horizon... perhaps even greater than mere party realignment.

Former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippe has written a perceptive article on the subject for MSNBC.com, citing disaffection with the major parties dating at least back to Ross Perot's independent candidacy in 1992. Parties and voters are locked in a vicious cycle that is causing everyone to lose faith in the political process: candidates, in a desperate bid for funds and support, pander to the most extreme and demanding elements in their parties, disaffection mainstream voters, and forcing candidates to go even further outside the mainstream for support. Trippi's assertion is that political parties risk extinction if they continue this pattern.

An even more extreme view of the future of politics is voiced by Harvard law professor James Moore. In his essay "The Second Superpower Rears Its Beautiful Head", Moore describes the rise of "emergent democracy" that uses technology to mobilize citizens in a way that's a truer form of democracy than anything we have today. We've seen the use of the Web, e-mail, text messaging, blogging and smart mobbing during this election season, and the liberal website MoveOn.org has been highly successful in raising funds for Democrats. Moore also cites the effectiveness of the "second superpower" in organizing protests aging the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999.

Both Trippi's and Moore's points are well taken, but Moore's vision in particular seems skewed toward technology-savvy liberal activists who are educated and affluent enough to purchase and use this technology. In other words, they are typical early adopters. To me, what's more interesting is what will happen if and when the late adopters--older, more conservative, less affluent and less educated voters--start leveraging the Internet in a large way. That's when we'll see real change! And that is when we could finally see the collapse of the traditional political parties, which are failing because they're trying to sell a 19th-century model of governance to a 21st-century electorate.

Minding the Planet Channel Mob