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Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
Voters 'ignored e-election'
Computer users
Computer users were not swayed by online campaigning
The internet was deployed as a significant election weapon for the first time in 2001 but voters hardly noticed, according to an Electoral Commission report.

The study - which recommends a range of possible measures to reverse record low turnout, including internet voting - surveyed how the political parties and the electorate used new technology.


Given the choice, voters said that they did not want to access the political parties directly online

Commission report
Greater use of websites, emails and mobile phone text messaging to get political messages across to voters appeared to fulfil predictions the 2001 campaign would be the first full-scale "internet election".

But the Electoral Commission says in reality a tiny section of the population actually used new technology to access information during the campaign.

However, it does suggest the internet made a difference in fuelling tactical voting after a number of specific websites were set up.

Internet influence

The commission even says that in two seats where the sitting MP was ousted - Dorset South and Cheadle - the result "could well have been influenced" by internet-prompted tactical voting as the number of online pledges exceeded the size of the previous majority.

The commission goes on to say it recognises the potential impact the internet could have on future campaigns.


One way in which the internet did appear to make a difference was in facilitating the use of tactical voting

Commission report
And it warns that the implications for electoral law will need to be assessed.

Overall the new body's report paints a hit-and-miss picture of the internet's impact during the election.

More than 1m, it is estimated, was spent by the main political parties on election websites and "related material".

Their aim was to get messages across without traditional media outlets filtering and, they feared, distorting them.

Election planners

The report says some party election planners "believed that the internet was an important means of getting the message to the voters".

In Northern Ireland, for example, Dr Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) pursued "American style" internet and email campaigning.

Dr Ian Paisley
Dr Paisley's DUP used online tactics extensively
The party went on to record big gains, adding three Westminster seats to its previous two.

Internally, email was employed to spread key campaign messages and ensure consistency in campaign presentation.

However, the commission found there was "understandable reluctance" among the parties to start sending unsolicited emails.

The commission points out how new technology was used to "'personalise' the campaign without imposing intolerable pressures on the candidates themselves".

One example, which made headlines at the time, was Labour's use of 24,000 text messages to mobile phone users who had registered details on the party website.

Unsolicited emails

The commission also reports how parties attempted to undermine rivals by registering website addresses in other party names.

And early in the campaign one party's campaigners were accused of sending out 20,000 unsolicited emails pretending to be from a rival party.

But the effect of all those efforts appears to have been slight.

The commission says most voters were "wary of party sites", preferring to access the media websites such as BBC News Online and broadsheet newspapers'.

Primary source

A MORI poll carried out for the commission after the election suggested just 7% of voters accessed election information online during the election.

That reflected earlier polls suggesting only 1% of voters used the internet as their primary source of news and information about political issues.

The report says: "This would seem to suggest that while the internet and email are increasingly used as tools for conducting business or communication, they have yet to become a primary source of news and information about political issues, even amongst those with access to the internet."

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See also:

24 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Report tackles voter apathy
26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Jenkins urges voting reform
08 Jun 01 | Wales
Ballot box boredom hits town
06 Jun 01 | Talking Point
E-lections - would they work here?
05 Jun 01 | Features
Will txt msgs get a result?
11 May 01 | Voting System
What the electoral commission does
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