Harvard Flocks to Electoral Vote Site

Harvard has topped yet another ranking, but this time, getting to number one has little to do with academic prowess or the endowment.

Yesterday, electoral-vote.com, a popular website that amasses daily data from statewide polls to predict the White House’s next occupant, ranked Harvard first among visits from university domains. With 14,735 visits as of Oct. 30, Harvard beat out much larger universities, and nearly doubled visits by fifth-place winner Yale.

“I made the list in the hopes of fostering a bit of competition between universities, to encourage students to tell their friends about the site to get their rank up,” the site’s administrator, known only as Votemaster, wrote in an e-mail. “I guess I was surprised. I would have expected much larger schools, like Ann Arbor or Berkeley to be at the top since they are politically aware and very large.”

The Votemaster, who said he has waited until today to reveal his identity because he fears for his safety, said that his site now gets 650,000 hits a day.

In anticipation of a nail-bitingly close election, students at Harvard and around the nation are turning to the internet for an instant glut of political news, facts and commentary.

Campus politicos, who confessed to obsessively checking electoral-vote and other political websites, weren’t surprised to learn of Harvard’s dominance.

“I don’t know if it means that we’d like to be more informed or that we’re more boring, but I’d very much hope that it’s the former,” said Ilan T. Graff ’05, president of the Student Affairs Committee of the Institute of Politics (IOP).

IOP fellow Joe Trippi also said he wasn’t surprised about the electoral-vote.com rankings.

“There really is a political community at Harvard that I think is unmatched among students at other campuses,” said Trippi, who is best known for pioneering the use of the internet in campaigning.

Students involved in politics said they regularly spent hours reading popular internet news and commentary sources like politicalwire.com, wonkette.com, ABC News’ The Note and The Hotline, in addition to the websites of major newspapers.

“I can’t remember the last time I read a physical paper other than The Crimson,” said Graff, echoing statements made by other politically involved students on campus.

There were some partisan divergences: Republican Club spokesperson Lauren K. Truesdell ’05 cited The Drudge Report as extremely popular among club members, while Harvard College Democrats were more likely to cite sites like Slate.

John G. Palfrey ’94, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, said the internet can relay political information in a way other media cannot.

“In terms of aggregating up-to-the-minute information, electoral-vote.com is something that couldn’t have happened without the internet,” Palfrey said. “You couldn’t display that on telegraph, telephone or even television.”

A study released last week by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that more than 40 percent of internet users had used their surfing time to learn about this year’s election, a 50 percent increase from the 2000 election.

“The establishment, the parties and the campaigns, are beginning to communicate in the medium that younger voters own, and that’s the internet,” said Trippi.

But aside from facilitating student voter organization, the internet’s rallying effect on anyone who isn’t already a political junkie is up for debate.

“I doubt that people who are not already interested in politics will be beating down the doors of these websites,” said Graff. “But on the other hand, people with a passing interest can have access to information that will whet their interest.”

While recent decades have seen a steady decline in youth turnout, a recent IOP poll reported that 72 percent of college students said they will “definitely” vote in this election, compared to 50 percent in 2000.

“If these young voters energized by the internet don’t turn actually out on Tuesday, then maybe this has all been a mirage,” said Trippi. “But if it’s what I think it is, the future of this society will be decided by the future of this society: young people.”

—Staff writer Irin Carmon can be reached at carmon@fas.harvard.edu.

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