The July 21 Upper House election was the first election in which the use of the Internet was allowed for campaign purposes. Apparently it did not help to increase voter turnout. But it did make more information available to voters in making a decision. Parties and candidates should improve their use of the Internet to deepen their dialogue with voters.
According to Kyodo News exit polls, 10.2 percent of the voters said that they used information from the Internet in making their voting decisions. But 86.1 percent said that they did not use such information. The older the voter, the less likely he or she was to use the Internet. Of voters in their 20s, 23.9 percent said that they used information from the Internet — the biggest percentage — followed by 17.9 percent of voters in their 30s.
Voter turnout was 52.61 percent — 5.31 percentage points lower than in the July 2010 Upper House election — for the third lowest in the postwar years. There were many important election issues and the focus of the campaign became blurred.
The usefulness of the Internet in election campaigns should not be gauged only by the voter turnout. Clearly the Internet brought additional information to voters on political parties and candidates.
In the past, as soon as the election campaign was officially kicked off, renewal of blogs, Twitters and Facebook carrying campaign-related information had to be stopped under the Public Offices Election Law. Voters had to rely on newspapers, TV, official gazettes pertaining to the election and street speeches by candidates.
This time, parties and candidates were able to use blogs and Twitters to carry schedules of campaign speeches and to call on voters to vote for them. Movie images of party leaders making their first campaign speeches and the texts of candidates’ speeches became available on the Internet.
But in many cases, information emanating from parties and candidates was one way. Messages on Twitter were mainly schedules of campaign speeches and short diaries by candidates. Twitter was not extensively used to delve into policy matters.
Parties and candidates need to devise ways that will contribute to increasing two-way communication between them and voters. The Public Offices Election Law still prohibits voters from using e-mail to help the election campaigns of political parties or candidates.
Many problems must be resolved. Still, political parties and candidates, on one hand, and voters, on the other, should explore the potential of the Internet to shorten the psychological distance and to deepen discussions on policy matters between them.