By Bill Loving, computer-assisted-reporting editor, Minneapolis Star Tribune
For political reporters, theres more to cyberspace than finding government records and campaign data. The Internet is also a huge -- and fast-growing public meeting place, and serves as a political town forum. An estimated 10 million people now are Internet users. A small fraction of those are using the Net to participate in politics and political discussion, but they tend to be active and opinionated. They also tend to be male and Libertarian, which is important to keep in mind; its a skewed sample of the public. Although that is changing quickly.
The 1996 elections arguably will be the first in which this new medium will play a noticeable part. Think of the Nets role in the campaign as much like televisions in 1956. Online communication likely will play a much bigger role in the politics of the year 2000, much as TV had its breakthrough in 1960, but its worth paying close attention in 1996. Here is a quick rundown of the major gathering places of the wired electorate.