The twitter-sphere reflects public opinion in real time. Pundits, media analysts and pollsters have this remarkable resource available to tap into how the public is thinking and feeling. As we witnessed during the first round of debates between Obama and Romney tweet trackers can be used to illustrate where tweeters stand on an issue. For instance we could see what percentage of men and women were tweeting that they would vote Republican or Democrat. The metrics appeared at the bottom of the screen if you were viewing the debates with the live tweet feed analysis. Suppose we could democratize the electoral process by actually allowing the public to weigh in on how policy should be shaped. Let’s imagine that presidential debates are equipped to incorporate popular participation. For the sake of argument we’ll imagine a live twitter feedback loop allows the public to interact with the candidates, demonstrating exactly where the public stands on a particular candidate’s policy as the two of them debate.
As the debate unfolds twitter can be used to determine if the people agree with the positions of the candidates or not. Its simple and would require only a large number of people participating in live twitter polls. They would be able to weigh in on important questions raised during debate in real time. A tweet tracker would identify and analyze tweets responding to particular questions and then post the results of how the public feels. While the candidates would not be able to garnish their responses to the moderator and the public at the same time, they would be able to see how the voting public reacted to their positions afterwards.
Questions like “Would you support an American intervention in Iran if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon capability?” or “Do you agree that U.S. military should have the right to detain prisoners indefinitely, violating rights of due process if the National Intelligence Community deems them a threat to national security?” would appear on networks airing debates compelling viewers to participate by tweeting. Discord between the candidates and their prospective voters would be immediately transparent. Obama announced that his administration would re-approve Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques” despite tweeters responding unfavorably to a twitter question airing at the bottom of the devices from which they were viewing Obama debate Romney on national security. Participants responses would then be aired live demonstrating to millions of viewers across the country how in tune the candidates are with public opinion.
Incorporating such an instrument into live debates could demonstrate the degree to which the candidates distance themselves from the public. A feedback from the public about how their candidates are positioning themselves would democratize America’s electoral process under three conditions:
1. Policies are actually shaped by rigorous debate
2. The public is asked to weigh in on issues they’ve already deemed most important in pre-debate polls
3. The problem of adverse selection doesn’t exist in politics
Implementing a popular participation mechanism, like a live twitter feedback loop would have little effect on political decision making as long as we live in a “managed democracy” governed by the monied interests. Of course, the debates would go on as usual much as they will tonight between Biden and Ryan. Two candidates amusingly stating they disagree with each other would avoid important issues limiting the extent of the debate to superficial descriptions of what their administrations will do in office. Imagery and rhetoric will continue to supplant content and substance and a twitter feedback loop, if implemented would circulate yays and nays to questions of exaggerated importance.