Author(s): Paul M. Schwartz
Abstract: A much sought-after political advisor, Dick Morris is also a successful Internet entrepreneur. His popular Web site “vote.com” sponsors informal polls on political issues and hosts discussion of nonpolitical topics such as travel, technology, business, and sports. In Direct Democracy and the Internet, Dick Morris assumes yet another role, that of Internet prophet. His provocative essay demonstrates, however, that even the most politically astute observer faces difficulties in predicting the Internet’s impact on the future of American politics. In his essay, as well as in his recently published book vote.com, Morris portrays a dramatically improved post-Internet political landscape, which he develops in three predictions. First, Morris forecasts cheaper elections due to the Internet’s influence. Second, he argues that the move of the electoral franchise online will encourage greater voter participation. Third, Morris believes that the general movement of politics from television to the Internet will stimulate an evolution of our system of governance to a more direct form of democracy.
In this essay, I examine each of Morris’ three predictions in turn and find them contestable. Like Morris, however, I am unable to resist the role of cyberspace seer and throughout this paper speculate on the Internet’s likely impact on democratic self-rule in the United States. My conclusions are generally pessimistic. I am skeptical that political use of the Internet in the United States will stimulate cheaper elections or lead to broader-based voter participation. As a normative matter, moreover, I am doubtful as to the glories of greater direct democracy through use of Internet referenda. Finally, I identify one additional point for pessimism, the impact of Internet politics on information privacy. Yet, the Internet, like our political system, is malleable. The question for the future is how we might shape cyberspace and the political process on it to avoid negative and encourage positive results from any move to online politics.
Keywords: vote.com, informal polls, electoral franchise, cyberspace, information privacy