Gallup came out with a poll which shows that political blogs are still far from the mainstream. Powerline looks at the bright side saying we still have room to grow. I agree, but I also think that the numbers belie the impact of political blogs. First, the poll is a sample of the general population and not of likely voters or people who are otherwise politically active. The poll also fails to account for the importance of blogs with respect to opinion leaders.
We know that just over half the population actually votes in national elections. As for the rest, they’re not in the game, so they don’t really matter. Given that those who visit political blogs are inherently more politically interested, its not a stretch to say that among “likely voters” or those who are “politically active” the number of people who read political blogs is going to be significantly higher than with the general population. While news from old media often falls on deaf ears, political blogs invariably engage a willing participant.
Perhaps more importantly is the impact of blogs on opinion leaders. We have opinion leaders for all aspects of our society, including politics. Not necessarily occupying a formal position of power, the opinion leader is any member of a group that the others trust to inform or otherwise lead. She’s the woman at the party who seems to know what she’s talking about. He’s the guy at the water cooler who has a good grasp of the facts on a particular issue. Others in the group, who are less willing or able to inform themselves, but nevertheless wish to participate, take the lead from their opinion leader. This doesn’t mean that others will blindly follow, but on average, they will have an effect.
The blogosphere is far better suited to the opinion leader than old media. Rather than being told what the “news” is in short clips or wire releases, one can enter the vast array of knowledge and opinions of the blogosphere and determine for oneself what information and viewpoints are relevant. In addition to attracting opinion leaders, the blogosphere also likely creates opinion leaders – willing leaders who were previously uninformed and thus practically unable to lead, now have far more information at their disposal.
Old media may still have a lot of readers, but political blogs have a lot of the readers that matter most.