BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : AUGUST 30, 1999 ISSUE
COVER STORY -- 21 IDEAS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Q&A: Technology Has Energized and Engaged Voters as Never Before


Richard A. Segal Jr. is managing director at Hensley Segal Rentschler, a Cincinnati-based communications marketing firm. He also serves as Internet adviser to the Forbes for President campaign. Segal shared his views on how technology has changed the political landscape for both the candidates and the voters with Business Week White House Correspondent Richard S. Dunham.

Q: How has technological change altered the relationship between voters and candidates?
A: Because of interactive media, the consumers of media are actually players now. Everybody's a member of The McLaughlin Group. Everybody's a guest on Geraldo. The political system is enriched by hundreds of thousands of [new] participants. My basic premise is that there is a huge amount of pent-up political expression in America today.

With talk radio, the emergence of the Reform Party, and the Internet, people will not be couch potatoes. It's going to enable them once again to be the players. The whole idea of Tocquevillian democracy is huge. The people will be energized beyond what he identified as extraordinary a century ago.

Q: What kind of effect does this have on the power of the monied elites and the media elites?
A: It really leads back to [Alexis] de Tocqueville [the 19th century French observer and author of Democracy in America.] We are seeing the emergence of a neo-Tocquevillian American.

Q: Do you mean a resurgence of grassroots interest in American democracy?
A: Energized beyond what he identified as extraordinary a century ago. Technology could democratize [American] culture and reinvigorate it.

Q: From a practical standpoint, how is technology changing the 2000 Presidential campaign?
A: It causes all of the candidate's downtime to evaporate. If you have an hour of downtime in New Hampshire, I can put him in a studio and connect him with 40 people in Iowa and 40 people in Arizona before the hour is up.

Q: What about the Web?
A: The Internet provides us with this massive venue to prospect for support. You'll get customization. You can go into your user base to look for veterans, Rotarians, residents of Southern Iowa.

Q: Sounds like one-on-one communication, 24 hours a day.
A: The Clinton people were credited with rapid response [in 1992 and 1996]. You may go through a dozen poses and counterposes in a day.

Network communications tells us that we ain't seen nothin' yet.


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