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The digital threat to the political class

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By Scott Rasmussen
Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

You might expect a story about wine, The Washington Post, Twitter and polling to be about the lifestyle of the nation's political elite. But this one is about the digital threat to America's political class.

Let's start with the wine. A recent story on Marketwatch.com noted that apps are now available to scan the label of a wine bottle, compare prices and order online. Other apps help people learn more about wine and make restaurant recommendations. One wine director complained, “Wine is an experience and should not be sold that way.” But 6 percent of wine sales last year were conducted online, a figure that is growing rapidly.

The rise of online buying is good news for consumers and for lesser-known wineries whose products now have a better chance of being sampled. The only losers will be those who prefer the status quo.

That's the same message that comes from the sale of The Washington Post. For most of America, it was no big deal. We've heard the same story about plenty of other newspapers in recent years. But for official Washington, the sale of The Post was treated like the death of a family friend. On learning that the deed had been done by an Internet guru, you could almost hear the political class reaction in the words of that wine director. News “should not be sold that way.”

For some who live inside the D.C. bubble, the sale of The Post may have finally forced them to recognize that a handful of political and media insiders could no longer control the narrative of the national storyline. That's good news for everyone except those who prefer the status quo.

Last week, Twitter entered the discussion when a professor claimed that an analysis of tweeting did an unusually good job of predicting the results of U.S. House elections in 2012. A formula based largely on the number of “tweets” for candidates correctly predicted 92.8 percent of House races. The implication was that this model might soon replace traditional polling.

There were many problems with the claim (chronicled by Mark Blumenthal, senior polling editor of The Huffington Post). At a very basic level, though, when more than 90 percent of House incumbents routinely win re-election, the 92.8 percent figure isn't so impressive.

Still, while the professor claimed too much too soon for the new techniques, the polling industry faces the same challenge as the wine stores dealing with new apps. New technology will fundamentally alter the ways that polls are conducted. Other online techniques will replace polling entirely in some situations. These shifts will be good for everyone except those who defend the status quo.

That same lesson will soon be learned by America's political class.

The digital world is changing everything about politics. It has already changed the way mainstream Americans get information, organize, vote, interact with each other and learn about alternative approaches to problem solving.

These changes empower the middle class.

The political class is trying to resist and cling to the status quo, but it will be no more successful than those in the wine, newspaper or polling industries. In the digital revolution, those defending the status quo always lose.

Scott Rasmussen is founder and former president of Rasmussen Reports.

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