Its been said that polite conversation should avoid the two mood-killing topics of politics and religion. But what about text messaging, which has been playing a small, but growing, role in politics this year?
Just as blogging has revolutionized election-year reporting, text messaging via cell phones and PDAs has served as a constant reminder to the mobile community that its time to vote.
Most of these wireless messages have been aimed at the younger generation of voters, and consist of polls, voting reminders, games and guides to locating local polling places.
Rock the Vote, the first political action committee to align itself with the music industry, joined with Motorola to create Rock the Vote Mobile, or RTVM, a free service accessible to anyone with a browser-ready phone or PDA.
Jay Strell, communication director of the organization, thinks using wireless voting reminders is a natural choice for the younger voter. “Young people have grown up seeing text messaging,” he said, “so its a really a great way to have young people participate in the election.”
So far, RTVM has 120,000 subscribers and has received a generally positive response from users. “Who knows if text messaging will play a larger role in the next few years. We hope so.” Strell said.
Register and Vote 2004 is another organization targeting young voters with politically themed text messages. After voters enter a cell phone number at the organizations Web site, it sends out about two text messages a month with trivia facts, poll question or a reminder to vote.
Caitlin Davis, the 20-year-old youth spokesperson for Register & Vote, says that the 18-to-22-year-old voting block naturally responds to text messaging.
“Me and my friend text message all the time,” Davis says. “When we hear [the messages] come in, we always read them immediately and then respond. It doesnt take a lot of time.”
Other organizations have utilized mobile messaging in this election year, though more for political commentary than to service the voters. During the Republican National Convention in New York, some protestors stayed informed of street closings, detours and police activity though a homegrown group text messaging service called TXTMob.
Another politically charged group doesnt send text messages, but asks Bluetooth users to create solidarity by changing the name of their Bluetooth device to “Bluetooth Against Bush.” The idea is that one anti-Bush device will be able to track others in the same area.
During the 2004 Democratic primaries, the now-defunct Howard Dean campaign also used wireless devices for campaigning. And you can find a PDA version of the Bush campaign blog at www.georgewbush.com.
Aside from these organizations, it doesnt seem that text messaging has caught on in terms of formal political campaigning, despite the fact that the Federal Election Commission in 2002 gave SMS (Short Message Service) messages a waiver for disclosing funding for any political text ads sent to cell phones.