Saturday, February 14, 2009


Experts say Internet drives, shapes political arena


by Scott Rogers

More and more people today are getting their political news over the Internet. One person who can attest to the Internet's popularity in this manner is Pat Bergeron, who owns and operates the web site Bergeron also owns and operates the consulting firm, Category 5 Communications.

University of Louisiana-Monroe's Dr. John Sutherlin, an assistant professor of political science, agrees the Internet has become a powerful tool in the field of political campaigns.

"The Internet has altered the political landscape in much the same way that television did decades ago," Sutherlin said. "Candidates today don't just have websites, but are on Facebook or MySpace."

"They use the Internet to gather support and raise lots of campaign dollars," Sutherlin explained. "Many, though, have taken the approach that since the Internet is largely unregulated, they can push the boundaries in, for example, YouTube, with advertising that could never run on television. The Internet has further decentralized our political process by making it more democratic and accessible for politicians and citizens alike."

Bergeron, a Baton Rouge-based political consultant for more than 30 years, started his web site about four years ago to "take full advantage of the power of the online community in matters of public policy and politics."

Bergeron has worked in more than 100 political campaigns. He said the popularity of the Internet has changed how campaigns are run and public policy is influenced. Today, candidates must hire someone to manage their Internet presence just as they would hire a consultant for other forms of media. "It also opens up a whole different avenue for creative talent," Bergeron said. "Everything is different now because of the Internet. It has such a vital role in campaigns."

Bergeron began his web site with a list of 8,000 people who are currently involved in the political arena around the Baton Rouge area. Now, that "opinion leader database" has grown to over 28,000 people all over the state.

A recent Pew Research survey found that more than one third of the electorate receives the majority of their political information from the Internet, Bergeron said. "The online community in its many diverse forms is quickly evolving into the primary place where public opinion is tested and shaped," he said. "This (medium) helps get your word out to the people who are most interested. They are all over the Internet."

Bergeron works with groups such as Blueprint Louisiana, La Ethics1, Louisiana School Choice and the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce to spread their message about certain issues. Political candidates also use Bergeron's firm to reach voters during their campaigns.

"Over the past few years, working with the best public relations people in the state, this firm has counted among its clients dozens of successful political candidates from governor to police juror," he said.

He said it is all about building a fan base for political candidates as well as any issue that is important to people. "Political campaigning on the Internet is no longer about just setting up a web site and hoping the voters visit it," Bergeron said.

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