The power of Internet search results can, in some cases, tilt voters’ sentiment in favor of a candidate. That’s according to a recent study which found that 20 percent of undecided voters were more likely to support a candidate based on favorable search results.
“Given that many elections are won by small margins, our results suggest that a search engine company has the power to influence the results of a substantial number of elections with impunity,” researchers Robert Epstein and Ronald Robertson wrote in a paper published by the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. “Our investigation suggests that with optimized, targeted rankings, a [voter manipulation power] of at least 20 percent should be relatively easy to achieve in real elections.”
Domain names play a big role in determining what emerges when a voter types in a candidate’s name. It’s one of the reasons domain name snafus on the part of campaigns can be a big deal. Even some high-profile candidates neglect to capture sites with their first and last names and the office they’re running for.
For instance, Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina’s .org address is not a campaign page but rather a site used to tally the number of employees laid off during her tenure as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Meanwhile, jebbushforpresident.com is registered to a gay couple in Texas.
The solution being pushed by consultant Chuck Warren: obtain a .vote or .voto address. Warren is a partner at Monolith Registry, which recently unveiled the campaign-specific top-level domain.
“You want people to be able to type in your name, not john for commissioner or whatever,” said Warren, who noted that only half the members of Congress own their first and last name .com.
The added benefit of a .voto address is that it can’t be occupied by domain squatters, who have made a lucrative business from camping out on prospective web addresses.
“We are the ones that operate, manage and own .vote. We have that ability to suspend accounts” if they’re not the candidate or office holder, said Warren. “It does allow voters to know that when they go to a .vote site, it is the candidate’s site. It’s the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”
Warren also touted .voto addresses as a way for candidates to reach Latino voters. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) is preparing to launch a .voto webpage and others are expected to follow.
“It’s just really starting to catch on,” he said. About a dozen members have bought .voto addresses while the company has sold roughly 250 .vote addresses. Each domain name runs about $80 for two years.
Luis Alvarado, a California-based Republican consultant, said a .voto address could help candidates connect with a desired voting bloc, if they use it the right way.
“It gives you an opportunity to connect, even if it’s subconsciously, in an industry of expertise. I would recommend a client consider it if they haven’t been able to grab a .com for their campaign,” he said.
Alvarado added that there needs to be an investment in a Spanish-language campaign for a .voto address to have any impact.
“The .voto by itself is not going to do anything if you’re not directed to a competent Spanish-language site.”