Politicians in America are now well aware of how important new media is going to be to the election process moving forward. Most have an official Facebook page, and many of them even Tweet regularly. And video is right there at the top of the most-used social media outlets for politicians, who are seeing how engaging online video can be. YouTube has hosted live debates, curated video questions for the president, and served as a home for countless interviews and political commercials.
Their latest experiment is something called Town Hall, and it aims to be an ongoing, digital debate between senators and representatives. YouTube viewers will be able to choose a topic, and then watch two opposing viewpoint videos from various members of Congress. In an interesting twist, viewers will not see the speakers' political party affiliations until after they've seen the videos.
Users can then choose to support one politician or the other by clicking below their preferred video. YouTube will also maintain and publish a running scoreboard of sorts that will track the most supported viewpoints:
For the launch, the debated topics are: the budget, economy, energy, Afghanistan, education and health care. According to YouTube, those topics were the most-searched on Google and in Google News over the past year.
Moving forward, new videos discussing new topics will be added to Town Hall. Viewers can get interactive in this process as well, by suggesting issues for the elected officials to debate. The user-submitted questions are then voted on, and those with the most votes will end up as future monthly topics:
Political videos can be very popular, and they can also be very divisive. If I have one skepticism about Town Hall, or political video in general, it's that many of the viewers have already made up their mind. The discussion about such clips often turns hostile on blogs and in the YouTube comments. Of course, there are also millions of voters who have not made up their minds already. Will YouTube's idea of hiding party-affiliation help keep Town Hall focused on the issues? Or will the vocal majorities on both sides vote down their usual party lines? It's too soon to tell, but I'll be curious to see how it turns out.