Harvard: voting and citizenship

Harvard: voting and citizenship

: Charles Ogletree gives a good introduction to the topics the conference will cover (good but not terribly bloggable, since it’s a summary). One key issue for us today, for the world today is whether votes really count and whether we, the people, trust those who count our votes.

: Charles Nesson, founder of the Berkman Center (bless ‘im) runs the next panel. Tom Sander, of the Kennedy School of Government, presents a study of Meetup.com.

Three brief conclusions: They think that Meetup.com is succeeding in building social ties. They think that this is happening among different users than expected. And political meetups are rare birds among Meetups; political meetups would do better focusing on social ties. They hold to the view of Robert “Bowling Alone” Putnam that social connections are worse than they were — and, no, that’s not the fault of technology; it started “when Bill Gates was in diapers.” So they see Meetup as a promising technology to create social capital even among strangers.


Meetup is not a young person’s phenomenon. (Last night, we heard that the average of of Dean Meetuppers was 47.)

Meetup is “not engaging the civically disengaged.” Meetup participants are more educated that the population (no surprise on a few levels: internet and computer use and the high degree of political activism at the time of the study).

Meetup is not disproportionately attracting newcomers; “only sometimes was it strangers meeting strangers.” (Again, no surprise; it takes a friend to bring a friend; no one wants to go where no one knows them.)

They found “low member stickiness.” (I continue to not be surprised; I’ve seen such gettogethers where people come out and try but joining a group is still — and always has been — a high hurdle.)

They say there is a “left-leaning tilt” to Meetups. (Well, hell, Dean was the one who promoted it; Bush did not.)

Yet, he says, Meetup has success at building social capital. They found that people made new personal friends at Meetups. (Well, if it happens at bars, it can happen at Meetups.)

Later, Micah Sifry properly points out the ways in which the timing of the research makes it anamolous.

(He’s essentially reading findings in a paper. Boy, I’m spoiled by Bloggercons: No speeches, conversation. I’m not used to presentations anymore.)

Pippa Norris, also from Kennedy, talks about whether technology — that is, evoting — will boost turnout. They studied evoting vs. postal ballots. Postal won. The PDF of all her results is here, so I won’t butcher them with fast typing.

(I blogged Hoder’s talk above.)

Nesson says he hears a pessimism about technology and voting and a prof in the crowd says he hears issues about trust and technology. The problem is that this is not a comprehensive view of technology and voting and poltics; it’s a smattering of three small topics and it’s not the basis for grand conclusions.