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What Does YouTube Mean for Politics?

Here's an issue that's near and dear to my heart: What does YouTube mean for American politics?

When slick, or not-so-slick, video advertisements can reach millions of people for only the cost of producing the spot, politics has changed -- whether it's for better or worse, or a little or a lot.

The question is, "How?" Does cheap, viral video make it easier for candidates to have unfiltered, not-reduced-to-soundbites discussions with the American voter? Or does it mean that every cough, sputter, and misstep ends up in a million mailboxes as the outrage of the week?

It probably means both.

What's important, I think, is not to overestimate the importance of viral video, or the Internet in general, as a means to reach the average American voter. The Internet is a user-directed medium, so advertising on it is going to do little or nothing to reach out to the average, unengaged citizen. (This is one reason, among many, that it makes absolutely zero sense to regulate spending on Internet campaigning under campaign-finance laws.)

Instead, the Internet is mainly a tool to motivate your activists, a purpose to which viral video seems well-suited.

As for reaching actual voters ... well, nothing's going to replace traditional radio and television buys anytime soon, as best I can tell.

Still, watching this medium evolve, and watching political actors experiment with it, is great theater. That's why we've started watching political videos here at RCP in the past few weeks.

And we'll continue to watch this emerging area of political discourse with your help. Remember to send in nominations for the Political Video of the Day to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com