Everyone knows that there is unprecedented interest in this election — unprecedented voter turnout, unprecedented ratings on cable news channels, unprecedented numbers of people at political rallies — but the question is, how to harness that interest? The cablers have all responded with a glut of election-themed programming — MSNBC's "Race for the White House," CNN's "Election Center" and "Ballot Bowl," FNC's "America's Election HQ" — and now CNN is zeroing in on a particular slice of the voter pie: First-time voters.
Today CNN is launching "The League of First-Time Voters," billed as a "multi-platform programming initiative designed to inform, involve and empower individuals passionate about this election cycle." Multi-platform means a website, of course (www.LeagueofFirstTimeVoters.com or www.cnn.com/league), meant as a one-stop shop for voter information -- with an easy-click "Register to Vote" button high on the homepage, and well-organized, clear informatin on candidates, issues (Economic stimulus, Housing, Energy, Immigration, Health care, Iraq - what, no category for "Flag Pin?") and an interactive map with state-by-state info, including delegate counts (though not exit polling and/or returns as they come in tomorrow - that you still need to go to CNN.com for).
Joining the League is as easy as signing up -- no proof of previous non-voting seems to be required (nor citizenship, since I just joined, and I'm Canadian) -- so the "exclusive panels and polls" of first-time voters may not be the purest sample. Presumably a higher level of authentication will be applied by CNN's Rick Sanchez, who will be filing League-specific reports on new-voter-related issues for "American Morning" (he actually started today, and three segements are already up online) . Leaguers will also be invited to submit i-Reports -- a feature that is available on CNN more generally, anyway, but which will be rolled into this new site as a way to invite participation by first-timers on the whole voting experience.
CNN president Jon Klein explained the initiative in a statement as one which will "empower" new voters "to have a voice this political season" -- but it's also meant to empower CNN's ratings. Per CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson: "It's a way for CNN to engage more fully with our new audiences who have been tuning in this election cycle." CNN came first in the all-important 25-54 demo for prime time in the election-crazy first quarter of 2008, beating longtime winner Fox for the first time in six years and ekeing ahead of close competitor MSNBC. CNN has also done well by the debates with 9 of the top 10 most-watched debates on cable, including those newfangled YouTube debates. The kids love those.
It's a smart idea — at minimum it's a great resource and public service for voters, and beyond that it's a great opportunity to attract new viewers, at least online, and hook them in with whatever information they may be seeking (the League site will also act as an aggregator with material from other sites). It also harnesses and repackages CNN's pre-existing online resources — something old media is slowly learning how to do — and finds what could be a perfect fit for on-air resource Sanchez, whose energizer-bunny level of excitement is well-established. We'll see if the kids love that, too.