The London-based business magazine has developed a global, digital version of the U.S. electoral college, based on the population of each country.
The U.S. election is a close contest on the ground in the U.S. as well as overseas, with a lot of interest around the world, said Ron Diorio, The Economist's VP, product and community development in New York.
The Economist also wants to expand its online presence and engage with readers on difficult topics, he said. "We thought it would be fun and a bit of education [about the U.S. election system] to let the world vote for the next American president, following U.S. electoral college rules." China, with a population over 1.1 billion, has 1,900 votes, followed by India, with 1,588 votes. The smallest places on the planet, such as the Bahamas and Vatican City, have 3 votes.
"In our electoral college, if [Barack] Obama and [John] McCain were running for world president, they would be pandering to China, India and Indonesia," Mr. Diorio said, touching on the irony that the lives of non-U.S. citizens can be affected by a leader they don't get to choose.
"We're trying to recognize that the U.S. has a significant role in the world's economy and politics and offer people a way to get a little bit off their chest."
The online voting engine, www.economist.com/vote2008, will color each country blue or red, depending on whether Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain, respectively, is leading the race in that country. Starting Sept. 23, the site will be updated each time ten new votes are logged.
The site is not limited to the magazine's subscribers -- the majority of which now live in the U.S. -- although all users have to register online to participate. The Economist has 679,796 subscribers in the U.S., out of 1.34 million worldwide.
The site gives Americans an international perspective
The electoral college will be marketed globally with ads running in The Economist and on www. economist.com, as well as a humorous spot that will run on online video sites like YouTube and be distributed virally by e-mail and seeded in social networking communities such as Facebook.
The U.S. election is the "biggest story of the year for American readers and is of intense interest to its readers everywhere," said Charles Brian-Boys, a managing partner at Eight Partnership.
The Hong Kong-based independent marketing consultancy created the electoral college web site and supporting ad campaign.
The Economist initially planned to exclude the U.S. from its global election site, "since Americans get to vote for real," said Mr. Diorio.
The company later backtracked on that decision and opted to include America, the third-largest country in the world, based on population. The U.S. has 432 votes in The Economist's electoral college.
"We thought it would be good to include the U.S., so Americans can see the size of the U.S. relative to the rest of the world. It gives them a different perspective."
To date, Mr. Obama has had greater exposure overseas than his rival, but higher awareness may not lead to a clean sweep outside the U.S., warned Mr. Diorio.
Votes can be cast on The Economist's electoral college site through the real election day, November 4, 2008, when a winner will be declared online.
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