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Summer Slump

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President Bush is not the only one facing falling polling numbers. Conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" is having to factor in his own losses when it comes to Internet traffic.

Alexa.com, which tracks Web traffic, shows a sharp decline to BillOReilly.com since March, when it had more than 100,000 visits for every 1 million Internet surfers. The decline has been steady and gradual, with visits dropping below 50,000 in August, according to a graph. Another summary pegs the traffic drop over the past three months at 30 percent.

Other conservative sites are losing audience this campaign season, too.

Even the recent controversy over Ann Coulter's remarks about Sept. 11 victims did not boost traffic to her site. Ratings there have decreased 16 percent over the last three months. Ditto for Rush Limbaugh, who is down 14 percent, and even the revered conservative site The Drudge Report has fallen 10 percent.

"Partly it's summer time. It's also a general barometer," said David Rothstein, CEO of the IPD Group, which publishes online political reports like U.S. Politics Today. That site alerted reporters to the ratings drop on alexa.com.

"We see it as one gauge that the right wing is struggling," Rothstein said. "The mainstream media has been failing. The void was [initially] filled by right-wing media. The left is filling the political void now. There are a lot of Internet sites and bloggers now who are building very solid reputations."

Among the conservatives and liberals who author Web logs, traffic is more mixed, but the drops appear to be greater among the bigger red sites than among the blue sites.

RedState traffic is down 28 percent but page views are up 12 percent over the past three months. RedState underwent a redesign and management overhaul this summer. Right Wing News dropped 20 percent over the same time, Blogs for Bush was down 13 percent, and Townhall, which also was recently redesigned after an acquisition, dropped 14 percent.

By contrast to the big drops for RedState and Right Wing News, readership at the liberal Huffington Post is down 14 percent, and the drop is 12 percent at Daily Kos, the most trafficked blog. Some liberal bloggers even saw gains. Traffic at MyDD is up 9 percent, as is Alternet, and traffic to Virginia's Raising Kaine grew 119 percent over the past three months.

As for the Republican National Committee versus the Democratic National Committee, both saw traffic declines. The DNC was down 24 percent, and the RNC dropped twice as much at 48 percent.

Traffic at the Democratic online donation site ActBlue rose 24 percent. The new competitor Rightroots does not have traffic data yet.

Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University, said the data is not scientific enough, especially because there are not equivalent Democratic pundits to compare.

Darr said the numbers may show some early indicators of voter sentiment, but it is hard to quantify. "We had seen similar early online indicators for Howard Dean, while Dean was still flying below the radar, that he seemed to have more energy and traction than the polls were indicating," she said.

Candidates in competitive Senate races nearly all had traffic increases, but whether the Web hits translate to votes remains to be seen.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., had a 10 percent increase in Web traffic over three months, compared with Ned Lamont, who won the Democratic primary and had a 539 percent jump. Visits to the site of Sen. George Allen, R-Va., are down 74 percent, and Web traffic for challenger James Webb is up 165 percent. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., showed a 300 percent increase in Web traffic, while challenger Jon Tester had a 420 percent increase.

"The collapse of Bush's political standing and the growing public reaction against the war in Iraq appears to have produced an asymmetry in cyberspace that, together with other consistent evidence, bodes well for a strong national Democratic tide," Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said of the traffic numbers.

But Mann's colleague, political scholar Stephen Hess, is skeptical. "The answer is [that] come summer, people go the mountains and the beach and everyone is down" in traffic, Hess said.

And if they aren't surfing waves, people are at least surfing more fun venues than political sites. YouTube video traffic is up 137 percent over the past three months; the MySpace social network had 5 percent more visitors; the eBay online auction site snagged 17 percent more visitors; and 38 percent more people tuned in to the Napster music-downloading service.

 
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