YouTube Politics: Useful Voter Resource Or Campaign Video Dumping Ground?

YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG) is launching a new politics site today that it hopes will offer a “holistic” view of the candidates on the campaign trial, and also, via its metrics, provide a snapshot of their popularity among voters. But at the first glance, YouTube Politics seems to be falling well short of those goals. Update: See the end of the story for some elaboration from YouTube on its strategy, which the company provided after we published this post.

If the election were held today, Rick Perry would win — on YouTube Politics, anyway. The site ranks 2012 candidates’ popularity by the number of times their videos have been viewed. This morning, Perry’s video “Proven Leadership” has the most views (821,029 today), trailed by Herman Cain’s “God Bless America: A 9-11 Tribute from Herman Cain” (161,696 views).

What else are we going to get from the site? YouTube Politics will post not only official campaign videos but also “parodies, gotchas, and speeches, offering you a 360-view of the election,” the official YouTube blog says. The site also compares candidates’ video views and YouTube subscribers and shares and lets users subscribe to their official YouTube channels.

So far, though, clicking on the videos for “Meet the Candidates” reveals on-message official campaign videos, not parodies or gaffes. The videos in which, for example, Herman Cain says that being gay is a choice, or Rick Perry calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme, are not currently to be found on the site. I also could not find clips from, say, the Fox (NSDQ: NWS) News-Google Republican debate on September 22.

Ramya Raghavan, YouTube news and politics manager, told Politico, “We wanted to paint a really holistic view for what politics looks like on YouTube…We’re seeing that citizens have an enormous appetite for getting political information online.” So far, the site is less holistic than simply being a campaign video roundup.

It’s not immediately clear from the site or the blog post how the video-posting process works — that is, whether YouTube alone has the power to add videos or if users can too. In poking around the site, I didn’t see any obvious way for someone like me to submit a video, though.

I’ve asked YouTube whether clicking on a candidate on the site would ever bring up negative videos about that candidate, or videos that reveal a candidate making a gaffe. (In such a case, more views could bring up the candidate’s number of video views, and therefore YouTube Politics ranking, but may not have nothing to do with whether a candidate is performing well). Also, what officially qualifies as a “gaffe”?

I’ve also asked how curated the site is going to be. What are the qualifications for a video to be included? Can videos include any editorializing–could Jon Stewart’s comments surrounding a video be shown, for instance–or must they be primary materials, with no editorializing or even a news anchor’s mild comment?

No word back from YouTube yet. If YouTube Politics is able to strike a balance between showing candidates’ official messages and their less-rehearsed moments, it could be a useful resource this campaign season. If not, it’s unlikely to provide much insight–or to change anybody’s mind.

Update: A YouTube spokeswoman tells us:

The Hot Political Videos tab which you can see at the top of the page takes you to that week’s top videos that could be from right across the spectrum — citizen-created, gotcha moments, news footage, etc. That section is curated by Storyful.

The ranking on the 2012 Candidates tab is determined by the views during that time period of videos from their official channel.

While a citizen can’t add a video directly to, if someone uploads a video and it starts to take off, it would possibly be included in the Hot Political Videos list.