The long road between now and next year's presidential election may take a surprising detour through the untamed streets of News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) MySpace. According to Michael Arrington's Techcrunch blog, the social-networking site will hold its own presidential primary come January.

MySpace's cleverly timed primary slips just before the caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and the New Hampshire primary. Has the Internet really come so far that it can alter the landscape of an election by being the first vocal read on the nation's pulse?

Don't answer that yet. First, we need to ask several key questions:

  • Is there predictive value on a site where many regulars aren't old enough to vote?
  • Can a free-for-all site like MySpace be taken seriously, when folks can create multiple accounts and stuff the primary box?
  • Can a site be representative when the poor and the elderly -- two groups that show up at the polls in force -- make up a small part of the online audience?

Arrington suggests Facebook as a better choice for staging an online primary, given the social photo-sharing site's signup verification procedures. He's right, but that's not going to stop MySpace.

Four more years
What if MySpace threw a primary party and no one came? That's unlikely to happen. Most of the major campaigns have already set up camp on the social-networking site. As any MySpace user knows, fake celebrity accounts plague MySpace, but the site has set up an Impact Awards page to guide visitors to legitimate candidate landing pages.

The friends have been piling on. Most of the 2008 favorites have thousands of "friends," with Barack Obama leading the way with 89,816. Skeptics will argue that MySpace isn't a level playing field. The Web-savvy candidates will fare better. It would be a shame if packing real votes come next November were as easy as firing up third-party "train" applications for automatic friend generation on MySpace.

Still, the Internet will still play a major role in 2008. Broadband adoption rates were too low in 2004 to support the multimedia onslaught you see today. Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) YouTube wasn't even around back then. MySpace was a tiny sit, just a few months old, when the 2004 primary elections began. Facebook launched just weeks after the 2004 Iowa caucus wrapped up.

The Internet was different then. For the most part, the Web wasn't as interactive as it is in its Web 2.0 wrapper today. It's immersive. It's a fate-changer. Just ask George Allen, the Virginia senator who lost last year's race after his damaging racial slur video started making the rounds through sites like YouTube. Now, just wait until 2008 comes knocking -- and while you're waiting, wonder about the ways that 2012 may make 2008 feel like, well, 2004.

Hot on the campaign trail
The Internet won't grant us all direct access to the next elected president. Even now, campaign correspondents are most likely to keep the candidates' blogs going. However, some politicians are clearly more resourceful than others. John Edwards' campaign has been embracing the short-form platform of Twitter, while Rudy Giuliani has his MySpace profile set to "private."

Obama's official website offers social-networking opportunities, but his campaign has also turned to Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) to offer a Q&A platform through Yahoo! Answers.

So who are we to deny MySpace's role in forming public opinion? Sure, the site can be infantile --- and a hub for sexual predators -- but which sin-free primary state wants to cast the first stone? The 2008 presidential election may be the first in which TV ads or coverage from media giants like Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) CNN or News Corp.'s FOX call the shots.

Will next year's MySpace primary be imperfect? You bet. Expect other sites like YouTube and Facebook to try to improve on it with unofficial primaries of their own. Naturally, they won't have any say in the actual primary process, but will they have any sway?

How can they not?

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz still doesn't know who he's going to vote for in 2008, but he'll definitely vote. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.