Yahoo's news division has launched a new social-networking site that focuses on policy debates driving November's midterm elections in the U.S., with the site giving users a chance to debate and vote on issues.
Yahoo's Ask America site, launched Friday, asks U.S. residents to comment on a variety of hot-button issues, including Arizona's illegal immigration crackdown, the U.S. government's budget deficit and state limits on abortion. The site asks users to vote on every issue presented, then join conversation about the issues. Users can post their comments on Facebook or Twitter, as well as on the Ask America site.
Ask America also links to the latest news, from Yahoo's news division and partners, on the topics users are interested in.
Yahoo, which says it's the largest news site on the Web, hopes to "inform and engage" U.S. residents about the issues surrounding the upcoming elections.
"Millions of people turn to Yahoo when important events happen," Mark Walker, head of Yahoo News, said in a statement. "Ask America serves a critical role in making those millions of Americans more conscious of the importance of this election and encourages them to be informed on the issues that can affect their country, their states, and their lives."
In the Nov. 2 elections, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election, as well as 36 of 100 Senate seats and 37 of 50 state governorships. Recent polls suggest that the Democratic Party, which has the majority in both the House and Senate, will lose seats in both chambers and may lose the majority.
A late July poll of 2,004 U.S. residents, commissioned by Yahoo, found that only 60 percent of those responding knew that the midterm elections were nearly here. More people were aware of upcoming sporting events and the Emmy Awards, Yahoo said.
Just two-fifths of people polled could name their local mayor, only 28 percent could name their gubernatorial candidates and 26 percent could name their senatorial candidates.
The economy was the top issue for people answering the poll, with 74 percent saying it is very important.
On launch day, Ask America had questions on several controversial policy issues, including gay marriage and the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Among the most popular topics listed Friday were an energy bill before Congress, the continued sluggishness of the U.S. economy and the possibility of Republican gains in Congress.
A question about whether the U.S. economy is headed for a double-dip recession or a rocky recovery sparked debate. One user predicted a recovery, "but only if the GOP takes back congress. They must repeal [President Barack] Obama's disastrous health care theft and stop cap & trade from becoming law."
Another user urged readers to vote for Democrats in November. "Its amazing how the people want to go back to the [Republican] administration that got us into the current economic recession," the user wrote. "Hopefully they will wake up by November and vote democrat!!!"
The site also asked questions about some tech-related issues, including whether members of Wikileaks should be prosecuted for disclosing classified U.S. government information, whether the Internet has become a "disinformation superhighway" and whether new technologies help politicians or voters more.
Ask America also included some less serious topics, including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's Twitter activity and White House party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi. After their uninvited appearance at a November White House state dinner, Michaele Salahi has served as a cast member on a reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C."
The Ask America topic about the Salahis generated several comments questioning why they were in the news. "I am so tired of reality TV, midgets and bakers," one person wrote. "People with too many kids, midgets trying to have kids, midget bakers... Housewives, Jersey Shores, Bachelor. Enough already."
Yahoo editors will update the site regularly with new issues and news stories, the company said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.