It seems clear that the current US primaries represent an important political watershed. I am not talking about race or gender. I am talking about the use of the Internet in campaigning. This was prefigured last go around in Howard Dean’s campaign but this time it is central to Obama’s success. Whatever your political orientation, it is clear that Obama has been remarkably successful at mobilizing people and money through the network.
This is the thrust of an intriguing article by Joshua Green in the current issue of the Atlantic. It talks about the use of communications technologies in his campaign.
There is much of interest in the article, but in term of the regular interests discussed in these pages, I was particularly struck by one major theme: the combination of social networking techniques and the diffusion of connectivity through mobile and other devices have allowed Obama’s campaign to scale very effectively, both in terms of numbers participating and amount of funds raised. He is easily raising more money than other candidates, and Green comments “it’s possible to track the network effects in the growing fund-raising numbers that seem to arrive in every larger denomination ….”. In February he was raising nearly $2M a day.
“If the typical Gore event was 20 people in a living room writing six-figure checks,” Gorenberg told me, “and the Kerry event was 2,000 people in a hotel ballroom writing four-figure checks, this year for Obama we have stadium rallies of 20,000 people who pay absolutely nothing, and then go home and contribute a few dollars online.”[The Amazing Money Machine]
On social networking, Green talks about My.BarackObama.com in these terms:
The site is a social-networking hub centered on the candidate and designed to give users a practically unlimited array of ways to participate in the campaign. You can register to vote or start your own affinity group, with a listserv for your friends. You can download an Obama news widget to stay current, or another one … that scrolls Obama’s biography, with pictures, in an endless loop. You can click a “Make Calls” button, receive a list of phone numbers, and spread the good news to voters across the country, right there in your home. You can get text-message updates on your mobile phone an choose from among 12 Obama-themed ring tones, so that each time Mom calls you will hear Barak Obama cry “Yes we can!” and be reminded that Mom should register to vote, too. [The Amazing Money Machine]
And a nice example of hyper-connectivity:
Obama himself shrewdly capitalizes on both the turnout and the connectivity of his stadium crowds by routinely asking them to hold up their cell phones and punch in a five-digit number to text their contact information to the campaign – to win their commitments right there on the spot. [The Amazing Money Machine]