Politics 2.0 and the Rise of the UnderdogsBy Faisal Hoque | Posted 2008-03-31 Email Print
Social networking, Internet-based tools and innovative thinking will disrupt and transform our electoral process.
When Barack Obama launched his presidential bid, he said, “When your name is Barack Obama, you’re always an underdog in political races.” More than 18 months and millions of votes later, it’s hard to justify such a statement given his surprisingly strong performance in the Democratic primaries.
The first-term Illinois senator is charismatic, energetic and technologically innovative. While former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole pioneered candidate Web sites in the 1996 presidential race, and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean leveraged the Web as a fund-raising mechanism, Obama is probably the first presidential candidate to master the potential of the Internet.
Obama’s campaign excels in its use of social networking and online resources to raise money and mobilize support. For example, Obama raised more than $28 million in one month—almost all exclusively online. That’s more than Dean raised for his entire 2004 presidential bid. And Obama has flashed messages across Facebook and other Internet tools to get thousands of supporters to attend rallies in far-flung areas where he lacked the conventional grassroots resources and party apparatus of his chief rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
“The Obama folks seem to have learned the lesson of the Howard Dean campaign, which focused mostly on technology, but was clueless about sociology,” wrote Valdis Krebs, founder of orgnet.com and an expert on social and organizational networks, on techPresident.com. “Howard Dean’s staff organized the Deaniacs over the WWW, but then resorted to the strangers-talking-to-strangers strategy. To accentuate their mistake, they made their activists wear bright orange hats, which just emphasized them being ‘not one of us’ as they canvassed Iowa neighborhoods. Obama knows that in organizing, locals need to interact with locals.”
Obama isn’t alone in his use of the Web.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s surprisingly strong campaign was powered by his use of Web-based outreach. And Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, who is hosting March Madness brackets on his Web site, sent reminder notices to supporters on Facebook to get their picks in before the start of the NCAA tournament.
These examples show how the Internet and technology are transforming politics in the same way they’ve already forced changes in business, health care, government and education. The outreach made possible by new channels like iTunes, YouTube and podcasts is staggering. The electioneering vocabulary has expanded to encompass the new ways of organizing: “F2F” (friend to friend) and “netroots,” the new face of grassroots.