Politics 2.0 and the Rise of the Underdogs

By Faisal Hoque  |  Posted 2008-03-31

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.

This is democracy in a post-broadcast, distributed, bottom-up world, and technology could well be a deciding factor in the 2008 presidential race.

Patrick Quinn of PQMedia has compiled some figures of candidates’ online spending in 2008 that provide a good sketch of this new landscape. Online spending will reach approximately $73 million at all levels. E-mail marketing dominates, accounting for 62 percent of online spending. Web development comes in at 27 percent, while display, search and video ads make up the remaining 11 percent of online budgets.

The effective use and management of technology has the potential not only to increase profits, but also to forever alter the way we live, think and create democracy. 

In my 2007 book “Sustained Innovation”, I wrote extensively about the diverse global trends of innovation.

“When we try to articulate what is happening in this new era, we resort to a familiar set of words: globalization, outsourcing, offshoring, information age, innovation, age of connectivity, disaggregated corporation, death of command and control, real- time corporation, knowledge economy, sustainability.

“As with a dozen blind men touching an elephant and describing what they feel, each of these terms is relevant as far as it goes, but each addresses only part of the whole. To choose one as a lens through which to view life and business in the 21st century is to run the risk of missing the larger picture.

“As a first step in organizing our thinking about these forces and designing a response, we can group these terms in two categories. Information, knowledge and innovation might be considered the ‘what.’ Connectivity, disaggregation and partnerships might be considered the ‘how.’

“Information > Knowledge > Innovation

“Connectivity > Disaggregation > Partnerships

“In other words, what we need today to survive is information, which can be analyzed and turned into knowledge, which can then point them to innovation. We get there by connecting, disaggregating and reaching out in new ways.”

There’s no question that technology appeals to the educated and the young. I’m not a political analyst, but as the younger generations age, it’s only a matter of time before technology assumes a central and critical role in elections. Leaders whose visions can reach out to this audience by converging technology and traditional politics will ultimately not only lead our country, but will also understand intimately the transformed landscape of our society and its institutions.

FAISAL HOQUE is the Chairman and CEO of BTM Corp.  BTM innovates new business models and enhances financial performance by converging business and technology with its unique products and intellectual property. © Faisal Hoque

For more about technology and government, visit BTM Corp.’s Web site.