The Online Power of the Left

Frequent readers will know I am a major proponent of this new-fangled thing we call the Internet. The real power of social media is greater in the political world is still unknown. But some recent posts on other non-political blogs are good illustrations.

First, on the Groundswell blog by Forrester, Josh Bernoff writes about three speakers at the Personal Democracy Forum:

Farouk Olu Aregbe. Started “one million strong for Barack” but does not work for Barack Obama.

Created a group on Facebook. Expanded to links to other content, setting up meetings, etc. Scale became a problem — didn’t want to become a PAC but decided to form subgroups. Raised $15,000 through the MyBarackObama site. Now challenge: how to take the masses of volunteers and channel all the energy.

My take: amazing what young person with energy can do in the social world. These types of folks are going to be powerful, suddenly.

Matt Stoller, “The Making of the Netroots.” — runs An unabashed liberal. “Crazy uncle” type candidates do best online, Howard Dean, even Ross Perot. Unlike a “broadcast” politician, they got people talking to each other. Second, appealed to the people who felt betrayed by the system.

Talked about the rise of, starting in response to the Clinton impeachment activity. “civic participation is how we built our political process” — that is, this popular movement is feeding the new liberal activity. He calls it “the open left.” “As important as the growth of the new right” — direct marketing which fueled the new right in the 70s and 80s.

“There is power here,” says Stoller.

Stoller, as I see it, is issuing a challenge. Why is it that the liberals are using online organizing more effectively than conservatives? Show me a counterexample.

I don’t have a counter example. Josh is right that liberals are using online organizing more effectively. I’ve written about it before. Twice. And I didn’t have an answer.

But then I read what B.L. Ochman writes on her WhatsNextBlog:

Also not surprisingly, the [Fleishman-Hillard/National Consumers League] study found, Republicans prefer offline sources and traditional media …

Democrats and Independents prefer online sources, more specifically, independent Web sites; and prefer to visit online social networks, such as blogs, podcasts, MySpace, and Facebook. The survey also found that Independents tend to be more tech savvy than either Democrats or Republicans.

The study was about corporate social responsibility – but the findings provide an answer for Josh’s question: Republicans are just not adapting to new technology. They prefer paper, radio and tv — sources increasingly controlled by fewer and fewer multinational corporations — to the plethora of sources available online.

Last week, the Washington Post ran a story that really hammers home the point (hat tip to Florida Kossacks):

When David All, a former Republican congressional aide, launched a blog recently that he hopes will spur his fellow Republicans to bridge the digital divide, he did his best to sound upbeat. “Today our Revolution begins,” he wrote. “Tomorrow we fight.”

But implicit in his cheerleading was the acknowledgment that there is a widening gap between Democrats and Republicans on the Internet, and that his party will have to scramble to catch up. “For the most part Republicans are stuck in Internet circa 2000,” he said in an interview.

Here are other findings from the Post article:

  • John Edward’s website had more combined unique visitors than websites for Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney COMBINED;
  • Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards raised a total of $14 million from online sources in the first reporting period; Giuliani, McCain, and Romney raised a total of $6 million; and
  • Act Blue, a liberal fundraising site, collected $3 million just for John Edwards; the conservative ABC PAC has raised $385. (not $385,000 – three hundred and eighty-five dollars!).

The Post goes on to say:

One reason for the disparity between the parties, political insiders say, is that the top Republican candidates are not exciting voters the way the Democratic front-runners are. Another is that it takes a certain level of technical skill and understanding to be an online strategist, and Republicans admit that “the pool of talent in the Democrats’ side is much bigger than ours.”

But an underlying cause may be the nature of the Republican Party and its traditional discipline — the antithesis of the often chaotic, bottom-up, user-generated atmosphere of the Internet.

“We’ve always been a party of staying on message,” All said. “It’s the Rush Limbaugh model. What Tony Snow says in the White House filters down to talk radio, which makes its way to the blogs.”

Ulitmately, two quotes by Michael Turk, head of web strategy for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, sum up the problem:

“We’re losing the Web right now.”

“Sometimes I wonder if it will take losing the White House for the Republicans to take the Internet more seriously.”

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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5 Responses to The Online Power of the Left

  1. daniel says:

    hi, Jim, how are you?

    This is a great post!

    Over here in the UK, the situation is more-or-less reversed: The right-wing party are doing a far better job of ‘the web’ than the left. Interestingly, the right has been out of power here for several years (again the reverse of the US). So perhaps that’s the unifying factor: being out of office has given the Left in the US & the Right in the UK greater drive to use /other/ tactics (ie. the web/social media) to try and pull themselves ahead of the controlling party.

    One other element in all of this I think is forward-thinking: ‘social media’ is still young &, to a large extent, controlled & participated by ‘young’ people. In 10 years time, when things have settled down with social media, many more people will be involved, but these ‘early adopters’ may still have the majority of control (as much as you /can/ control social media). What that means is: by not concentrating on this *today*, you’re affecting your results today *and* well into the future.

    One final point – I find this quote interesting:

    “Sometimes I wonder if it will take losing the White House for the Republicans to take the Internet more seriously.”

    Surely it was Michael Turk’s job to evangelise this stuff internally. Of course, it’s sometimes tough to achieve buy-in, but, his equivalent over here in the UK has more-or-less singlehandedly put ‘The Right’ ahead.


    ps. I am neither left or right – I just find all of this interesting!

  2. Josh Bernoff says:

    I’m not ready to buy that Republicans won’t read online sources.

    Republicans are older and richer on average than Democrats. Older people are less open to online sources, but richer people are usually more open.

    We’re considering doing a survey on politics and social media at Forrester so stay tuned.

  3. B.L. Ochman says:

    Thanks for linking to my post. Your blog is very interesting reading.

    It’s fascinating that the situation is reversed in Britain.

    Republican candidate’s sites are mired in the illusion of message control. That control is illusory, always has been.

  4. gatordem says:

    Thanks for the hat tip. 🙂 Good luck in bringing your side into the 21st Century.

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