Beyond Election Day 2008: Declaring a winner

Regardless of who wins the White House next Tuesday night, the biggest winner of Election 2008 won’t be John McCain or Barack Obama, nor the party which controls Congress. The biggest winners of the 2008 election will be those whose pioneering efforts shifted political campaigning on the Internet from the fringes of American political culture into its mainstream.

In the 2004 elections, those who waged politics in the virtual world, such as Howard Dean and the blogger that debunked Dan Rather’s now-infamous Bush memo were like the Phil Sheridans and J.E.B. Stuart of the American Civil War - raiders who struck at the vulnerable flanks and rear of the battlefield, sometimes affecting the larger picture, sometimes not. This year, they are now among the Shermans and Stonewall Jacksons of the American political landscape – the leaders and orchestrators of powerful forces whose ranks and operations played key roles in the overall plans of the war.

We should not be surprised those who campaign via the Internet become the Grants and Lees of the 2010 and 2012 elections – the overall commanders of all the forces fighting for their cause. As with any profession, those who are successful at the lower levels – who often pioneer new tactics and approaches – ascend to the higher ranks. Someone who started as a blogger become a national campaign manager, or someone who started out organizing via MySpace or Facebook chair the DNC or RNC.

In his book
“Being Digital”, penned in the mid-1990s, Nicholas Negroponte described the early years of the Internet explosion, in which he predicted that these changes were inevitable and that radical changes upon how people communicate were soon to come:

The change from atoms to bits is irrevocable … Why now? Because the change is also exponential - small differences of yesterday can have suddenly shocking consequences tomorrow.


The difference between the electronic world and traditional campaign methodologies is stark – television ads and direct mail pieces which take days to produce and distribute to audiences are losing their influence upon voters, as web-delivered content, which can be rolled out in a matter of hours, wields increasing amounts of influence. While television campaigns have gradually shrunk from minutes in length to thirty seconds or even less, web videos on campaign websites are often one to three minutes long. This suggests that voters who skim newspapers, toss the direct mail pieces after a cursory glane, and won’t sit still for a 60 second tv spot will go online and spend several minutes watching an online video or reading a blog posting. This shift represents a profound change in the landscape of political communication.

The other effects of political activity on the Internet have also matured: the ability to recruit, organize and rally supporters of candidates, serve as primary sources of fundraising, and to influence the agendas of both traditional and new media outlets. It’s now difficult to imagine how today’s political candidates for offices higher than county dogcatcher can wage successful campaigns without incorporating internet tactics and tools into their campaigns.

In looking at the South Carolina political landscape, few will likely remember when yours truly authored the now-forgotten Evacuate Hodges website. While that website represented something new to South Carolina politics in its time – the use of the internet as a primary source of information dissemination – blogs, aggregator websites, comment sections in the web-posted new stories of traditional media websites are now commonplace, wielding considerable influences upon electioneering and public policy in South Carolina.

When you think about it, this rapid evolution and growth of influence sounds a lot like the changes Negroponte predicted. Today, Palmetto State politicians, strategists, lobbyists, and interest group leaders routinely seek the support of online political activists, and seldom a day goes by without some traditional news media outlet quoting (often without due credit) some website author or blogger.

The consequences of these changes are not just important for our own nation. American political tactics and strategies have both direct involvement and indirect influences upon campaigns waged in many of the world’s democracies, as what is proven effective in American campaigns is quickly exported elsewhere to win elections. Those who change how campaigns are waged here will end up influencing how democracy is practiced on a global scale.

Whether you’re talking about South Carolina, or the national political scene, this is the year the change from atoms to bits produced fundamental changes upon how we campaign for public office, as well as how we govern. These profound and lasting effects which will reach farther and last longer than the tenure of the next President. While John McCain or Barack Obama may shape the course of a nation, netroots culture will shape the future of democratic governance on a global scale. In doing so, those who have moved internet-based politics from the fringes to the mainstream have won the greatest victory of the 2008 elections.

2 Response to "Beyond Election Day 2008: Declaring a winner"

  1. Mike Reino 24/10/08 19:15
    Yes, I AM a Winner...
  2. clarendon mg 26/10/08 19:48
    Yes, I AM a Winner...

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

To post a comment without having a Blogger account, select "Name/URL", put your name in, but leave the URL line blank. Email me if you'd like to comment, but need help making it work.