The Monitor

Technology For All of Us

By - Oct 1st, 2004 02:52 pm
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By Lightburn Designs

In 1998, Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota, in one of the biggest political upsets of the late twentieth century. At the beginning of the race, Ventura had star power (as a long-time WWF mainstay), a simple, powerful anti-establishment rallying cry – No More Politics As Usual! – which appealed squarely to college students and Minnesota’s healthy base of Independents, a strong military record and two weak opponents.

But it’s what he didn’t have— money (the big one), a physical campaign headquarters, limited staff, endorsements from established interest groups, an existing network of help and political experience—that left “political experts” scratching their heads as the dust settled and Jesse moved into the Governor’s mansion.

Even though Ventura did not win a second term, his race shook up the political process forever, as the former Navy Seal discovered politics’ new “secret sauce” – mobilization of one’s base via the Internet. There, Ventura was able to disseminate his message at a low cost, collect campaign donations from average citizens, and build momentum for his campaign with his constant presence. For that alone, he has a place in the pantheon of pioneering political leaders in America.

The steady growth of the Internet and its proven ability to strengthen grassroots political efforts has made possible the raising of millions of dollars for politicians of all parties and has created myriad networks of activists and campaigners. As the current Presidential race has shown, if you’re a politician with Washington in your sights, you better have a clear plan for using the Internet to your advantage or you might just fail.

Dr. Dean’s Internet machine.In the Democratic primary race, we all witnessed the “Howard Dean Phenomenon,” as he rose from relative obscurity to viable Democratic Presidential hopeful through his savvy leveraging of the Internet. Dean’s campaign existed largely, at the beginning, on the Dean For America website. There, he was able to set his agenda and goals down clearly (shaping the debate for the rest of the pack), mobilize a vast slice of people who don’t normally vote and, most importantly, raise over $25 million, much of it in smaller increments over the Web. To put it in perspective, the average contribution to his campaign was only about $74. He didn’t win the nomination. But he did change the way politics in America gets done.

Howard Dean opened up campaign donation to anyone who had a computer and a little extra money. While most of the candidates got the majority of their campaign funding from individuals giving at least $1000, Dean was able to get much smaller donations, but from many more people.

On the other hand, President Bush has received 69 percent of his funds from those giving the maximum contribution of $2,000, while Dean got less than 10 percent of his cash from such large donors. Now, both Kerry and Bush are reaping the benefits of Dean’s efforts. The Kerry campaign puts their online donation total at $75 million in small-money contributions, more than the total that Gore raised in 2000. President Bush is also using the Internet, though to a lesser extent. He’s garnered some small-money contributions, but uses his site more as a tool for organizing his campaign.

But the Internet offers candidates and political interests more than money. It’s also an effective tool for allowing people to become involved in building activism at basic levels. The general public is not limited to passively watching or listening to politicians as filtered through the media. Interested individuals and groups now communicate with each other to attend or stage political events throughout the country.

The Internet also allows the organizers of these dealings to capture vital information about these people, thus allowing them to build a database of loyal followers to utilize in the future. MoveOnPac (moveon.org) is a perfect example. Visit them once and you’re guaranteed to be “updated” at least twice a day by email.

Some information, please. A recent report from Hitwise Pty. Ltd., an Australian company that tracks and publishes online activity, states that “Web surfers in the 17 states that could vote either Democratic or Republican in the upcoming presidential election, also known as ‘battleground’ or ‘swing’ states, are up to twice as likely to visit at least one of the candidate’s election sites.”

In Wisconsin alone, Internet users are 97% more likely to visit Kerry’s site than the general Internet user population.

Hitwise also reported that America’s favorite political Web site is Jibjab.com, a site that pokes fun at both candidates. Jibjab.com has been visited more than 10 million times, more than Bush and Kerry’s campaign sites combined, says Carol Darr, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet in a recent article in Information Week magazine (Sep. 1, 2004).

Not only is the Internet a driving force behind growing grassroots efforts throughout the political landscape, but politics as a whole. The wealth of information on the Internet is enormous. If you couldn’t quite fit the Democratic or the Republican conventions into your busy schedule, look no further than the Internet to help you sort out the constant flip-flopping. It gives the average American voter much more information about the candidates; from voting records to college records, donor demographics, work experience and military experience (or lack thereof).

One note of caution. I recently did a search for the search term ‘grassroots politics’ and it returned more than a half million results. Some were educational, most were informational, and some asked the user for money directly. If you want to help the web-driven David try to bring down the well-funded Goliath, make sure you’re not being duped. Not that being duped and politics have anything in common…VS

 

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