The Obama Campaign’s Tech-Savvy Revolution
How the Democrats Facebooked their way to victory.
November 14, 2008 - 9:00 am
Since the Howard Dean 2004 presidential campaign, a debate has emerged among Republicans that takes the form of either “Is the Right behind online?” or “Why is the right behind online?” On the Thursday after Election Day, the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican National Committees discussed a range of issues, including technology, and those discussions told us quite a bit.
Dean, soon to be the ex-DNC chairman, said, “But the Internet is an extraordinary — what the Internet is, is a community. It’s a community of people who don’t happen to live in the same place.”
RNC Chairman Mike Duncan responded: “I want to compliment you on what you did to inspire us and challenge us. Your use of the Internet fund-raising in your presidential campaign, what you did there, the social networking that your team has done.”
This is a fundamentally different perspective of what the Internet is for — forming a social network or raising money. But these views don’t necessarily tell us much about technology.
The Democrat’s vision of community dominated in a quantitative sense. Using TwitVote as a proxy, that community broke 6-1 for Barack Obama, explained in part by Wired magazine’s Technology Scorecard. Clearly, technologists were for Obama and the Democrats.
However, this is not a complete analysis. Compare the technology story with the youth vote, which Obama won. The Republicans once again leveraged their youth activists more successfully. In an interview, the executive director of the Young Democrats of America celebrated their voter contacts as a measure of their activism. The spokeswoman for the College Republican National Committee responded in that interview that in two weekends, the CRNC had exceeded the YDA’s voter contacts in the entire general election. The YDA’s executive director was shocked into silence. Indeed, the CRNC claims credit for phone call volume totaling nearly one-quarter of all voter contact in some states. Did the left win the youth vote? Yes. Did the left win youth activism? Perhaps not.
Just as the left winning the students doesn’t translate into superior student activism, winning the technologists doesn’t translate into superior technology. Between students and technologists, the left has a much more technologically-savvy community and has clearly dominated high-tech activism. Where the right has translated technology into traditional low-tech forms like call sheets and targeted scripts, they have been as, or even more, successful.
Let’s consider some examples from fundraising, GOTV, and communications.
In the Republican primary, Mitt Romney’s campaign argued that they were achieving tremendous success at online fundraising. While strictly true, former RNC eCampaign Director Michael Turk demonstrated that they were using the Internet for fulfillment of offline pledges. They were melding traditional high-dollar fundraising techniques with a new, more efficient mechanism for clearing checks and credit cards.