Obama, the internet victor?

I wonder whether, quietly, Barack Obama is to become the first candidate elected by the internet.

It’s not as if he has been all that aggressive in his internet strategy. That is, he has been no more and probably less disruptive in his online tactics than Howard Dean was. But I wonder whether it is the internet that has brought together the factors that are making him victorious.

First, the higher turnout among young people in Iowa — and, it appears, New Hampshire — is being credited as a key factor in his win(s). It has been said plenty of times that young people may get excited about a candidate but they don’t show up. Now they’re showing up, not only to vote but to jam public events that show the mo’. What’s different this time? It could be some magic potion of Obama as Pied Piper, but I think the change may well be the internet. He spoke to young people on their turf and they responded. They made it a point to befriend the bejesus out of him on MySpace and Facebook — they made that their own crusade — and I think media and political strategists thought that was cute but didn’t understand the full power and impact of that. It’s significant that one of Obama’s advisers is a founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes.

This leads to the second factor: the organizing power of the internet. To hell with the phone bank and campaign office downtown. And to heck with rallies, for that matter. The internet is the greatest organizational tool ever and both the campaign — and, importantly, the citizens themselves — used it to organize supporters to get out and support.

Third, of course, is money: It’s not just that Obama raised a helluva lot of money. It’s far more important, of course, that he raised it from a helluva lot of people. But what’s really important in that is that those people felt invested in Obama and his campaign. Yes, he got lots of money to pay for commercials. But what he really got was citizens with an equity stake in his victory. That wasn’t being done before Howard Dean showed how to raise money online and Obama made brilliant use of it.

There are, of course, other factors. The fact that older voters — like me — are the ones favoring Clinton shows that we hold nostalgia for the Clinton years, but young people have no fond memories of the era; they’re too young. I thought that Clinton ran a flawless campaign at the start but now it turns out to be flawed. I do think the media have from the start made Obama their darling and the mo’ was there for him to grab. See my post in April showing how the coverage of him was out of proportion to the polls. You could argue that the media were merely more in touch than the polls but I don’t think so; I believe Obama’s rise became a self-fulfilling prophecy that only he could screw up — and he didn’t.

It would be unwise to count Clinton out yet. She is smart and experienced and tenacious. And Obama is inexperienced and can mess this up. But as a Clinton supporter, I’ll concede the trajectory here.

My point is that as we analyze this fairly incredible and rabid shift in power between the two candidates, I haven’t heard the internet being given the credit I think it may deserve. And that’s not because he ran the campaign on the internet; no one will call him the internet candidate. It’s because he used it to speak to the right people and in ways that weren’t noticed or understood by big media. What do you think?

  • Tom B.

    It’s not about the internet Jeff. It’s about him.

    The internet is just a medium, and in 2008, nobody used it more than John Edwards.

    Obama didn’t go out and recruit on facebook, they came to him at first. Did the internet make Obama’s natural “viralness” quicker and more transparent? Yes, it did.

    But those same opportunities were there for all the candidates. People were just more attracted to him.

    And it’s real simple to see why. He’s different.

  • Tom B.

    And just to be crystal clear, I’m responding to this, “whether it is the internet that has brought together the factors that are making him victorious.”

    I’m arguing no, he always had “it.”

  • Harold

    You’re not exactly wrong in the first paragraph when you write:

    That is, he has been no more and probably less disruptive in his online tactics than Howard Dean was.

    However, it’s not always about disruption– in this case it’s about execution. Obama’s team has been incredibly more dedicated, passionate, and has executed better then Dean’s team ever did. The basic technology and strategy is the same (fully embrace the net) but the execution is just so much better.

    Try signing up for Obama’s online updates/team/etc. and you’ll see what I mean.

  • It has to start with the candidate and the message. The net adds tools that enable the campaign.

    Dean was about more than the net, he gave voice to many people opposed to the war.

    Obama is about more than the net, but the effective use of the net to organize and inform young voters may be an element of his success.

    I asked here if Obama’s campaign has cracked the code in terms of using net tools like Facebook (as the linked article about the 2008 net campaign discusses, less sexy tools have been used effectively by previous GOP campaigns).

    My guess is Obama is coming closer to cracking the code than anyone to date.

  • chico haas

    1. Hasn’t Ron Paul used the internet the hardest?
    2. He ain’t elected yet.

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  • PdV

    As a foreigner, I follow the American presidential contest with much interest. But can you give me an insight in HOW the candidates – especially Obama – are using the internet, and in which way the Obama-on-line-campaign is different from let’s say Hillary’s?

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  • Jeff,
    So now he lost does that mean that we should be more careful of Internet-led ‘leads’?
    Seems to me that the ‘MoveOn’ style excitement may have distracted from the on-the-ground realities.

  • I’m amused by the way the established media didn’t see this coming. But I guess that’s all about their top-down mindset.
    Obama said it himself last week – change (sorry!) comes from bottom up rather than top down.

  • Charlie,
    He still had an incredible growth in momentum and it was close. Hillary won but I’d say it’s now a race.

  • Mark Smith

    “Yes we can” ;-)

    Im not even an American but that speech he did today at NH, this Obama has a gift of public speaking. Compared to the other candidates, their speeches lacked a lot of appeal. It will be interesting to watch his skills in debate though as we don’t see much outside of the USA, only snippets on the news.

  • Admiral Belvedere

    Edwards certainly has the most prolific web presence of the Democratic candidates, so I have to agree with Tom B. in that it’s more Obama’s message and charisma than the medium itself that appeals to voters. Obama’s ratings on http://www.fittobepres.com back up this claim, as he scores highly in both his values and his ability to connect to the public.

  • Hi Jeff. I write about Obama and the Net trend in this post (yes,it is in Italian but there is an interesting report):


  • As the campaign moves forward, I believe interactive media is crucial to this campaign. We are in the internet age and the candidate that give efforts to target younger audiences will find it more beneficial; gaining more visibility brings out the younger voters and thus a larger audience.

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  • btw; tomi ahonen on communities dominate brands has an interesting analysis of the internet marketing techniques the various parties are using. Suggests Clinton’s micro-targetting (which is really the idea of identifying alpha-users at hubs of social networks) may have swung the day.

  • Heather Green

    It’s actually a trend that we have seen in the past two federal elections. Youth vote is up.
    http://www.civicyouth.org/quick/youth_voting.htm This young folks are volunteering, getting involved in community groups, and, well, voting in numbers we haven’t seen for years.

    I think they feel more empowered by the Internet, but it seems to be enabling some involvement that they’re already showing on a lot of levels, not just digital.

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  • i didnt spend time to read all the comments, but Tom B., I am sorry but it is about the internet…. people have access to tons more information and are actually getting interested in the beliefs and opinions of the candidates…. linkinfluence.net tracked the blogosphere for the french elections of 2007 and they were spot on with the winner. They are doing the same thing for 2008 for the US elections and Barack is the clear winner so far. The only thing that isn’t accounted for is the ‘ancients’ who are not and will never be on the internet because they missed the boat a long time ago (probably with the 60s as well).

    I am predicting that in five years, we will have voting via an uber secure .gov website.

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  • It’s very interesting to now revisit the internet aspect of the presidential campaigns, and take a look at the type of search marketing each of these candidates are doing.

    I pulled together a top 10 list of each of the keywords that the candidates are targeting in their search marketing campaign. (See http://www.searchmarketingmaven.com/what-are-obama-clinton-and-mccain-doing-with-search-engine-marketing/)

    As of March 2008, Obama, Clinton, and McCain are all actively engaging in PPC search marketing. Top words for Obama and Clinton focused on their names and local searches (e.g. texas election) while McCain has branched out to search marketing on issue oriented keywords like taxes, global warming, etc.

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  • Louis Iacoviello

    Obama popping up in the unlikeliest of genres –


  • Bob

    Hi Jeff,you might be interested in these video-interviews with Blue State Digital, the maker of the internet-tools for the Obama campaign: http://www.netr.nl/?p=85

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