Thursday, November 04, 2010

Internet Politics 2010...

With this week's Congressional elections behind us, what can we learn from them in terms of gauging the current state of internet politics?

Live-blogging for the New York Times, David Carr sparks the debate...

The Future of Politics Looked a Lot Like the Past.

No matter what screen you watched this election on, it looked like you were staring at the future. CNN looked like the set for the next Tron movie, ABC News Now was a Twitter steam rendered for broadcast, and at NBC, Chuck Todd spoke next to a small White House that was actually a digital mirage that he whisked away with a swipe of his hand.

But if you stared into the soul of the new machine, you could see the gears grinding and smell the burned oil rising out of the process. President Obama, the first social media president, swept into office on small money raised virally and activated his base with mice moving in unison. But this time around, it was old-line, cold hard cash, combined with an even more ancient mechanism, a kind of primal fear, that drove the process. The people were angry and frightened, and they were in the mood to get some heads rolling. And they came with the force of a battering ram, not an incoming flutter of e-mail. People are worried in a way that doesn’t come through on Facebook updates or Twitter posts.

Does the 2010 election cycle repudiate many of the so-called "lessons" of 2008? For example, whatever happened to the new-age wisdom of the importance of social media presence? Or how about the need to foster viral marketing of candidates? What about the transformative effect that online campaign fundraising was supposed to have?

There are so many factors to consider before jumping to conclusions, that it would be folly to do so. Foremost, 2008 was a presidential election year - bringing with it far more popular attention (not to mention actual voters) - as compared to 2010 being a midterm election with far less fanfare (of course, this depends on who you're talking about, but let's just say that I doubt the politics of Rep. Steve Rothman of New Jersey's 9th Congressional District were lighting up too many office watercooler conversations). Comparing 2008 and 2010 is like comparing apples and oranges, for many reasons.

That said, what the 2010 election DOES illustrate is that, internet or not, midterm election outcomes are still more about political parties than they are about specific candidates. As my previous blog post highlighted, just because one candidate is more popular online than another ultimately means very little as far as results go.

This is an important point because all of those aforementioned internet-centric questions revolve around the efficacy of individual candidates. A successful email campaign for one aspiring member of Congress doesn't mean a hill of beans when voters are voting for or against an entire political party. Since this time around political parties mattered more than the candidates, all of those internet tools - designed to enhance the standing of the individual - are rendered far less meaningful.

Likewise, when 2012 rolls around, and the individual candidate matters more again, expect their online campaigning to return to relevance.

This is why we shouldn't necessarily read too many overgeneralized lessons about internet politics from this most recent election cycle. All 2010 has accomplished in that regard is to increase our data set, or our sample size. The old differences between midterm and presidential election campaigns persist, so now let us start analyzing how internet politics affects each of these types independently.


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