In an article recently published, Cristian Vaccari provides an interesting overview of the role of ‘net in the 2004 presidential campaign, based on interviews with senior aides to the campaigns of George W. Bush and John Kerry. It’s always good to hear it from the horses’s mouth.
The main conclusion of the article is that the 2004 campaign could be seen as a watershed: the internet has irrevocably become part of every aspect of the campaign (spreading information, mobilization of voters, organization of supporters etc). One of the main development from previous campaigns is the sophistication of audience differentiation: instead of providing one set of information for everyone, campaigns distinguished between members of the audience in function of their level of engagement (“interested,” “engaged” and “active”), and offered different kinds of information and activities to these groups.
A direct quote from Michael Turk, Bush’s e-campaign manager is supposed to show evidence to the “continuous effort” of campaign professionals to bridge the gap between online activists and offline organizations:
The real story of online activism is not whether people gave their credit card to the campaign, [it] is what they have done to make sure that the candidate got elected, and what the campaign is doing to make sure that these people who spend a lot of time online are part of the process.
This quote seems somewhat vague to me. And while it doesn’t describe any concrete strategies – what the campaigns are about -, the one concrete thing it mentions – what the campaigns were not about – reveals that probably 2004 wasn’t exactly the watershed (or that 2008 will be regarded as one, too). In the light of Barack Obama’s pre-election and election campaigns, taking huge advantage of tiny donations from millions of donors, Turk seems to have downplayed the importance of “people giving their credit card to the campaign.” (In fact, it seems that both Hillary Clinton’s and John McCain’s campaign have overlooked this opportunity; or at least they have not perfected “grassroots online financial involvement” to the degree Obama has.)
Hopefully Vaccari – or someone else – will have an in-depth interview with David Axelrod too, after the elections.
Two other points mentioned in the literature review:
- the internet is likely to be much better at mobilizing supporters than at winning over undecided voters or supporters of another party or candidate, and
- in the online public sphere, the expressive and identity-forming function of political participation is enhanced.
Note to self: this last point is especially interesting and worth looking into. Cf. Peter Dahlgren (2005): The internet, public spheres and political communication: dispersion & deliberation. Political Communication 22 (2): 147 – 62.
Vaccari, Cristan (2008): “From the air to the ground: the internet in the 2004 US presidential campaign”, New Media and Society, 10 (4): 647 – 665.