Viral Marketing Versus a Mega-Conglomerate
by Chris Bowers, Mon Aug 07, 2006 at 01:08:43 PM EDT
Just arrived in the New Haven office. I knew which building it was in because of all the news vans outside. Passed around one dozen volunteers on my way in, and there were another dozen in the office. I'm chatting with Tom Schaller right now. He says there is a lot more activity here than in the Lieberman New Haven office. A new volunteer seems to come in to ask to work the polls tomorrow every five minutes or so. There will be a press conference here in about half an hour, and Matt should be there too.
During my train ride on the way in, I was thinking about the poll numbers. As I am sure everyone knows by now, the Q-poll results from earlier today showed the first pro-Lieberman trend of this entire campaign. Lamont led 54-41 in the July 25-31 sample, but the gap had closed to 51-45 in the August 1-6 sample. While margin of error makes it entirely possible that the previous sample had projected too high a lead for Ned Lamont and this sample projects too low of a lead, it is more likely that Lieberman has indeed made up some ground. As nervous as this makes me, it also does not strike me as surprising considering the national attention paid to the race and the massive political and media establishment forces we are up against.
When it comes to influencing elections, the progressive movement tends to use an avant-garde and alternative media approach not dissimilar to viral marketing. In this model, influential, highly politically engaged progressives participate within new progressive organizations and media and then disseminate the ideas of those organizations and media through their like-minded, but less politically engaged, social, familial, and employment circles. When it comes to transforming the opinion of the Democratic rank and file, this model is most effective when the establishment media is not paying attention to a race. Without the media, the only people around to inform low-information voters on the state of a campaign are political campaigns themselves and, most importantly, friends of low-information voters who pay attention to politics. It is in this way that the class of progressive activist that I have repeatedly called the working class of the political activist world actually becomes the avant-garde of the rank-and-file. When matched up against establishment candidates, dominating the avenues of viral progressive marketing is the single biggest strategic advantage in the possession of the effective movement candidate. From the Connecticut bloggers, to the "kiss" float, to Ned Lamont's fantastic campaign commercials, for quite some time Lamont's campaign was a textbook case of viral marketing, and so he continued to rocket upward in the polls, even among low information voters.
The problem Lamont's campaign and his supporters now face is that we are up against the largest onslaught of top-down, corporate-style marketing in favor of an establishment candidate in a Senatorial primary, probably ever. As someone who is a keen watcher of Google News trends, this is certainly the most attention the media has given to a Senate race of any kind since at least Clinton v. Lazio in 2000, and I cannot imagine any Senatorial primary in history that would have received more national media attention than this one. Worst of all, almost of none of this coverage is pro-Lamont. Instead, we have been subjected to endless paeans of Joe Lieberman and ominous prophecies of the end of the world, or at least of the Democratic Party, should any Democrat dare vote against him. Throw in Lieberman's thousands of paid volunteers, the dozens of direct mailers sent on Lieberman's behalf by advocacy organizations, the massive edge in both radio and television advertising Lieberman holds, and the endorsement of what seems like every elected Democrat on the planet, and low information voters have quite a bit more to turn to than their politically engaged progressive friends (assuming they have any friends that fit that definition) when it comes to this campaign now. As impressive as the pro-Lamont viral marketing has been, the establishment response over the past few weeks has grown to a level five establishment panic hurricane.
While I still believe Lamont will prevail, I expect the result to me more like the 2% in IL-06 than the enormous, poll-busitng victories for movement candidates Jon Tester in Montana and Jerry McNerney in CA-11.Tester and McNerney's campaigns received negligible media coverage, as neither candidate had to deal with a deluge of national pundits decrying how their impending victories would be destructive to the Democratic Party, and how their opponents were the greatest human being to walk on the face of the earth. As depressing as it may be accept, at this point in the development of the progressive movement, the less establishment media attention that is given to an election, the better a movement candidate will probably do in that election. The movement just does not have enough friends in the establishment yet. We don't have enough direct reach within our audience yet. This race was almost inevitably going to get closer considering the forces lined up against us, but I remain confident that our creativity and energy, combined with the general ineffectiveness many of Lieberman's supporters have shown in recent years, will also us to prevail despite being overwhelmingly out-resourced.