Disruptive Field Tools
by Matt Stoller, Sat May 26, 2007 at 02:05:28 PM EDT
Campaigns have changed a lot over the past four years. 2000 and 2002 saw low-turnout debates over snowmobiles and earth tones, dominated by big television budgets and the so-called 'Gang of 500' set of establishment journalists and pundits. In 2004, blogs came into politics and disrupted the traditional model of fundraising and media, bringing a new and much more information-intensive path to understanding politics. You no longer had to be an insider to get polling data, and this created a platform for activist innovation. The closed loop of fundraising and insider connections to journalists was short-circuited by this new model of distributing message, and earlier internet political organizing models like Moveon were able to fully flower into independent GOTV and media organs. In 2006, youtube disrupted the traditional video market, and layered itself onto blogs and mature tools like Actblue to change the way that message was distributed, and funded.
And yet, there has always been a distance between field/GOTV and the media/polling/fundraising worlds. The big question - can the internet deliver votes - has never been answered. I still hear the argument put out by people like David Plouffe, who is running the media side for Obama's campaign.
"Don't get me wrong," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager and Rospars's boss, "the Internet is a powerful organizing and fundraising tool, and it's getting more and more important every day, but it's still not the persuasion and message tool that TV is."
This is a pretty dumb attitude, it's kind of like saying 'well advertising on comedy shows is gold, but drama isn't where the voters are.' If the people are on the internet and are also watching TV, you have to be in both places. As you can see, the dismissive attitude towards the internet and the innovative possibilities it offers is still around, large and in charge, even on what is supposedly the most internet-savvy campaign. I think by the end of this cycle, that will have changed. The notion of 'going door to door' on the internet, through offering video clips to targeted voters over MySpace, will be here. Social networks will be combined with voter files, which have seen dramatic improvements since 2000. And fundraising, field, and media will have converged. Candidates will be putting out youtube clips early to raise money, identify supporters, and win primaries. All of this has been tested already, and it works.
Rock the Vote, in 2004, registered 1.2 million voters with a simple online voter registration download tool. That's more than twice as much as they had ever registered in any other cycle, including the youth-spike year of 1992. And the online voter registration tool wasn't particularly flexible. What's happening this cycle could be ground-breaking, in that Rock the Vote is building a voter registration engine with an API anyone can innovate on top of. Groups and individuals will be able to capture the number of people they register, the data of the people they register, and the contact information of those they register. This means that, unlike with a standard voter registration download form, the person who asked you to register, presumably someone you trust, will be reminding you to vote. That's a big deal. They will also be able to get credit for registering you to vote, since the voter engine will let people see how many people have registered through a page. It'll be kind of like Actblue, for voter registration.
I've been combing around voter registration statistics, and the number of 18-29 year old voters who voted in 2004 versus 2000 jumped from 15.8 million to 20.1 million, an increase of 4.3 million. With Facebook, MySpace, and Youtube turning intensely political, it's pretty clear that voter registration, and specifically, being able to count voter registration and compete over it, will be a killer ap. Finally, field will be at least in some part measurable and put online. Facebook alone has 22-24 million members, and is growing at 150,000 members a day. MySpace is over 100 million. And though it's unclear how many of these user accounts are citizens and how seriously they take participation in these public spaces, the fact that there are these public spaces, and that they are gargantuan, is a game-changer. My guess is that the opinion leaders in these communities are traditional pundits and stars, but it doesn't have to be this way, and bands and bloggers are in the mix as well.
If Rock the Vote experiences the type of growth of regular Web 2.0 startups like Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, Youtube, etc, there's no reason that 18-29 year old voting block can't expand its share of the electorate by 3 or 4 points. This would swing Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio. And it would put North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, and Arkansas into the swing category, while pulling New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania out of swing state territory.
In primaries, the effect of more youth voters would be much more significant, especially if the cost of communicating with these voters drops below the cost of communicating with other demographic blocks. And we're not even talking about the self-organizing tendencies this generation is already displaying, with its competency in using the grouping tools of the internet. All in all, it's pretty neat to live through a historical realignment of the political system. It started in 1998 with Moveon, and by 2008, the new rules of politics will be in place.