Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond
Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond
BY Editors | Tuesday, November 14 2006
With the 2006 mid-term elections behind us, we asked a distinguished group of technologists, politicos, bloggers, and journalists to respond to the following questions: Was the role of technology in politics different in 2006 than in 2004? How did new technology most affect Election 2006, and do you see any lessons for 2008?
Other Participants: danah boyd, Andy Carvin, Allison Fine, Mindshare Interactive, Benjamin Rahn, Howard Rheingold, Liza Sabater, Nancy Scola, Michael Silberman, Gur Tsabar, David Weinberger, Todd Zeigler, and Ethan Zuckerman.
Please register and join the conversation (responses may be posted as comments at the end of this feature.)
Better Message Trumps Better Technology
In the 2006 mid-terms we saw the innovations of the 2004 Election sustained and built upon. While receiving a "thumpin" at the polls Republicans maintained their technological edge (see this PDF comparison of the RNC and DNC efforts for more information).
We saw the GOP effectively use technology to empower their grassroots supporters in offline efforts like neighborhood walks, house parties, and maps and directions to the polls. The only thing that was missing was a message for grassroots supporters to carry.
In the political treatise Flying Upside Down Joe Gaylord coined "E=MC2: Election = Message times Candidate squared." People vote for a candidate they trust with the right message. In this difficult election Republicans never found their true voice and the message on why they should have stayed in power. Technology could not make up for their deficiency.
As we conservatives regroup and turn to 2008, we should look first to the principles we believe in and what technology we use to carry our message second.
Chuck DeFeo has recently joined Salem Communications where he is working to integrate Salem's talk radio content with an interactive Web presence. Prior to joining Salem, DeFeo served as eCampaign Manager for Bush-Cheney '04, where he developed the online strategy and managed Internet operations for President Bush's re-election campaign.
The Emergence of Online Voter Persuasion Ads
The 2006 elections established the Internet as an effective and proven voter persuasion tool for political campaigns.
In previous elections, online resources were mainly devoted to building and operating campaign websites or sending fundraising solicitations with little or no expenditures except at the local level for voter persuasion. This year, political campaigns and committees ran online ads in support of U.S. Senate candidates. Online ads attacking Conrad Burns running on the election and news pages of Montana newspaper websites produced click thru rates as high as 7 percent. Expandable banner motion video ads for Senate candidates in tightly fought races performed likewise. As an advertising and online media agency, our toughest challenge was finding enough impressions to buy as campaigns shifted resources from mail and phones to television, radio and online during the last 10 days leading up to the Election.
Projects within this late timeframe included an online ad campaign linked to a humorous website that attacked New York State Senator Nick Spano for his ties to George Bush. The website's tactic of linking Spano to Bush was credited with making a difference in the race to dethrone the 20-year incumbent GOP Senator.
Local candidates across the country use online ads to generate website traffic and name ID with inexpensive geo-targeted buys. The ability to micro- or geo-target online ad buys and be running on news websites in a matter of minutes is certain to make online voter persuasion even more popular in the years ahead.
Like any form of advertising, online voter persuasion ads require a highly effective message to achieve winning results.
Just as Democrats seized the edge in online fundraising during the 2004 campaign, they are on track to get there first in online voter persuasion.
Grant Draper is a Partner at The Element Agency, which worked on behalf of Democratic Party Committees and PACs in 11 states during the 2006 election cycle. He blogs from New York for the Daily Canuck.
Since others here have talked about the macaca-Youtube-Colbert revolution, I'll focus on the piece that I'm familiar with.
In 2006, folks from far-flung non-battleground areas were able to have an empirical impact in the key races. In our Call for Change program, folks placed over 7 million calls into target areas (and another 2 million or so from MoveOn members to other members.) These calls changed turnout significantly - and in some races, arguably put them over the top.
It's a potentially transformative development because in our current electoral college-based system, it provides a role for the majority of the country that has ended up on the sidelines. Gone are rubber-chicken fundraising dinners as the only recourse for deep-blue- and deep-red-staters. Now we can all weigh in.
In the long run, it's a hopeful sign: to win in the future, representatives and parties will have to be able to inspire everyone nation-wide - not just the partisans in a few key areas.
Eli Pariser is the Executive Director of MoveOn.org Political Action.
Technology's impact in politics was more extensive and of greater depth in 2006 than it was in 2004 because for the first time ever a specific law was enacted largely as a result of lobbying via the Internet. This came about as a result of the decisive role of an unlikely coaliton of bloggers fromt the left and right in winning passage of the Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which mandates establishment of a Google-like public database of most federal spending. In the course of this effort, the coalition unmasked Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, as having placed secret holds on the legislation in the Senate prior to its passage and signing by President Bush.
Second, an effort is being made to maintain and even expand this coalition to seek enactment of additional measures designed to increase the transparency and accountability of the federal government such as the Sunlight Foundation's Punchclock Campaign to persuade Members of Congress to post their daily schedules and to require the public posting of the full text of all proposed legislation for at least 48 hours before it is voted on in either chamber of Congress. If this coalition sticks together, it could also play a signficant role in gaining passage of needed reforms in the Freedom of Information Act, as proposed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT.
Social Media, Social Networking and Politics-To-Go
Looking at 2006 and trying to say, "This was the year of fill-in-the-blank," the only big winner in online politics has to be You Tube; 2006 belonged to YouTube in the way that 2004 belonged to the blog.
The two races that ultimately determined the make up of the Senate featured candidates who had suffered self-inflicted wounds due to the video-sharing site. Can anyone doubt the power of watching a candidate on 'snooze control' or a Senator having his errant attempts at clever turn him into the butt of a national joke? (I suppose you can apply that description to Kerry as well, depending on your partisan tilt.)
YouTube and user-generated content have contributed more to the art of opposition research in one cycle than most other media have accomplished over many. It used to be rare for an opposition researcher to find "the silver bullet," but soon it may just take a video camera and patience.
While social media sites took off, the early analysis of Facebook trends seems to indicate the same problem folks saw with the Dean campaign - a vibrant and cacophonous echo chamber is still an echo chamber, and 90% of a closed population supporting you doesn't earn many new votes. Social networks like MySpace and Facebook were supposed to be the big winner online, but failed to materialize as a force.
The other technology that was supposed to take off is mobile, but that failed to pan out with a couple of rare exceptions. MoveOn did some work pushing a 'cell-phone bank' operation similar to one the Bush campaign ran last year. The use of distributed phone banking in that way is likely to continue gaining steam next year as more and more people tune out the auto-dial messages that got so annoying this year.
On another mobile front, the DeVos campaign pushed a mobile only version of their website, and pushed ads directly to the cell phone. They were a bit ahead of their time, but as Verizon's V-Cast service and others like it roll out in the next 12-18 months, look for more campaigns to find a way to reach you on the go.
Mike Turk is Vice President of Industry Grassroots for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and former eCampaign Director for the National Republican Committee.
Elections are made of two parts: campaigns and voting. This election season, the use of social media in campaigns was primarily a maturation of technologies and techniques first employed in 2004. Rock the Vote integrated its voter registration mechanisms on Facebook and candidates honed their use of email and meetups. But, sadly, those campaigns that were competitive, of which there weren't enough, continued to have a command and control structure and reach out to voters only enough to collect their contributions.
The greatest impact that social media had on the election was on the voting process, and I don't mean the stupid voting machines. 2006 marks the first YouTube election and the ability to not just document but actually fix voting irregularities in real time is the great triumph for social media in this year's midterm elections.
In years past the most a voter could hope for to correct harassment, discrimination or incompetence at the polls was to call and complain to their local board of elections. The chance that anything would change on election day itself was virtually nil.
This election, voters had a variety of ways to report, post, echo and shout their problems and complaints. Voterstory.org had a widget to capture email stories about voting difficulties. It was posted on over 40 websites and the aggregate results will be shared later this week. Voter411.org sponsored by the League of Women Voters hosted a polling place finder that had over a million page views on election day helping voters find their correct voting precinct. And, of course, there was YouTube. My favorite of the day was Jean Schmidt, an ardent supporter of the new voting machines, captured on video struggling to use one in Ohio.
The promise of social media is not just that it will grease the wheels of elections but that it will make the process more transparent and fairer. Citizens are taking steps in that direction, now all we need is the candidates and politicians to join us.
Allison Fine is a successful social entrepreneur and writer dedicated to helping grassroots organizations and activists implement and sustain social change efforts. Allison was the Founder of Innovation Network, Inc. (InnoNet) and served as Executive Director and President from 1992-2004, and served as the C.E.O. of The E-Volve Foundation in 2004-2005. Wiley & Sons published her first book, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, in 2006.
The use of blogs and videos to document potential voting irregularities was the most important role of technology in 2006. What could be more important than keeping elections honest?
Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs, teaches at Berkeley and Stanford, and is a non-resident Fellow at the Annenberg Center, USC.
I think the subtle difference in 2006 is that we've reached a critical mass of people who are fluent in using technology to communicate, and not just young people or the super tech-savvy. There's a growing sense that all of the many things we now do using our tools and gadgets (blogging, IMing, text messaging, recording videos, building communities, posting photos, and on and on) are just different means to the same end. Some people are finding remarkably creative and poetic ways to do it -- my current favorite is friends who are using the tiny "status box" on Google Talk or Facebook to communicate in haiku-like form -- but I'd argue that in November 2006 some degree of fluency is almost part of the shared American experience. There are political implications. So many of us are discovering and polishing our voices that I don't even think it's crazy to suggest that one of the factors behind the sweeping change we saw on Tuesday is that there are just more of us now who are comfortable expressing who we are and want our leaders to be.
One of the losers (and yay! that it might be so) on Tuesday night was the idea that it's some measure of personal refinement to disdain the culture of communicating online. At this point, it takes willful ignorance to not see that there are some bloggers who add value to politics or that journalists with the some of the brightest futures are those willing to blog or otherwise engage their readers online.
As for 2008 -- while we're getting pretty good today at putting that fluency to work to shape electoral politics, I'm cautiously optimistic that by then we'll have started to figure out how to use it to better effect in movement politics.
Nancy Scola is a writer and activist who has been an aide to former Virginia governor Mark Warner and a staffer on Capitol Hill.
A new trend in politics : the neighboroots
It's more than netroots activism. It's more than neighborhood politics. Neighboroots is becoming and interesting trend: I find myself exchanging on almost a daily basis notes about what is happening here in my little slice of New York City with people who are in far along places like Oregon, Texas and Ohio.
The idea of neighboroots is simple : Many people are using the social networking practices they've developed online to expand their political engagement and strengthen relationships within their offline neighborhoods. So I have been able to share notes and ideas with bloggers and campaign volunteers in cities and towns across states such as California, Virginia and Connecticut.
These are not people involved in high profile national races. These are micro-targeted or hyper-local politics offline : City councils, school boards, state senates. Contrary to the trend of online activists or netroots to target national campaign or high profile races, neighboroots are hyperlocal, microniche politics that are being discussed and even provided with resources by online activists across the country. In most cases, these are the races abandoned by their local party machines. So finding others in similar situations is key to some of these activists. You can say that, as they are more engaged in localities, neighboroots activists also happen to be creating online neighborhoods or affinity groups through forums, blogs, wikis an email lists, in order to to exchange ideas and share resources.
So if there are many more local races these year too close to call, now you know why. Thank the activists who are growing the new political phenomenon, the neighboroots.
If 2004 was the year of the online donor, 2006 was the year of the online raiser. ActBlue made it possible for anyone, anywhere, to fundraising for the Democrats of their choice. The result: $16.5 million sent to over 1000 candidates and committees.
The highest-profile fundraisers at ActBlue included eleven sitting Senators and a host of top-tier bloggers. At the same time, the netroots page, which raised $1.5 million, is a concentrated example of what was happening in a distributed fashion all over ActBlue's web site -- money was raised through 1200 different ActBlue fundraising pages this cycle. Sure, not each page raised $1.5 million, but in aggregate those pages collectively fueled races all over the country, not because one person (either a blogger or a DC strategist) decided each race was worthy, but because many, many individuals decided it was important enough to chip in some money and ask their friends to do the same.
To give you a taste of the new ways in which ActBlue will help online raisers have a huge impact next cycle: the FEC just issued an advisory opinion permitting us to collect funds for prospective presidential candidates, which ActBlue will hold in escrow to entice the potential candidate to enter the race. Stay tuned!
Benjamin Rahn is the president of ActBlue. After graduating from Harvard College in 2000 he led a 20-member staff as Assistant Director of the Research Science Institute at MIT.
Biggest change? The center of gravity in online politics is shifting from campaigns to citizens, where it belongs.
In '04, major election campaigns lead the way by using technology to build massive supporter networks, which they then engaged in a range of volunteer activities both online and off. With a few exceptions, candidate campaigns initiated almost all of the major online activity -- from creative online fundraising efforts to self-organized meetups and house-parties. Many top political bloggers even joined the ranks of official campaigns.
This year, we saw the first signs of citizens and third party organizations taking the reigns away from the campaigns. We're beginning to realize, collectively, that we can use these new social tools to influence politics without the campaign's direction. We learn quickly, for example, that we can capture a video of Sen Allen making racist remarks during a campaign stop and post it to the web within minutes. Better yet, we know that the network of bloggers, blog readers, and YouTube watchers has grown large enough and is well-connected enough to create an online ruckus so loud that the national media is compelled to cover it.
We're also creating and sharing local voting guides with one another, just like we do iTunes playlists, or placing our Fantasy Congress bets. While at the polls, we're taking photos and notes for The Polling Place Photo Project, a national experiment relying on a distributed network of citizens to build a national picture of voting in America through basic technology. If we saw any problems or dirty tricks at the polls, we could capture a video and upload it to the grassroots Video the Vote collection. Or else we'd complete the VoterStory voter complaint form, whose success depends on the number of distributed websites that agree to host the form.
By 2008, I'm hopeful that the growing online population will more fully realize its power to use the 'net as an organizing vehicle and to influence elections. If that happens, more candidates will be forced to engage with the medium in earnest rather than use it as an additional distribution channel for campaign ads or press releases.
Michael Silberman is the Director and Senior Strategist at EchoDitto, an internet strategy consultancy specializing in online community building. Previously, he directed the national meetup program for Howard Dean's presidential campaign.
The Politics of Risk-Aversion
Since the 2004 elections, technology has dramatically increased the intensity of our political discourse as well as the frequency and reach of its distribution; which, from the perspective of a more personal democracy is a beautiful thing.
That said, it is my impression that the technology has not yet proven itself as far as the incumbent political power structure is concerned. With the exception of a few stray candidates (mostly challengers), we saw little from our sitting representatives by way of taking progressive steps towards real engagement online.
The reality is that many of us in the online world operate under a slightly different premise: that what makes for good government, also makes for good campaigning - and by good campaigning, I mean doing what it takes to win an election (which, many would argue, isn't always good government "good").
Truth is, there's a palpable combination of fear and skepticism in the air among many politicos. And unless we can figure out how to demonstrate to them in clear, unadulterated terms the value of going online (meaning, this is how doing x will win you the election), I suspect many of these fears will persist.
Alternatively, we need politicians who are willing to put their personal politics at risk. That's the leap of political faith ultimately required for success online.
Gur Tsabar is the co-founder and publisher of Room Eight, a blog of blogs and vlogs covering New York politics.
Obsessively flipping from CNN to Fox to Comedy Central last night, i couldn't help but notice everyone's enthusiasm about the role of technology in the election. TV anchors were drooling over blogs that told them what other stations were reporting. Personally, i found the full-screen pictures of blogs depressing.
Don't get me wrong - i'd love to see the internet create a revolution when it comes to politics but i don't think that has happened. Sure, 2006 candidates raised money using web technologies. And undoubtedly bloggers created echo chambers this year, discussing the ins and outs of different candidates and issues. Personally, i used my blog to guilt friends into voting and to provide analysis of propositions. But i don't think any of this changed the world.
Frankly, if i were to give the Internet any credit for 2006, it would be for taking Foley to task. ABC wasn't able to go big with the scandal because the emails weren't that juicy but they were able to put them on an ABC blog. From there, other former pages spoke up and they got the IMs which really broke Foley. But all that says is that less newsworthy news can go on blogs and it _might_ open up to properly newsworthy news. That's great for bringing down Foley but it doesn't say much about the status of blogs.
I have noticed that tons of candidates have Facebook profiles but i have no idea how effective this was. Did college students come out and vote because of Facebook? No idea. I've also noticed that MySpace did a huge rock the vote campaign. Did more young people register because of this? No idea. Every report says that more people came out to vote this year than in any other midterm in recent history and that a lot of those who voted were young people. Was this because of technology? Because of the war? Because of the scandals? Will we ever know?
There is one arena in which technology did play a major role in the 2006 election. This would be touchscreen voting. Thanks to technology, there were hundreds of election-day nightmares all across the country. Computers wouldn't turn on in dozens of districts; they crashed in others. Only time will tell us how many people didn't get their vote counted because of touchscreen technology. Or maybe only Diebold will ever know...
danah boyd is a PhD student at the University of California-Berkeley, a fellow at the USC Annenberg Center, and a social media researcher at Yahoo!
YouTube, Blip.tv and other video-sharing sites have forever changed the way the public participates in the election process. With legions of camera-toting partisans following around candidates 24/7, there's no way a politician can get away with saying something foolish or nodding off during a hearing.
Video-sharing sites may now be the ultimate platform for gotcha journalism, but we can do better than this. Just as political blogging is evolving beyond simply tearing down politicians, video sharing needs to evolve beyond exposing political gaffes. For example, Minnesota's e-democracy.org invited the public to upload videos in response to an online gubernatorial
debate. Meanwhile, VoteGuide aggregated videos of speeches made by candidates in California's 11th congressional district to make the candidates' positions as transparent as possible, capturing and tagging everything the candidates said on the record.
User-generated political video is only in its infancy, but the macaca kerfuffle demonstrates it can have real impact. The question remains, though, whether it will evolve beyond gotcha journalism and allow citizens to have a stronger grassroots voice while keeping politicians honest. Early signs are positive, and we should expect to see nationwide initiatives similar to e-democracy.org and VoteGuide during the next election cycle.
The old quip about AI applies: As AI succeeds, it's no longer counted as AI. In this cycle, what was groundbreaking two years ago now seems normal. Bloggers help shape the discussion. Sites aggregate info about who's raising money from whom. Candidates have blogs. Campaigns post YouTubes. They use the Internet to organize feet on the street. They raise money through email. And, they avoid talking about the details of their proposals by mumbling the URL of their Web site. The Internet transformation is well under way.
David Weinberger is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and was an Internet advisor to the Howard Dean campaign.
I think 2006 was a transition year for the use of technology by political campaigns. A lot of candidates experimented with the technologies that attracted a lot of buzz in 2004 (blogs, podcasts, video, online even planning, etc.), recognizing that they were important and trying to incorporate them into their overall strategies. But in most cases they did so badly, mastering the technical details but not the spirit.
The result was a lot of blogs featuring warmed up direct mail and press copy, podcasts made up entirely of recycled audio from archived speeches, and viral video strategies consisting of little more than posting campaign television commercials on YouTube.
So basically in 2006 candidates were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. They brought an old way of doing things to a new medium.
The real sea change will occur when the candidates themselves realize that the web is about building a community of supporters, having a conversation with them and giving them the tools they need to advocate on your behalf. Some realized that in 2006. Many more will in 2008 and beyond.
It's hard for me to get too excited about general elections out here in Western Massachusetts. All the action takes place in the primaries, as the vast majority of my neighbors here are registered Democrats, as am I. While there was a modicum of uncertainty about whether Deval Patrick would win the election, most of his supporters were pretty confident going into yesterday's voting. And there was no uncertainty whatsoever about the re-election of Senator Ted Kennedy or Representative John Olver - I'd be lying if I told you that I remembered the names of either of their challengers.
That said, with so little actually undecided in this election, I heard more and knew more about my ballot before entering the basement of Town Hall on Tuesday morning than in any previous election. One of my neighbors, a retiree who is spending his golden years working for the Democratic party, had been sending mass emails to his neighbors every second day, updating us on opportunities to meet the candidates, put up lawn signs or stay at the polls - from him, I knew not only the location and time of the polls, but who'd be manning the Patrick signs in hour-long intervals all day long.
Three days before the polls, I got a long, thoughful email from a local politician - the long-time statehouse representative from the town to our northeast - explaining his opposition to one of the four ballot questions we faced. A day later, a political science professor from one town north offered his slate of candidates, explaining why he couldn't vote either for the Democrat or Rainbow Green candidate for Secretary of the Commonwealth. (Yep - the Rainbow/Green party contested more statewide races in Massachusetts than the Republicans. It's that kind of state.)
In 2004, I heard an enormous amount about the national elections from folks like me - people who live our lives staring into computer monitors, emerging every two years to go to the voting booth, blogging the process before and afterwards. This year, I heard from my neighbors, the folks who are natives of my hometown, not of cyberspace. They're a little less chatty and speculative than my online friends, but they're significantly more practical, using these tools to bring people to rallies and to get voters thinking about the ballot questions and local candidates that rarely get mentioned outside the local press.
If there's a lesson for 2008 in my deep blue state, it's that there's always something to talk about in an election, even when the big races are fait acompli. According to the email I got this morning from my retired neighbor, one of the ballot questions - a complex proposition regarding the rights of home daycare workers to form unions - lost by four votes. I'm wishing I'd learned more about that ballot question and spent a bit less time listening to the blogosphere speculate about races I don't get to vote in.
Ethan Zuckerman is co-founder of Global Voices (globalvoicesonline.org), an aggregator of citizen's media from the developing world. He lives with his wife and a small, fluffy cat in Lanesborough, a town of 2,990 in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. 1,070 of his neighbors voted yesterday.
Eds. Note: This is excerpted from Mindshare's white paper of the same title, which can be found here.
Prediction '08: It's More Than One Technology, Stupid!
Some say the Democrats won because they had an edge in the blogosphere ... or on YouTube ... or on MySpace. Others believe the war and the "culture of corruption" did in the Republicans.
In fact, the underlying story of this election was technology. 2006 was the year that candidates started realizing that online tools were more than toys, more than fads. They began to understand that they could use both old and new online tools along with offline activities to do the things any persuasion campaign has to do.
Online campaign tools do not replace traditional methods of political involvement. They help extend the reach of campaigns and public affairs officials to garner new audiences and give voters control over how they receive the information. The online tools work with, not in place of, offline activities.
Virtually any online tool can be used to persuade potential volunteers and voters. The lesson of '06 is to use what's at hand ... or use everything.
Democrat Claire McCaskill's mother, sister and brother all cut special videos -- each on a separate issue -- for the campaign. The campaign also put clips of all of her national TV appearances online. She posted 10 of her TV ads, including one starring Michael J. Fox. She recorded several of her campaign appearances, one on each of her four major campaign themes.
The Republican National Committee set the standard -- again -- this year. Volunteers can indicate the amount of time they have to canvass and receive either a list of email addresses and talking points, or a Google Map mashup with target households in their area, ensuring that their limited time is best utilized. Their system ranks as the perfect example of marrying new technology to old-style organizing and turns any voter into a precinct captain.
Not every technology that is available to candidates is a good fit, but four new technologies in particular -- social networks, video, mobile and mapping -- seem to hold the greatest promise and deserve a closer look for those wishing to have their message in the mainstream. Public affairs specialists and media organizations are starting to catch on. The early adopters are taking best practices from the political and marketing world and contributing strong case studies that all groups can follow.
Mindshare Interactive Campaigns, LLC helps organizations leverage the communication opportunities created by technology. Mindshare is headquartered in Washington, DC, with offices in Austin, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.