This is the year. Everything changes. The Internet will make a difference in political races. I have blogged in the past that I do, indeed, think that the Internet will finally have the long-predicted impact on the presidential race this year, getting people to cross over from the online to the offline world and get off their duffs and meet up in the “first life.” Maybe.
I still need to be convinced, however, that the plethora of social media tools surrounding this year’s political conventions do anything except provide red meat for the people who really care anyway.
I am not on Obama’s text message list. I am not on anyone’s text message list, hopefully because it costs me ten cents every time someone sends me one (and thanks to my friends texting me from bars at all hours of the night). But to “walk the walk,” Obama announced some time ago that he was going to announce his choice for running mate FIRST via text message. This is a cool concept. It bet it got a lot of people signed up for Obama’s text list.
But, like other predictions that “the Internet is going to change everything!” The story broke before that Obama had chosen Joe Biden before he could send out his text message. Was this a real victory in convincing a whole heck of a lot of people to sign up for Obama’s text, to feel “in the loop?” Sure. Was it a great tactic to connect with younger voters (who have not shown up for the Dems in numbers that they would like in the last few elections) in a way that suits them? You bet your bippy (there goes that archaic comment from my last article again).
But was this “game changing?” No way. I live and work in Washington and have for more than 20 years and this place leaks like a sieve. If Obama thought that he would keep the secret before his announcement, he was naïve. If he and his advisers saw it as an opportunity to connect with potential voters is what will be a tight race, he was dead on.
This has been the Twitter Week From Hell for me. I am fortunate enough to have friends on both sides of the political aisle (including far left and far right) and have seen WAY too many breathless posts directed to #dnc08 (for the Democratic convention and Obama supporters), #rnc08 (for the Republican convention and McCain supporters). Reading some of the Tweets, you would think that there were two different Obama acceptance speeches that took place on Thursday night. Here are a few of my favorite tweets (leaving them anonymous):
- “Just filed my last #dnc08 dispatch via Blackberry en route to the airport. What a night! I was lucky to be at Invesco.”
- “This is why McCain wanted to wait. Less than 12 hours after Obama’s speech, the cable networks are focused on the veepstakes. #rnc08”
- “Eight is enough! . #dnc08”
- “C-SPAN caller says Obama is a socialist. Says he didn’t spend his life fighting communism to watch America go down this path. #dnc08”
- “Drudge now showing picture of McCain and Lieberman. That would be cruel. #rnc08”
Let’s think about Twitter and the conventions right now. Most of the tweets for the Dems were coming from folks on the ground in Denver and were being read by people who are interested in the knowing what’s going on on the ground in Denver. Good for them.
Most of the #rn08 tweets were either slamming Obama’s speech or talking up McCain’s “Veepstakes.” Good for them too. (Ed. note: This article was written prior to McCain’s announcement of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.)
My main point is for this to be the year in which the Internet does actually have an impact on the elections, it needs to be more than feeding red meat to your supporters. It’s great to have a bunch of echo chambers for each party as well as extra vehicles to rally supporters and increase voter turnout, but my political instincts tell me that what really matters is the middle – the people who have yet to decide in the states that are toss-ups. According to Real Clear Politics’ delegate count, there are 125 electoral votes up for grabs.
Are those people tweeting? Are those people texting? Maybe. But traditionally, most voters make up their minds in the last few weeks of the elections largely through a barrage of earned and paid media as well as presidential debates.
This year may be different, but I can’t wait to get my Twitter back and return to the serious business of who went out where last night and who forgot to feed their cat.
Mark Story works for the federal government during the day, teaches at Georgetown University at night, writes “the Intersection of Online and Offline blog,” contributes to Media Bullseye, coaches little league and sleeps infrequently. You can contact him via email or better yet, on Twitter – @mstory123. He’ll be awake.