Week 8 – Emily Thibodeau

Shirky and Trippi’s investigation of the Dean campaign presents two different pictures of the campaign, an outsiders and an insider’s perspective, but both clearly note instances which were detrimental to Dean’s success. Firstly, Shirky examines how the public perception of Dean’s lead came to exist. The entire Dean campaign believed they were in the lead, but many measures were incorrectly used as measures of support. The Dean campaign motivated many volunteers and led a unique web campaign, but many of these factors did not lead to success in Iowa or New Hampshire. While some might argue that this was due to the internet minority thesis and geographical affinity, which meant that volunteers in New York could not affect the outcome in Iowa, there were many false assumptions made. For example, the effort and the fervor that vollunteers expressed did not translate into votes for Dean. The movement-like atmosphere of the Dean campaign was powerful, as Trippi notes, but not enough to persuade the amount of voters necessary. Additionally, the novelty of the campaign’s heavily online nature was not as persuading as expected. Overall, the unique nature of Dean’s campaign was unable to pass the tests of the real world.

Trippi, who worked on the Dean campaign, noted many successes that he felt were powerful within the campaign. Such as the power Dean had to motivate individuals to tell their own stories or feel interested in politics again. Yet the campaign was plagued by fears about the detriment that could be caused by a hacking incident in an online-focused campaign. Additionally, the idea of having an open source blog to encourage debate was novel, but also led to spam comments by anti-Dean individuals. The campaign also grew quickly, due to the ease of use of many of the online tools set up by the staff. However, the staff themselves lacked the experience to capitalize on the regular growth of the campaign.

Both Shirky and Trippi noted how the Dean campaign, to a fault, focused on the individual. Shirky noted a vollunteer who told his own story when door-knocking, encouraging others to share their stories with him. While this generated interest, it did not motivate votes. Trippi, too, felt empowered by the personal stories that Dean inspired, such as an elderly man who had previously felt marginalized by politics. But both authors also note the negative aspects of the Dean campaign. Shirky detailed the small minority of individuals who chose Dean on election day — niche groups of very liberals, individuals who prioritized Iraq, or people who had chosen their candidate a month before, when Dean attacked Bush. Trippi charts the highs and lows of working for the Dean campaign, which had powerful but not long lasting measures of success, such as the high levels of funds raised on the Sleepless Summer Tour. Overall, the downfall of the Dean campaign was easy to see in hindsight by both authors, but the early warning signs were all but ignored. What changes could have been made earlier by the Dean campaign to potentially improve its success?

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