Dean Campaign – What Went Wrong

Trippi, in Chapter 8 of his book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything, deemed the Dean campaign “The Great American Conversation” because of the dynamic online discussion about the direction of our country it was sparking.  To have the first primarily online campaign strategy was a risk, and one that was worth taking – if not for the actual campaign, then for the progression of online civic discussion in general.  The “blogosphere” was all abuzz with discussions reflecting the enthusiasm of the Dean campaign, but what was apparently lacking was actual, concrete support for the man himself. The best way to describe this campaign, in my opinion, was summed up in a sentence in Shirky’s article, Exiting Deanspace, which was: “people were supporting a movement rather than a campaign.”

How did this happen and how can campaign strategists prevent it from happening again? Supporting the general Democratic movement is what this campaign was essentially doing, and it was doing it well. But the atmosphere of coming together via a new medium, while thrilling, was overshadowing the objective of the campaign: to get Dean elected.  Many “supporters” didn’t really know anything about him in particular, and while they supported the movement and all it was doing to awaken people to become more involved in politics, that was about it.

I think this is a really interesting example of how the Internet almost did what the leaders set out to do.  While a new mindset towards politics and an appreciation for the Dean campaign’s new, forward-thinking strategy are both positive, they don’t necessarily translate into votes.  Encouraging people to be active online and in their communities is a great first step, but Dean himself needed to be more active in his campaign if people were going to believe in him, rather than the idea of a country run by someone like him.

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4 Responses to Dean Campaign – What Went Wrong

  1. goblu says:

    I agree with Shirky and your idea that the problem with the Dean campaign was that people supported the movement instead of the actual candidate. I think the way campaign strategists prevent this from happening again is by using a more well known candidate. By having a well known candidate, voters will know their stance and then the strategists can use the same tactics from the Dean campaign. The only problem I can foresee, is that any well known candidate will have a large backing like what we talked about in class. With a large backing the candidate would be apart of a large campaign party that will not take chances like the internet. In the end I do not think it will be the strategists preventing a Dean campaign from happening again, I think it will be the strategists actually taking a risk of having the Dean campaign happen again, just with a better known candidate.

  2. I agree as well in that the Dean campaign succeeded in propelling a movement but failed at propelling the candidate himself. Dean was so wrapped up in the momentum of his campaign that he overlooked the most important aspect; speaking his mind on the issues surrounding the nation at the time. While it is important to maintain a strong positive image during a presidential campaign, it is equally if not more important to prove to the American public that they have good reason to have faith in your leadership skills and decision making on both a national and international level.

  3. klyapp says:

    You raise a very interesting question that addresses the use of digital campaigns today which is, “How did this happen and how can campaign strategists prevent it from happening again?”

    The failure of Howard Dean’s campaign occurred for several different reasons. The first is that Dean was simply not the candidate people might have thought he was and consequently projected whatever it was they wanted him to represent. Secondly, Dean’s digital campaign was mostly about making noise, and while it became more visible and audible there wasn’t really much substance behind it. Thirdly, as Shirky describes, how there were many challenges in reconciling the goals and interests on both a national and local scale. That being said campaign strategists must utilize digital tools in a way that will support the candidate and his policies rather than control them. A careful integration of personalization and interactivity must occur so that the candidate and the campaign does not lose control of their message.

  4. bdisant611 says:

    I agree that the main issue with the Dean campaign was that it had style but ultimately had no substance. During the early stages of the primaries, candidates really want to get out to a fast start and build momentum. Dean’s problem was that his campaign was constructed on Dean’s energy and his passionate following. When the situation did not swing in Dean’s favor (coming in third in Iowa), the time came for Dean to hone in on the substance of his campaign. Instead, when Dean relied again on his energy he came off foolish and people were turned off. This starts a slippery slope where as public support continued to drop, so did the effectiveness of his high energy campaign. Style and excitement are no doubt important in a campaign, but they do not work unless their is a solid message it is built around. Ultimately, the Dean campaign was basically a house with a fancy interior design built on a shaky foundation, and his disastrous concession speech in Iowa was the house collapsing on itself.

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