Dean’s Internet Campaign and Civic Engagement

The growth of the Internet was predestined to create a revolutionary change in the way we communicate. By looking at the brief success of Dean’s Internet campaign and the tools that were utilized in order to bring about that success we can see how Pasek et. al’s claim about how people use the functions of a website hold true with Shirky’s claims of why Dean’s campaign fell short.

Howard Dean’s Internet campaign was remarkable in a few ways, namely his revolutionary use of the Internet as a marketing strategy. As Matthew Hindman points out in his article The Real Lessons of Howard Dean: Reflections on the First Digital Campaign Dean utilized the Internet to complete tasks such as fund-raising and volunteer recruitment. Additionally, Trippi mentions in the chapter The Open Source Campaign that one of the key engaging components of the Dean website was the blog that was frequently updated, as it allowed for user feedback and even discussion from opposing views. The Dean campaign was able to use sites such as in order to better organize local meetings and unite supporters. However, as Hindman points out, Dean’s use of Internet tools did not involve mass appeals to voters (121).

In the article, Realizing the Social Internet? Online Social Networking Meets Offline Social Capital, Pasek et. al argue that a particular medium will influence a person’s level of influence. Based on their findings they concluded that there isn’t anything huge happening with social media and civic involvement. However, their big claim is that the social media sites at their core can lead to very Shirky-esque outcomes (collective action) but can also lead to Morozov-esque outcomes (distraction) and this depends on the specific intent of the norms that either encourage or discourage people from being active.

Clay Shirky’s discusses why Dean’s campaign fell short in the end, and by looking at these reasons we can better understand why Pasek et al’s claims hold true. Some of Shirky’s specific reasons as to why Dean’s campaign didn’t work center on the fact that Dean’s Internet campaign was very good at generating support, fervor, and money but not much else. In relation to the claim of Pasek et al, Dean’s campaign was very successful in uniting people who were already civically active and getting them to contribute. To specify, Dean’s website was able to facilitate discussion in the blog post comments, generate real blogs from real people, and ultimately connect these people so that they could meet in real life. Dean’s shortcoming came from thinking that the engaged people on the website meant more voters, and ultimately not reaching out to (and keeping) the people who were not civically engaged in real life.

It is interesting to think about how Dean’s campaign would have differed today, especially with the prolific use of Internet advertising for political campaigns. Given the expansion of social media sites and growth of technology, how do you think that Dean’s campaign would have been executed today?

Aside | This entry was posted in Winter 2012 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dean’s Internet Campaign and Civic Engagement

  1. brittanyverner says:

    I thought that your post touched on a lot of great posts. I think that Dean was the pioneer of political fundraising online and in using interactions between users and the Dean campaign team to generate positive press coverage. If Howard Dean were to do his same campaign today I think that we would use social media in the same way that he used his interactive website: to create a dialogue between democrats and himself and to raise money. I think the Obama digital campaign is a good representation of what Dean’s campaign would look like now.

  2. Lauren says:

    First of all, if Howard Dean were to do the same campaign today, I think that his campaign people would know better than to overestimate the amount of votes he was receiving based on his Internet supporters. A big part of Dean’s problem was that he was being misinformed and thus miscalculated the number of true supporters he had. With the increase of Internet use as a tool for political campaigning, I think that politicians and their campaign staff understand the difference between people engaging in online discussion/donating money via the Internet and people who actually plan to vote for the candidate. That being said, if Dean were to run again I think that he would be less focused on creating a political movement and concentrate more on changing minds in order to obtain votes. He would definitely utilize social media as a tool to do this, and would probably use social media in a way very similar to the way he used his interactive website and Meetup. Ultimately, I agree with Brittany that his campaign would probably look very similar to that of Obama digital campaign.

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