The Dean Campaign

In Hindman’s reading on the Dean campaign, he highlights two important theories that affected the success of Dean’s campaign: liberals are more active in visiting political sites on the internet even though there are an equal number of liberals and conservatives who utilize the internet, and the internet is useful for back-end campaigning: fundraising and volunteer recruitment. The author then goes on to highlight that it was important to the success of Dean’s campaign that using the internet to raise funds and generate momentum was a new, novel tactic and that only a candidate with very little to lose would create and interactive campaign where constituents were able to help shape his messages. It is at this point in the reading where I found myself wondering why I was reading about the Dean campaign instead of the Obama campaign. While I understand that Howard Dean’s experience was one that set precedent, the article makes claims that no longer hold true. Obama created an extremely interactive campaign, breaking incredible fundraising records (utilizing unheard of numbers of donations under $200), and using social media to get the voter involved all the while remaining a frontrunner in the campaign (and a party favorite for the candidacy since his keynote speech at the 2004 DNC sparked great interest in his future). Essentially, Obama had a great deal to lose, but he still used the internet as an extremely large and important part of his campaign. Additionally, while Hindman makes claims that Dean’s efforts were a force to be reckoned with, he goes on to note that his ability to fundraise from small donations (61% of his financial resources came from donations of $200 or less) was greatly overshadowed by Bush’s (and Kerry’s and Edward’s) ability to generate large donations. Again, the author makes claims that have since been reversed by the Obama campaign. The author goes on to make claims that Dean’s campaign may have not been successful because he was unable to gauge what his supporters wanted because of the size of donations he was receiving. “A hand delivered $2,000 check carries with it a great deal more information than 40 individual $50 credit card contributions submitted via the campaign Web site” (125). Here I will again point to the success of the Obama campaign who received unprecedented numbers of small donations and still somehow managed to be successful. Even the author himself recognizes that a reexamination is needed:

“The overall implications are clear. If Dean’s success is repeated on a large scale, political scientists will have to reexamine much of what they think they know about the relationship between money and politics: the demographics and political views of contributors, how donations are solicited, the clarity with which money communicates preferred policies, and the extent of the rightward preference distortion that political fund-raising induces in American politics” (125)

While understanding precedent setting movements in politics is important for fully understanding groundbreaking events like the Obama campaign and success, I would find it much more helpful if we examined the Dean campaign’s effect on the success of the Obama campaign rather than examining the Dean campaign as a separate entity for much of the analyzation is now outdated.

Shirkey also spends time criticizing the idea of an internet campaign:

“It is natural for a campaign, attracting so many eager young people, to oversell
them on the effect they’ll have, when the truth is so rough – you’ll work 80 hour
weeks while sleeping on someone’s sofa, and in the end, your heroic contribution
will be a drop in the bucket of what’s needed”

While for the Dean campaign, a drop in the bucket was not enough, here again I bring up the Obama campaign. Dean did not have the momentum Obama had going into the campaign, he did not have enough supporters, not enough people knew his name. Obama had written books, spoken as keynote at the DNC of 2004, he was on the map. Both campaigns attracted young people, both campaigns had individuals independently working 80 hour weeks, both campaigns utilized the internet, but there was a large difference between the two: the shear number of supporters. A drop in the bucket for Dean didn’t matter because there were simply not enough drops in total. He was never going to win. A drop in the bucket for Obama mattered a great deal. If supporters were discouraged by the “my effort and vote don’t matter” effect that has plagued voter turnout in our country for decades, Obama would not have been successful. The internet mattered, grassroots mattered, small donations mattered, individuals mattered.

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

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