Internet Campaign Illusions

Two of this weeks reading by Trippi and Shirky discuss Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign.  Trippi explains a great deal of the intricacies of the campaign, especially their move to utilize the Internet as a resource, especially blogs.  Shirky, however, discusses the problems that arise when campaign workers rely too heavily on visible forms of attention, such as online support, public volunteers, and financial support as an indication of guaranteed votes.

The details of these two readings provoke a lot of thought about the effectiveness of online campaigns.  I would argue that aspects of both analyses of the 2004 Dean campaign are correct.  I agree with Trippi in that the presence of the voice of the candidate in an online campaign.  He noted that early in the process, workers realized that the success of an online campaign is not purely in the utilization of the new platform (in this case, blogs), but rather how you incorporate the voice of the candidate.  I also agree with aspects of Shirky’s analysis, though, that even the use of this voice does not necessarily guarantee the success of a candidate.  Simply because people are inspired by an online campaign, take part in the online platforms, and even donate money and time to the cause, does not necessarily mean they will make their way to the polls to support the candidate or that the campaign is changing anyone’s views.  This support may only be from those who already support that candidate, which, while it is inspiring, is not truly making a difference.  I certainly agree with Trippi that successful campaigns require a strong candidate image and voice in order to have an impact online, however, I think Shirky is wise to advise that support for this platform alone does not guarantee a candidate’s success.

Many questions can arise from the case of this seemingly strong Dean 2004 campaign, which surprisingly did not succeed.  Even though we know these visible factors don’t necessarily equal election, how do we begin to assess the power of an online campaign?  This platform is definitely continuing to gain popularity with each major election, but can campaign workers be sure their efforts are translating to votes?  And if so, how?

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