Flip: Online Race for the White House

The Center for American Progress, a centrist left policy think tank in Washington, prepared this very useful and nifty online compendium of how 2008 presidential campaigns are using the Web. The NetTrends  ’08 matrix is a one stop shop for Republicans and Democrats, and anybody else for that matter, to stay abreast of trends in online campaigning. NetTrends ’08 also is the best example I’ve found of how politics, communications technology, and the Internet have converged to make it much simpler for people to be aware of what’s happening in the various presidential campaigns. Smart Growth advocates need to be video, text, audio, and multi-media content providers and compel these campaigns to embrace their message.

The pace of evolution in American presidential campaign strategy is significantly accelerating as candidates vie with the mainstream and new media for influence. The candidates know the mainstream media’s ability to determine message and messenger is waning, though the mainstream media remain a very significant force multiplier for deciding who’s not going to make it to the final round. The traditional media, particularly television, have drained so much vitality out of their reporting staffs that they are largely confined at this point to talking about who’s up and who’s down.

The new media, and especially the important political blogs, are becoming the show. They are expert and nimble enough to go deeper, and have the journalistic freedom to simultaneously report and comment on breaking trends in real time,  and make those findings available on the Web to a global audience. The new media also have YouTube and other file-sharing sites that during this election cycle will be election-deciding forums for independent video that could elevate or decimate campaigns. 

In 2006, during the Virginia Senate race between the Republican incumbent, George Allen, and the Democratic newcomer Jim Webb, we witnessed just how powerful YouTube can be in a campaign. Mr. Allen promised a “campaign of positive constructive ideas.” But the senator’s campaign hit an online wall with the famous “macaca” video, shot by a student who worked for Webb. The video, broadcast on YouTube,  revealed a side of the Republican senator — a privileged southerner’s racial and class intolerance — that voters found so hypocritical that they threw him out of office and flipped control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats. 

The point is that grassroots advocates have the opportunity to influence candidates. The millions of voters involved in producing the energy efficient, transit-oriented, environmentally sensitive, land and resource conserving path to prosperity — the American Mode Shift –need to produce content and insert their message directly into the 2008 presidential campaign. The good folks at Thinkprogress.org are making it easy to see who among the candidates is listening.   

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