Net Gain for Obama
President’s Online Supporters Pivotal to Pushing his Agenda
President Barack Obama’s top asset in promoting his agenda is not his Cabinet secretaries or aides, but rather his online network.
Obama’s political email list tops 13 million names, a digital force that the White House can tap to push for his legislation, tamp down critics or bolster popular support. It is also a way for Obama to reach into every state, every city and every neighborhood.
A study released last month found that a quarter of Obama voters said they would continue to work online to support the new administration. The nonpartisan Pew Internet and American Life Project also found 62 percent of Obama’s voters said they would ask others o support Obama’s policies.
Welcome to the Democrats’ new permanent campaign, one planned online and executed on Main Street.
“INTERNET: Legions of supporters can be rallied at the click of a mouse”
With a well thought out mobilization strategy in place, the White House will marshal hundreds of thousands of phone calls within hours if it looks as if the president were losing a policy battle. With the click of a keyboard, Obama’s aides could ask supporters to flood the phone lines of Congress, making it untenable to ignore the clamor.
Obama’s unmatched database gives his administration a clear advantage over its Republican rivals, who have seen decades of data mining overcome in a matter of months.
During past election cycles, campaign Web sites were little more than digital versions of their campaign pamphlets. During the last few elections, campaign strategists have turned to the Internet as a way to reach more voters, typically, the uninvolved or youth, and their donations. Now, Obama’s team is turning that strategy into governance.
Howard Dean’s primary campaign in 2004 brought together massive first time online support and donors, but that did not translate to real world votes. Similarly, John Edwards tried to mobilize his supporters in the name of national services ahead of his second presidential campaign; those single-issue voters wee not thee, however, when Activist Edwards became Candidate Edwards.
Obama, though, he has been the most successful so far. Obama’s online supporters raised over $500 million for him, created 2 million online profiles at MyBarackObama.com used his database to make phone calls during the campaign’s final days.
According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 59 percent of all voters took part in the campaign online, whether it was sending e0mail, reading political blogs or researching candidates. Obama clearly had the advantage.
The Pew survey asked 2,254 adults about their internet usage and politics from Nov.20 to Dec 4. The margin of error in the overall sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points. Among the 1,591 Internet users, the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
It has been a careful dance between Obama and his supporters. His aides have avoided bulk email and have tailored each message to its intended audience. For instance, Latinos and Hispanics who supported Obama received an email announcing Linda Sanchez would be co chair of Obama’s inauguration committee.
It is the only way to break though bulk emails that load voters inboxes, consultants say.
“I think we have seen them think critically about every single email that they send”, said Connie Amidei, an Internet Strategy Consultant who worked with Obama’s online campaign.
For decades, politicians have sought ways to harness public sentiment to outflank troublesome opponents, news organizations and rival interest groups. Obama’s network is a powerful weapon. Progressive organizations have joined the constituency management effort. MoveOn.org sent an email to some of its 4.2 million supporters asking them to get involved.
Obama’s strategy could send phone lines crashing within minutes of a declared protest. Similarly, the instant communication of the Internet and cellular phone text messages could end it just by typing one word: “Stop.”
That power gives Obama’s online advisers, the netroots a potentially bigger role than many of his cabinet picks and major hires in pushing through his agenda.
Since the election, millions of Obama voters have visited his transition Web site http://www.change.gov to discuss ways in which they can support strategies for change according to Pew. The day after the inauguration, Obama’s transitional site disappeared and replaced by launching his interactive presidential presence http://www.whitehouse.gov where his campaign for change continues to engage millions of new users daily.