Why do Democrats lose the New Media Race?

by Yussi Pick

For my Internet Advocacy class (one of two final summer classes in my program) with Alan Rosenblatt, I have to blog about the reading assignments every week. This week’s reading was Matt Bai’s The Argument. Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics.

It was 2004, the Democrats thought they would win (with John Kerry. Really.) They didn’t. They were shocked. The loss of Kerry left a Democratic leadership vacuum in DC. At the same time, the 2004 elections were the first to play around with what was then called Web 2.0. Howard Dean, former Governor of Vermont, was running as a progressive in the Democratic primary. His campaign manager, Joe Trippi, always had been a geek and Dean gave him the freedom to explore things. Blogs were the trend du jour and they had one. They also created DeanTV, basically an early version of YouTube, a picture service and a whole bunch of other things that would emerge for-profit in few years to come. They connected with bloggers like myDD.com and DailyKos.com (about whose genesis one can read in Bai’s book). And then they found meetup.com. Meetup was created by people who were concerned about/wanted to prove wrong Putnam’s thesis in Bowling alone that the social capital in the US would decline (no one joins bowling leagues anymore). The Dean campaign found out that there were people already holding meetings for Dean, connected through Meetup.com. BUT instead of taking them over, they supported them and helped them organize. It’s what made Dean a front-runner in the primaries – until he lost badly.

This is the prologue of what  Matt Bai describes. The rise of Democrats through the Internet. So the question is. When they dominated the New Media race in the mid 2000s, why do they lose it now? Yes, Obama set new standards in organizing, fundraising, communicating through the web. But other than that? Republicans are more creative and more effective in web organizing. Not only the fringe Tea Party shenanigans, but also their recent social media race shows that. More Republicans are on Twitter and have more followers. Their approach is much more concentrated.

What changed?

Democrats are in power now. That means not only less time, to experiment with new media, it also means less incentive: Whenever the Dems want to go on the record with traditional media, they can. In the mid2000s, Republicans were in power, to push the message out, Dems had to rely on new channels. Now it’s the other way round.

Hence, I’m proclaiming a hypothesis:

The opposition party has to rely on channels outside of traditional media (what ever that is at the time) more  to push their message out and is therefore faster, better and more creative in adapting to new channels.

Proof: In mid 2000s the new thing was blogs, and Dems were dominating them (if they still are…I don’t know). Now, the new thing is Twitter, text (and to a certain but not quite degree Geo-Loctation) and Republicans are on top of that.

Discuss.

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