Web’s effect on politics: big bucks, big turnout, and big scandals
Campaigns reach into the online cookie jar – for better or worse
If you wonder how much the Internet has changed American politics, then consider this: If not for the Web, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would probably be poised to accept the Democratic presidential nomination this August in Denver, and Sen. Barack Obama never would have made it past Super Tuesday.Skip to next paragraph
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How can I make such a statement? Easy. In those legendary words of Deep Throat: “Follow the money.” Money is, after all, the fuel that keeps a political campaign going, and no senator has used the Internet more to his advantage than Mr. Obama.
In a year when he continues to break all fundraising records, Obama raked in most of his $265 million from the Internet. The Clinton campaign complained regularly that Obama was outspending it by 2 or 3 to 1 in many states. All that cash came from the Web.
Consider that when Obama raised $32 million in January – a previously unimaginable total – he only raised 12 percent of the money “offline,” according to Patrick Ruffini of TechPresident, a website that tracks how campaigns use technology. That means $28 million came from mostly small online donations.
And Obama wasn’t the only one turning the political world upside down thanks to his fundraising prowess. Maverick Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was famous for his one-day Internet fundraisers that would regularly haul in $5 million to $6 million from his online supporters.
But in a sense, Obama, Mr. Paul, and anyone else who relies on the Internet to help fuel their campaigns owe a debt of gratitude to two men: Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who in 2000 was the first political candidate to show that you can use the Web to raise large amounts of money quickly; and former Vermont governor and current Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, who showed in 2004 that coming from a small state without the mainstream media paying much attention to you wasn’t necessarily a problem if you knew how to work the Internet.
But the Web is more than just an avenue to raise money. It allows politicians to connect with younger voters in ways that 10 years ago were unimaginable. One of the big stories of 2008 has been the 30 million new voters, many under age 30, who have registered to vote.
A new study out this week from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that a “record-breaking 46 percent of Americans have used the Internet, e-mail, or cellphone text messaging to get news about the campaign, share their views, and mobilize others.”