I’m blogging for the rest of the week for the Knight Foundation from their Politics & Cyberspace conference. It’s been excellent so far, all of the posts are here — my post on the keynote is copied below. On the right, John Amato of CrooksandLiars with James Joyner of Outside the Beltway.
“You know how they say we only use 10 percent of our brains? I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts.” — Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers.
Campaigns are only using 10 percent of the Internet, said political scientist Michael Cornfield, former director of research for the GW & Pew-backed Democracy Online Project (now VP of ElectionMall), in his opening keynote, “Politics and the Internet: What Do We Really Know?”
The public and in some ways the press are now trained to expect the marriage of Web 2.0 and politics to produce breakthrough discoveries or disseminate ill-conceived media that can make or break political campaigns. But as Cornfield stressed, George Allen’s 2006 “macaca” moment was simply the nadir of an already disintegrating campaign.
“Tech innovation brought into the marketplace is not significant on its own,” said Cornfield. While 2006 was YouTube’s year, it didn’t make or break these races, the campaigns and candidates did. Similarly, the first televised presidential debate — Nixon v. JFK in 1960 — did not necessarily produce a sudden sea change in which voters went purely on looks as much as the candidates themselves reacted to their performances.
Television remains the mass medium of choice among Americans, although the Internet is gaining in popularity, especially among the younger set. But it was not an Internet campaign that definitively changed the tone of the media and in turn the momentum of the 2004 election. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was a donor-funded political group that, in the final weeks of the campaign, created TV and radio ads disparaging John F. Kerry’s Vietnam service and spread rumors — most of which, if not all, have only been verified as false — insinuating that, among other things, he acted unethically on the battlefield during the incident for which he was awarded a purple star.
Who exactly were the donors and private interests behind the Swift Boat Fund and how long had they been planning it?
Cornfield could not have possibly overstated the importance of micro-analysis of campaign usage of media and new tech and of profiling big donors and supporters. As the public’s use and comfort level with the Internet as a socially and politically reverent medium continues to grow, so will the number — and the power — of individual campaign donors. Thanks to the resources made available by the FEC and OpenSecrets, major donors can be identified and their campaign contributions, monetary and otherwise can often be tracked. Cornfield recommended journalists band together and create forums in which they listen to — and interview — groups of donors. It would be interesting to see how this could be effective on both sides of the political aisle — we’ll see if any donor profiles come out of large-scale events like YearlyKos in Chicago in August or even the GOP debate May 3rd at the Reagan Library.
McCain and Giuliani may have been early frontrunners to be the GOP candidate, but, now, where did all of Romney’s millions come from?
The general public will continue to dissect the candidates, their histories and intentions, but who will follow the money to the source? Are campaign donors the new kingmakers as Cornfield suggests?