One of the many ways that the election of Barack Obama as president has echoed that of John F. Kennedy is his use of a new medium that will forever change politics. For Mr. Kennedy, it was television. For Mr. Obama, it is the Internet.
How Obama’s Internet Campaign Changed Politics, Claire Cain Miller, NY Times
It’s passe to suggest the implications arising out of the way Obama and his campaign leveraged the web and the Internet. While many say he outsmarted McCain, let’s not forget that he also outsmarted Hillary Clinton. When they were both battling it out for the Party nomination, there was a lot of commentary on the significant differences in their two websites, in both content and design / presentation. Obama’s website signified a very different approach to and understanding of the power of the Internet to shape electoral politics in the US today. Obama’s site design was matched by a team that understood social networking, mobile phone activism, traditional email campaigns, online video and multimedia and more generally, just using the web to animate the campaign and its supporters, including for example setting up micro-sites against smear attacks by Hillary Clinton. It was also clear that the Hillary camp realised the importance of the web to encourage or disenchant voters when in June 2008 they revamped the website and took off all the attacks Obama.
The NY Times article will be a harbinger of many more that analyse in more detail ways in which Obama and his campaign team was able to animate and engage a younger vote base, very familiar with ICTs and new media as their preferred and oftentimes only means of creating, accessing, disseminating and engaging with content and discussions the politics of the US Presidential elections. Obama’s telegenics helped, but more through YouTube than through terrestrial or cable TV.
Obama’s was a hip, fresh, vibrant campaign – and being here in the US both during Super Tuesday in February and when Obama won, it’s easy to see why he and his campaign appealed to first time voters and younger voters (as well as other age groups). As others have noted,
What impressed me about the text-message campaign was that it was an effective device for collecting millions of voter contacts, while also signaling that Obama connects with young people. This won’t do much to persuade 50-something independents in the Midwest, but this is the type of marketing campaign that will get young people to register and to get to the poll.
And it hasn’t stopped with Obama’s victory at the election. A new site – www.change.gov – at least for the moment, continues the engagement he had during the campaign (or more importantly, perceived engagement) with voters in the US. A Flickr photostream shows hundreds of photos in support of Obama, and not just from those who voted for him.
There are lessons here for engaging citizens interested in the promotion of democracy even under repressive regimes like Sri Lanka today, some of which I will be keenly experimenting with in the months to come.