World Wide Webbed: The Obama Campaign’s masterful Use of the Internet

Just as President Barack Obama has shaken up the status quo in his first 100 days in office, his campaign overturned old formulas about how to win the presidency. The Obama campaign did not focus only on battleground states, but instead charged into states that previously had been solidly Republican turf. With a historic economic collapse unfolding during the final months of the election, a crucial number of swing voters voted, not necessarily for Obama, but against the Republicans and the Bush administration, and in the process transformed the ‘Red vs. Blue’ political map. In the post-World War II period, American voters have tended to throw out the incumbent party every eight years, so at this stage, no political analyst can say if this transformation will prove to be deep and wide or is merely a temporary changing of the guard. But no question Team Obama has, to some extent, rewritten the campaign playbook, and future campaigns will be measured against this trendsetter.

One of the winning campaign strategies masterfully deployed by the Obama campaign was its use of the internet. More than any other previous campaign, the Obama campaign showed the tremendous mobilising and fundraising potential of a comprehensive internet strategy. Some are saying that Obama’s use of this still relatively new medium will change American politics the way John F. Kennedy’s use of television did. But it remains to be seen if a less charismatic candidate without a wind of change blowing through an electorate buffeted by economic crisis can replicate Obama’s success.

Nevertheless, what the Obama campaign accomplished using the internet was stunningly impressive. Despite the United States lagging in broadband access compared to Europe or Japan, both in terms of the number of people with fast, affordable broadband access and the speed of the connections, the Obama campaign used the internet to organise his supporters in a way that in the past would have required an army of volunteers and paid organisers on the ground. This not only helped him in the November election against the Republican nominee John McCain, but was probably the decisive factor in his Democratic primary contest against Hillary Clinton. Both the Clinton and McCain campaigns used the internet to reach voters, but Obama mastered the medium early and exploited it brilliantly. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that without the internet, Barack Obama would not have won the Democratic primary, and would not have been elected President.

The Big Mo: Internet Mobilisation and Social Networking

In the primary season, both the fundraising and the mobilising potential of the internet provided key advantages for Obama. His campaign started from scratch early in 2007 with few resources and little name recognition, but the internet helped him connect to his core supporters in cost-effective ways. Many of his campaign’s early efforts were low-overhead strategies that utilised free resources. His nimble use of the internet helped him overcome the huge initial lead of Hillary Clinton in both fundraising and perceived viability. He was able to get more local volunteers on the ground in key states earlier than the Clinton campaign, which was especially important in smaller states and caucus states. And his early success soon generated a wave of small-size campaign contributions which eventually gave him a crucial advantage in campaign organisation and advertising over the Clinton campaign, which also raised a large sum of money but mainly from large donors.

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  • Will Stephenson

    Well, Obama clearly targeted the younger segment of society. And he has done so effectively. But as the author has rightly said, if there wouldn’t have been a massive financial crisis and if Americans, especially the youth, would not have yearned for ‘change’, it is hard to say what impact this strategy can generally have in other circumstances.

  • Stephen Andrews

    The thing though is that the segement of internet savvy voters will become bigger an bigger as the older generation that is not familiar with the web leaves the secene. The use of these campaigning tools will become more and more important.

  • http://www.freedomfitnessbc.com Fitness Vancouver

    I think it was just brilliant the way he used the internet to get people behind him, money in the bank and win the US presidency,

    Congradulations to him and all his supporters around the world, including me.

  • Markus Schweiger

    I’m absolutly conveinced that using the internet for a political campain is absolutly necessary to gain success. But the crucial point is, that you have to obtain social recognition if you want to be successful. And this is a long way and one will need a lot of discipline and patience to walk along and become an accepted member of the community.