Presidential Candidates and New Ways of Reaching Out

By Sean McDonald
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

The Washington Post had an interesting article yesterday regarding how campaigns are changing the way they reach out and communicate with potential supporters/voters. If you have a chance to read it, pay attention to how the candidates are fine-tuning their MySpace profiles. Since I’ve had this in my drafts a long while and my classes are now officially over (thankfully!), I thought this would be the perfect time to reintroduce myself.

In the past, candidates would try to reach as many people as possible by distributing pamphlets, funding partisan newspapers or riding around the country, giving speeches by horseback or trains. In 1824, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and William Crawford toured the country on horseback trying to drum up grassroots support. At the beginning of the campaign, Jackson was the irrefutable underdog, but his rallies drew such large crowds, he soon became a force to reckon with. Jackson ended up winning the popular vote but lost in the electoral college (sound vaguely familiar?).

The campaign of 1960 changed how voters received their information and arguably changed how they decided on a candidate (studies show that Americans always cast their vote for the most handsome presidential candidate – this is all relative of course!). The Internet has reinvented the campaign landscape in much the same way television did in the 1960’s. The on-line medium continues to mature and offer candidates new and diverse means of reaching segments of voters that might otherwise slip through the cracks. In the 1990’s, The Drudge Report became a huge catalyst for anti-Clinton fodder (helping reinforce Republicans views of the administration). In the 2004 campaign we saw an upsurge in Internet participation mainly due to Howard Dean’s Internet campaign, created by Joe Trippi; and websites like meetup.org and moveon.org came to the forefront. During the 2006 cycle, YouTube took center stage by giving anonymous, “independent” citizens the opportunity to not only create their own campaign ads, but also post videos like the infamous George Allen (R-VA) macaca comment that that all but destroyed his re-election campaign (and presidential launch).

This election cycle we are seeing MySpace, Facebook and Second Life get a lot of attention in the political arena (as well as YouTube, again). Second Life has already played a small part in this campaign. Mark Warner, once a force to reckon with for the Democratic nomination, performed never before seen feats (at least in presidential elections) by changing his sex – live in front of supporters and media. MySpace and Facebook participants are staging contests, essentially, to see who can gather the largest amount of friends for their candidates.

Today I will take you on a quick tour of what I have found on these three sites. I look forward to hearing your comments on what I have found, and what I may have missed. For brevity’s sake, I will focus on the current top three candidates; this list will change many times over the next year (at this point in the 1992 election cycle, no one had heard of Bill Clinton – except die hard Dem’s that saw his record breaking DNC speech several years earlier). I do not intend to start heated political discussions with these posts, this is to be purely informational – and my goal here is to keep you guessing which side of the aisle I come from. If you are looking to get into some legitimate political discussions, let me know and I’ll do a post on some excellent sites that you can explore.

Today, let’s look at the Democrats – Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama.

Hillary’s presence on Facebook and MySpace is just as fractured (and complicated) as her polling numbers. On Facebook, the Hillary Clinton for President: One Million Strong page has 4, 668 members. Otherwise, you have to wade through a lot of small groups that support her or Bill, and a ton of small groups that call her some variation of the anti-Christ. You can not find an official site or a site maintained by strong, devoted volunteers. Her MySpace profile, on the other hand, is very clean and user friendly. Her profile is issue oriented, and full of banners to click on to learn about the issues that matter most to her campaign at the moment. She is currently at 31, 100 friends.

John Edwards is even weaker on Facebook (71 members on the One Million… page) and the support groups are all over the place, separated into state groups and Edwards/{insert candidate name for President or Vice-President to run with Edwards}. His MySpace page has some information, but seems more geared toward showing off who his supporters are rather than highlighting what his positions are, and the formatting seems to be a tad off (15, 878 friends).

Obama’s got the numbers in Facebook and MySpace – and his organizers are more willing to consolidate their support for him. In other words, the vast majority of his supporters seem to be on either the Students for Obama (66, 821 members) or the One Million Strong for Barack (321, 919 members) in Facebook. His MySpace profile is clean and has some information that links back to his website (80, 861 friends).

Second Life is an entirely different story however, Clinton has a very sophisticated operation going (search <Places> and type in Clinton). Her campaign has concentrated on branding the island, and there is a wealth of information everywhere you turn. The building itself was closed when I visited, but it would appear that they have several kiosks for getting more info, and probably has someone staffing the area during business hours. The Edwards campaign is lacking – you can’t tell which of the two offices that come up in your search is supposed to be the official campaign headquarters; although, I am betting the one with the campaign posters that says Edwards can read minds and offering free Edwards panties is not the correct one (search <Places> and type in Edwards)! Obama does not have an official headquarters on-line, but a volunteer has created a very in-depth informational office (search <Places> and type in Obama). It is obvious that the volunteer has spent a great deal of time and energy on this location, any topic you think you would want to explore (in a pro-Obama light) is ready and waiting at your fingertips. All three candidate locations have souvenirs and virtual banners for you to pick up, as well as lounges for discussion groups and podiums for speeches.

One last note, I was digging around looking for gadgets for Vista a while back (I don’t know why, but….), and I found that a few volunteers have built official Microsoft gadgets for their candidates. As of a few weeks ago: Clinton’s gadget was downloaded 190 times and garnered a 1.5 star rating, Obama – 697 downloads with a 2 star rating, Edwards had nothing.

Next up, the Republicans.

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8 Responses to Presidential Candidates and New Ways of Reaching Out

  1. And this election's Democratic underdog is Governor Richardson. Remember, Senators haven't won a presidential election 40 years, and Richardson's got an outstanding resume. He's on Facebook, Party Builder, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, and Zanby. Anyone heard of the last one? I haven't. And….woah wait. News on his site says he called for a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Sweet! He's getting my vote.

  2. And this election’s Democratic underdog is Governor Richardson. Remember, Senators haven’t won a presidential election 40 years, and Richardson’s got an outstanding resume. He’s on Facebook, Party Builder, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, and Zanby. Anyone heard of the last one? I haven’t. And….woah wait. News on his site says he called for a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Sweet! He’s getting my vote.

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