To mark the beginning of the Internet + Society 2004 conference, the Kennedy School of Government cohosted an event this evening with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society on the topic of the internet in the 2004 elections. The forum consisted of two panelists, Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for the Howard Dean campaign and Michael Turk, online campaign director for the Bush-Cheney ’04 ticket. The panel was moderated by Kathleen Matthews, anchorwoman for ABC News.
The discussion was awash with utopian musings around the effect of technology on politics in the last year, but a number of interesting points emerged from the discussion. Trippi noted that the Dean campaign was largely due to the fact that supporters used technology to support the campaign in ways that the organizers had never expected. Most of all he stressed the importance of the conversation that emerged among Dean supporters, something that was not available to citizens in the 2000 election.
Turk followed suit with a similar handful of anecdotes and stories that made technology out to be a central part of the Republican success. He noted that the difference in their campaign strategy was the extent to which “viral marketing” allowed for the efficient spread of information to interested parties. Instead of relying on a centralized machine, the GOP was able to take advantage of their supporters to spread the word.
Both parties were extremely complementary of weblogs as an important part of the political ecology, including Matthews who relayed the importance that they now play in setting the mainstream news agenda. Trippi noted that while the news focuses on only a few weblogs, they don’t take into consideration the millions upon millions of weblogs that have a small audience. I’ll hold my criticisms for now, but this representation struck me as misinformed and idyllic given the small number of examples where popular opinion has really been shifted by the masses of smaller weblogs.
The most striking statement of the entire talk for me was the last statement made by Turk. In response to the importance of Meetup in the political process, he noted that many GOP supporters do not want to be part of a community effort, but instead remain isolated in their support of the party. I find it hard to believe that anyone donating money or time to a political organization wouldn’t want to talk about it with someone. I wonder whether this is the type of constituent that the party supports or wants to support. The more I think about it, the stranger this statement seems.
All in all, the discussion was engaging and interesting, but lacked a depth of critical thinking that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to come from these panelists. I’m interested to see how they evaluate the past year and move from a state of gee whiz, thanks for running our campaign to an organized methodology for making progress in 2007.
Lots of good talks tomorrow, keep it locked.