The Internet and the 2008 US election: participation and/or fragmentation?

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just released a report on the role of the Internet in the 2008 US election, which analyses trends in how people consume political news & information and the ways they use the internet to engage with politics. Here are some of the key findings:

More than half  (55%) of the voting-age population has used the Internet to get involved in the political process during the election year (74% of Internet users).

The survey findings show that the Internet has become a paramount tool for people’s engagement in the political process, not only as a source of information (60% of Internet users have gone online to look for political information in 2008 compared to 22% in 1996), but as a tool for active participation. 18% of Internet users actively engaged online by posting comments on the campaign on online forums such as blogs or social networking sites and 45% watched online videos related to the campaign.

Young voters  (18-24 year olds) showed the highest levels of political involvement online. They engaged heavily in the political debate through social networking sites: two-thirds of young people with a social networking profile took part in some form of online political activity. Continue reading “The Internet and the 2008 US election: participation and/or fragmentation?”

Ben Rattray on Change.org

Live blogging from the workshop “From Social Network to Social Movement” at Harvard Law School. Ben Rattray, Founder and CEO of Change.org is presenting. You can also follow on Twitter: #HLSsocnetworks

Rise of the social web has been huge. Activism by proxy – people are interested in organizations and these organizations act on their behalf. They get information from direct email and the organization acts. People by themselves are unable to take action at the national level so they need proxies, outside of traditional media, for example through blogs. The Web would disintermediate existing organizations, allowing people to get together and collectively running action. So we have a toolset to create action and to allow NGOs to organize. Continue reading “Ben Rattray on Change.org”

Marshall Ganz on narratives and social movements

Live blogging from the workshop “From Social Network to Social Movement” at Harvard Law School. Marshall Ganz from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, presenting The role of narratives as leadership practice in social movements. You can also follow on Twitter: #HLSsocnetworks

Social movements are a form of association. Tocqueville studied the problem of individualism and he discovered the rich associational life in the US and found it encouraging for 3 reasons: 1) active associations brought individuals out of their silos and brought them together to learn their common interest 2) at least theoretically, the promise of democracy that equality of voice will balance the equality of resources: people coming together around a common interest can mobilize power 3) these associations were voluntary, freed from coercion, so they serve as crucibles for value renewal. Continue reading “Marshall Ganz on narratives and social movements”

lessons in democracy from America – part 2

Yesterday at the Kennedy School of Government I attended the IOP Forum “War Stories: Inside Campaign 2008”, where David Axelrod (Chief Strategist, Obama Campaign) and David Plouffe (Campaign Manager, Obama Campaign) discussed with Rick Davis (Campaign Manager, McCain Campaign) and Bill McInturff (Chief Pollster, McCain Campaign) the 2008 presidential campaign, in an open forum. This forum was part of a tradition, the John F. Kennedy, Jr. forum series organized by the Harvard Institute of Politics, which for years has been inviting politicians, academics and journalists to debate current issues in front of an audience, made up mostly by students but also by journalists, politicians etc. These forums are moderated and they conclude with a question and answers sessions with people in the audience. As I sat there listening to the campaigners recall events and anecdotes from the campaign, and analyzing achievements and mistakes made, I could not help but thinking about the transparency and accountability promoted by such events. And wondering when there will be a day in my home country when similar events will take place….

the Internet and politics: analyzing the 2008 US election

A group of McCain and Obama campaigners, academics, activists, bloggers and journalists have gathered for two days at Harvard at a conference organized by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society examining the role that the Internet has played in the the 2008 US election. Parts of the conversation were under Chatam house rule, nevertheless here are some highlights of the lively discussions that have taken place.  Some preliminary outputs of the meeting can be found here in essay format and other Berkman colleagues have blogged about the event here and at the Internet and Democracy blog.

The first day of the discussion focused very much on the role played by the Internet in the campaign. Did Obama win thanks to the Internet? Did the Internet play a role in engaging people who would have not otherwise been engaged? The first question was prominent, and the message that was stressed many times over and over, especially by Obama campaigners, was that the Internet served as a wonderful tool to coordinate and link online and offline action, with the technology playing a central but complementary role to the efforts of offline grassroots organizing. I came home with the feeling that top-down strategy played the key role in getting people involved, but that success depended very much also on the bottom-up grassroots efforts and energy that Obama and his campaign people managed to mobilize and draw upon. Continue reading “the Internet and politics: analyzing the 2008 US election”

Next steps for president-elect Obama and We the people

[Cross-posted on Berkman’s Internet & Democracy blog]

Today an outstanding panel gathered at Harvard Law School to discuss Obama’s election and the next steps for Obama’s administration and the American people: “In Order To Form a More Perfect Union: Next Steps for President-Elect Obama and For We the People”. Panelists included:

* Douglas Blackmon, Atlanta Bureau Chief, Wall Street Journal
* Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
* David Gergen, Professor of Public Service, Harvard Kennedy School; CNN Political Commentator
* Lani Guinier, Bennett Boskey Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
* Orlando Patterson, John Cowles Professor of Sociology, Harvard University
* María Teresa Petersen, Executive Director, Voto Latino
* William Weld, Partner, McDermott Will & Emery LLP; Former Governor of Massachusetts

Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Executive Director of Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice acted as moderator. He opened the discussion by asking panelists how we should assess the election of Barack Obama.

Continue reading “Next steps for president-elect Obama and We the people”

Is the Internet making a difference to the 2008 election?

[Cross-posted on Berkman’s Internet & Democracy blog]

A recent survey by the Wall Street Journal/NBC/MySpace of newly registered voters and lapsed voters has shown that the Internet keeps playing an important role in the current campaign, especially amongst younger people; however, the effect which online news will have on actual voter turnout remains to be seen.

Newly registered voters are those who either registered for the first time, or who skipped the 2004 election and have now registered again. The sample is thus overwhelmingly made up of young people (three quarters).

The survey shows some interesting findings on the use of new media to access and share information about the campaign by new voters compared to the population of all voters. While accessing information online was pretty similar amongst the two groups: 36% of new voters visited an official candidate’s website compared to 33% of all voters;28% of new voters watched a YouTube video on the campaign compared to 22% of all voters – active information sharing was higher amongst new voters: 25% of new voters sent an SMS message regarding the campaign compared to 16% of all voters; 21% of new voters joined an online social networking group for the campaign via either MySpace or Facebook compared to only 8% of all voters.

These data supports the idea that online social networking sites and Web 2.0 applications are facilitating or enhancing young people’s participation in politics; however, whether this will translate into offline participation is a question which remains to be tested. Offline participation in a rally or demonstration to support a candidate was very low amongst both new voters (5%) and all voters (9%).  Similarly, volunteering for the campaign was also pretty low amongst both groups (6% of new voters vs. 9% of all voters). Furthermore, when asked about how interested respondents were about the upcoming election, 49% of new voters said they were very interested compared to 70% of all voters, and only 54% said they will definitely vote.

The question which remains to be asked is the following: is online campaigning and activism replacing old fashioned, face-to-face door-to-door campaigning? And if so, is it qualitatively different and what will this mean for the democratic process? Stay tuned.

Full report and commentary available here.