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Archive for the ‘Campaign 2012’ Category

Political Klout: How Digital Influence Can Improve American Democracy

Posted by blindspotpolitics on August 16, 2012

Ever since Howard Dean used digital media in his 2004 Presidential Primary bid, political campaigns have viewed the digital and social media pastures ever greener. Instead of spending time and money promoting traditional media (newspapers, radio, and especially TV), campaigns and political operatives now spend hours discussing strategy for Pintrest or Instagram. Digital media, and the internet in general, realize the potential of this emerging market. Facebook, Google, and Yahoo–three of the largest digital platforms for targeted advertising–now have departments that specialize in political and advocacy media.

Yet, political operatives and media buyers are still learning how to best utilize the newly discovered and ever-expanding digital space. While the older generation scrambles to learn the in and outs of this complicated industry, young entrepreneurs and political hopefuls are keenly exploiting the technologies they grew up with and use everyday. For now, the room for innovative and experimentation is immense.

As Schumpter aptly theorized, industry competition fuels innovation through ‘creative destruction.’ In the competitive world of political campaigning–where the stakes of winning and losing are so incredibly high–it’s understandable why the reluctant old-timers, like Bastiat’s candle-makers, are trying to reaffirm their importance.

The current ventures into digital and social media by many of these experienced professionals are mainly half-hearted. The internet is complicated. Even to begin the most simplistic digital media buy takes more time developing strategy and targeting universes than a $1 million direct mail buy. Instead of diving head first into the digital space, many operatives have preferred to stick to the shallows: exploring the bare minimum that current technological innovations have to offer.

In a world where we are very close to printing 3-D burritos (check it out), campaigns still canvass by hand, promote their candidates through signs and buttons, and ‘change hearts and minds’ through the Puritanical town-hall meeting. Unfortunately for them, although fortunate for the younger political operatives who better understand the digital landscape and innovation, we are discovering that our social interactions can be partly and wholly emulated on the web.

However, with the older political operatives in control and the government’s general reluctance for a modicum of change, many aspects of campaigning are (rightly and wrongly) left out of the move to digital advertising and social media interaction.

An article released on July 24th,2012 in Campaigns and Elections by Marty Stone entitled ‘Communicating with influentials’ is a reaffirmation of the ‘old school’ way of doing things.  The article promotes the importance of people like the author’s mother ‘Bubbie;’ those trusted members of communities, well known for their advice giving on political matters and thus their control over how ‘platoons’ of voters will act at the polls. The author is explicit in his rejection of digital media, writing: “There’s no question that social media outreach is key when it comes to delivering a candidate’s message, but word-of-mouth contact is still king (or queen) even in this digital age.”

Sorry, Marty, but the voters of tomorrow, used to a world where they can constantly interact with friends and join online communities (led by influential people), don’t emphasis the importance of community influencers in the same way as their parents. Instead, like in all things, they’re moving to embrace social media interaction and constructed, online communities.

What many political operatives probably don’t know is that empirically judging ‘influence’ is one of the freshest and most controversial developments in our digital age. The leader of being able to judge online and social media influence is Klout, whose newest update is another reaffirmation that they are “the standard for influence.” Klout gives individuals scores on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 that ranks how much ‘influence’ sed individual has online. Don’t ask me to explain the equations or anything behind the scenes; all I know is that I currently have a ’59.’

Although this a new technology, the implications for politics are clear. This technology would allow campaigns to target ‘influentials’–people who can influence voters far more intimately, efficiently, and cost effectively than the most well made campaign spot. Think about it for a second: when it comes to politics, whose advice do you trust more: Campaign Ads; Your local paper; Anderson Cooper on CNN; Or your friends and family? I hope, unless you have strained relations, the last choice is a clear winner.

Because of the uncertainty of the ‘influence rating’ industry, and really the uncertainty regarding the validity of the rankings, Klout is still hesitant to enter the political advertising realm. However, once these issues are resolved, there will be no reason for Klout and similar companies to not ‘dance with the devil,’ and begin picking team Blue or team Red. Although many might react negativly to this prospect–perhaps thinking, great, another way that technology and politics are going to influence and shape our lives–the shift could be incredibly empowering for the individual and for democracy in general.

Utilizing Klout in this way would be at the very heart of its mission: affirming the importance of social capital within the real world. Political campaigns, instead of utilizing ‘influentials’ as so many billboards or banner ads constantly promoting buzzwords and talking points, would be forced to court them: convincing these individuals by displaying the logic behind electing their candidate or supporting their ballot measure.

Even more interesting, having individual influencers promote ideas person-to-person instead of the ‘one size fits all’ mentality of political advertising (which, granted, has changed due to micro targeting but still lacks the intimacy of earnest social interaction) could force a deeper and more personalized discussion of politics in general.

Individuals are convinced to support or not support causes for different reasons. Klout  allows influencers to convince voters thought by thought, argument by argument, perspective by perspective. Complicated political and economic messages, discussions, and rationales that normally fall flat when promoted and consumed on a mass, 15 second ad, scale would also benefit from the personalization of politics. When we discuss ideas one on one, instead of enmass, we dive deeper into discourse, promoting and defending our beliefs through reason instead of the Pathos ubiquitous in political advertising.  Perhaps, with Klout and the creation of quantifiable social capital, political campaigns could better promote and the public could better understand inherently complicated solutions to our nation’s complex problems.

Far from making political campaigns and advertising more impersonal and machine-like, the application of digital ‘influencology’ by Klout and others would reaffirm the importance of individualism in American democracy. The influencers and influencees, who already interact online and offline in many cases, would be given autonomy over how to frame political debates. Rather than campaign messages coming from political operatives and formal campaign components, the messages will arrive informally, from online community leaders, influential friends, and trusted commentators. The only difference from natural social interaction–interaction that changes and shapes peoples opinions on important issues–would be the first step already discussed: convincing those with large stores of social capital to support and promote a specific campaign.

Today, we have dinner time discussions that alter the way we think about politics and the world. Maybe someday soon, Mom and Dad will be championing Senator XYZ by committing to support his campaign online. Although I’ve obviously left out many specifics regarding how exactly campaigns could capitalize on Klout’s technology, I think it’s clear that a) the acceptance of technology in campaign strategy means that some form of online ‘influencology’ is probably inevitable and b) this is not something to fret or fear, but something to embrace and eagerly await.


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The Virginia Plan

Posted by blindspotpolitics on December 24, 2011

It seems that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry will not be appearing on the Virginia Primary ballot. Both candidates failed to obtain the necessary 10,000 signatures that the state requires. Despite this being startling, especially in regards to Gingrich who is a serious GOP nominee contender, this move by the Virginia GOP tells a lot about the state of the Perry and Gingrich campaigns. Furthermore, the move could potentially lead to some pretty dangerous consequences for the eventual GOP nominee, no matter who it is.

Perry and Gingrich are not very happy at the Virginia GOP right now, to say the least. Perry is calling for a recount of his signatures, claiming that there is no way he could have fallen short of the number. Gingrich, however, is taking a more extreme stance. Instead of simply calling for a recount, Gingrich is claiming that because he doesn’t appear on the ballot the primary system in Virginia must be broken.

Perry’s reaction, although more reasoned and logical, smells of weakness, something that is not good to have in a GOP race. Perhaps Perry is already admitting defeat, at least in this contest. His reaction is the obvious one; recount the votes! But it’s timid and something that few would expect from a campaign that is seriously struggling. Gingrich’s reaction, however, is over the top. Similar to his recent attacks of the courts, Gingrich is once again attacking systems. He’s attacking how our government functions and the apparent unfairness that results from it. Whether or not he is correct, he’s clearly pandering to the Tea Party voters on top of simply trying to get on the ballot like Perry.

The fact that neither of these guys, who have both led the GOP nominee contest this year, got on the ballot in Virginia says a lot more about the state of their campaigns than it does about their appeal to voters. The contrast to Romney and Paul is striking: Romney has essentially been campaigning for five years and thus has created a massive infrastructure, while Paul has focused on gaining grass roots support even among non-Republicans. Apparently, neither Perry nor Gingrich have either of these advantages. The lack of the latter could prove to be disastrous. People in the field are a necessary part of modern campaigns, whether collecting signatures, handing out literature, or hosting rallies. The lack of this aspect in these two candidates campaigns is concerning. Why have neither of them created these systems of support? We’ll see throughout the rest of the campaign, but this lack of boots on the ground in Virginia could be a sign of things to come for the two presidential contenders.

What makes this news embarrassing for Gingrich is that he’s from Virginia. 10,000 signatures really isn’t that much. In California, potential proposition measures must have signatures from 5% of those who voted in the last election for Governor, leading to required numbers upwards of 400,000. Granted, California is a bigger state and the situation is very different but it does provide a sense of scale. This whole debacle just leads to the question, how serious are these two candidates?

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Why is Ron Paul Winning in Iowa?

Posted by blindspotpolitics on December 24, 2011

It’s easy to use a poll to support ones political argument. Simply give an argument, find some numbers that support it, and wahlah! Your argument is now seemingly valid, defensible, and equitable. And sometimes it is. Indeed, polls are collections of statistics based on human responses. But where do these statistics come from? What do they actually mean? Herein lies the problem with blindly trusting polls.

The polls concerning Dr. Ron Paul’s recent lead in the Iowa Caucus are no exception. For the past few days, polls across the nation and the state have emphatically claimed “Paul leads.” In the Iowa State University/Iowa Gazette/KCRG poll Paul is leading 27.5% to Gingrich’s 25.3% and Romeny’s 17.5%. (see the poll here) But what do these statistics mean? Each poll asks different kinds of questions, and asks different types of people. In this poll, the latter is of primary concern. This poll claims to have asked “likely Republican caucus-goers.” Besides the obvious question of, well how the heck does one determine that?!?, the poll does not include the views of Independents and Democrats who have registered Republican in the state to vote for Paul–the supposed source of much of Paul’s grass roots organization there.

A lot has been said in the mainstream media over the importance of these polling numbers, some Republicans even claiming that if Paul wins in Iowa it undermines the whole “first in the nation” Caucus system because, according to many pundits and leaders, Ron Paul is not representative of the Republican Party across the nation. And how could he be? He has a lot of ideas and he is very heavy on policy rather than discussing politics. In fact, he makes light of discussing anything other than policy, as shown in this video.

What separates Paul from the other Republican candidates is precisely his refusal to pander to the mainstream Republican base. Paul, who ran as the Libertarian Presidential nominee in 1988, holds some pretty unique views, particularly in contrast to a Republican party ruled by the Neocons on foreign policy and the Religious Right on social policy. His most idiosyncratic views are probably the legalization of all drugs, including heroin, and ending all foreign aid, even from Israel. For a good outline of Paul’s stranger views see Politico’s “Ron Paul 2012: Six comments he needs to explain.”

Beyond the explanation of polling numbers and Paul’s contrast to mainstream Republican views remains the question Why is Ron Paul winning in Iowa? The simple answer: time. The reason he is winning Iowa is because he has had the time to explain his complex policy positions to the people there. It takes time to properly explain complex and new, if not revolutionary, political ideas. It takes even more time for voters to absorb that information, ruminate, and reach a decision.

Paul has good ideas, plain and simple. His fiscal views attractive true fiscal conservatives who have been disillusioned by the spending supported by Republicans since Bush Jr. took office, while his social opinions attract Green Party members and even Democratic Socialists who have been disillusioned by the lack of social change that Obama has so far constructed. Even more broadly, he offers some pretty straight forward answers to complex questions, such as his persistent answer to the problems in the middle east: “we marched in and we can march out.” To those that don’t agree with all of his policy positions, the straightforwardness of his politics is still heavily appealing. There is a peculiarly earnest nature to the way he describes politics that is refreshing and even comforting. Although, as I’ve admitted, some of his ideas are off-base from normal political views and perhaps even wacky, he bases everything on political theory. For Paul, nothing is arbitrary. His ability to properly explain and justify his unique policy positions in Iowa has led to his surging poll numbers. As people get to know him better it seems that he becomes more appealing. However, the questions becomes, will Paul be able to properly translate his message to potential voters as the time between primaries and caucuses decreases or will his high numbers in Iowa, which may even be deflated because Independents and Democrats have generally not been involved in the polls, be his last?

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