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The Internet and Retail Politics - Bonchek - 1996

The Internet and Retail Politics - Bonchek - 1996

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Published by Mark Bonchek

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Published by: Mark Bonchek on Feb 20, 2012
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The Internet & Retail Politics
February 10, 1996
Politicians who understand the unique properties of new media are in a superior position todefeat their opponents and govern successfully. Great Democratic Presidents have beenespecially prescient in capitalizing on the benefits of new media. In the 1930's, FranklinRoosevelt capitalized on the national reach of radio to bring a nation together in a way thatnewspapers could not. In 1960, John F. Kennedy understood that television is an inherentlyvisual medium and created an image-based style of leadership that led him to victory. Nixon lostthe debate of 1960, and ultimately the election, because he failed to adapt to the world broughton by the new medium of television.The Internet has emerged as the new political medium for the 21st century. The White Househome page already receives over 20,000 visitors per day. The major parties and presidentialcandidates have all mounted Web sites receiving thousands of visitors, and over 1500 politicalhome pages have been created in the last 18 months. The Presidential candidates are strugglingto capitalize on this new opportunity with their own web sites, but their strategies remainunfocused and their contribution to electoral success remains uncertain.The candidate who will follow in the footsteps of Kennedy and Roosevelt will be the candidatewho best capitalizes on the unique characteristics of the Internet. The Internet is different fromother media because it is uniquely able to facilitate group communication and cooperation. Onthe Net, citizens can be both senders and receivers of information and can communicate withanyone. In broadcast media, citizens are restricted to being passive receivers of information andcannot interact with each other. The Internet is therefore superior to radio, television, andnewspapers for building community, facilitating participation, and involving grass-roots support-- the foundation of traditional 'retail' politics.Political candidates have failed to capitalize on the community-building capabilities of theInternet. Most candidates are using the Net to broadcast information to Net users as if they werea television audience. Virtually no attention has been given to the Net's ability to fostercommunication and relationships among citizens. The Net can turn every citizen into both asender and a receiver, a participant and an observer. Politicians who capitalize on this ability willemerge victorious in the transition to the politics of the 21st century.
We believe the Internet can be used as part of an effective strategy for victory in 1996 byincreasing personal and face-to-face campaigning at the precinct and local neighborhood level.The Internet can be used to distribute documents and coordinate campaign tactics among teamsof campaign volunteer leaders with email accounts. In their local communities, these volunteers
would use traditional techniques of telephone calls, open meetings, registration tables, and door-to-door canvassing to increase voter registration and turnout. This combined Internet/face-to-facestrategy is superior to existing non-Internet strategies because it reduces costs, minimizes timedelays, and improves the delivery of information and coordination of activities. The strategy issuperior to existing Internet strategies because it focuses on face-to-face communication as themethod of mobilizing voters.
The rapid growth of the Internet has raised the question of how the Net will affect campaigningand elections. Some people believe that the Internet will make face-to-face campaigning a thingof the past. These people envision a world in which voters make their voting decisions byconnecting directly to Web sites offered by each of the candidates. We believe that this vision of the Internet and politics is wrong.The election of 1992 demonstrated that all politics is still local, even in the emerging age of electronic democracy. Electronic mail, fax machines, Web sites, cable tv, and talk radio havecertainly altered the political landscape. But it was face-to-face campaigning at the precinct levelthat increased voter turnout in 1992. Voters may be getting their information increasingly fromelectronic sources, but they will continue to register, turnout, and vote for candidates for thesame reasons they always have -- because friends, neighbors, family members, and co-workersask them to register, explain candidates' positions, and remind them to vote.The Internet will not change the importance of face-to-face campaigning in this or any otherelection in the near future. The heart of political campaigns will continue to be the deployment of inexpensive and effective strategies for catalyzing voter registration, participation, and turnout.
The myth about the Internet is that it is dominated by young, white, males who are technical,asocial, and alienated, leaning towards libertarianism in their political views. Nothing could befurther from the truth. Half of all Web users are over the age of 35. Online users are as connectedand concerned for their social relationships as their offline peers, telephoning friends andrelatives as frequently as the population as a whole. Politically, the 12-15 million online users arevirtually identical to non-users in party identification, presidential voting, and congressionalvoting (Times-Mirror):
Dem Ind Rep Bush Clinton PerotOnline Users 25% 43% 32% 37% 44% 18%Not Online 29% 40% 31% 38% 45% 17%
Studies by Arbitron show that there is a diversity of psycho-graphic groups on the Net. A significant and growing segment of the Net population is older home-owners with children whoare attracted by the opportunity for affiliation and community.Political attitudes among the online population are distinguished by opposition to censorship inpublic libraries by a margin of 10%, acceptance of homosexuality by a margin of 8%, andsupport of government regulation by a margin of 5%. Online users feel equally strongly that
government should do more to help needy Americans and are just as likely as the generalpopulation to believe that "elected officials care what people like me think."Online users are also more active politically than the general population. They were significantlymore likely to vote in the 1994 election, particularly in the 18-29 age group.
Age 18-29 30-49 50-64 65+Online Users 32% 58% 80% NANot Online 15% 46% 58% 61%
In summary, contrary to the myth of online homogeneity, the online population has alreadyachieved parity with the political demographics of the nation as a whole. The one criticaldifference is that online users are more likely to vote.
Given the attractiveness of the online community, how should Presidential campaigns takeadvantage of the opportunities provided by the new medium of the Net? One approach is to reachNet users directly with campaign information. A second approach is to use the Net as a way toorganize campaign volunteers for face-to-face campaigning with the general public. A thirdapproach is to use the Net for fund-raising.The problem with the first and third approaches is that Net users are still only 10% of the votingpopulation. Targeting Net users directly can have only a limited impact on the election.However, if Net users can be utilized as intermediaries to the general public, then the numbersbecome more attractive. Can such a plan be implemented successfully? We believe that it canand the rest of this memo outlines its logic, structure, and implementation.Despite all the attention given to candidates' home pages on the Web, the most effective part of the Internet for political activity is electronic mail, not the World Wide Web. The Web is stillprimarily a broadcast medium and does not yet allow for the communication, interaction, andcollaboration necessary for grassroots organizing and mobilization. Electronic mail is morepersonal and more interactive than the Web. Email messages appear in your mailbox; Web sitesmust be sought out. E-mail also supports group communication since messages can be sent easilyamong groups of individuals.Citizens and activists around the globe are using electronic mail to communicate, shareinformation, and coordinate political activity with great success. Amnesty International,for example, uses electronic Urgent Action Alerts to notify Amnesty members of human rightsabuses in need of intervention. E-mail is used to disseminate the information quickly tomembers, who then use traditional methods of communication -- letters, phone, and fax -- topressure the targeted governments. Jim Warren used a similar approach to obtain passage of aCalifornia bill putting government information online. E-mail bulletins were sent out to anetwork of activists informing of them of upcoming hearings and votes. Each activist then calledor met with other citizens to mobilize phone and letter-writing campaigns targeted at staterepresentatives. The Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C. blocked a Smokers' Bill of Rights tour by Philip Morris by using e-mail to coordinate their media strategies among activists in

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