The Obama campaign successfully used the netroots as a means and as an end for campaigning in the 2008 election. The growth of blogs along with other forms of new media enables campaigns to reach voters through the netroots and use the netroots as a conduit to further coverage and discussion. Campaigns are just coming to understand the full potential of new media campaigning and as such the use of the netroots will continue to expand in future elections.
The netroots has many key characteristics that lend it to be used effectively in campaigns. The email listserves, blogs and social media of the netroots are at odds with the entrenched power of old media, according to Kreiss. However, Kreiss also notes the connection between the two where information can flow from the netroots to the mainstream media, (Kreiss). Farrell and Drezner’s work examines the link between blogs, an essential part of the netroots, and the mainstream media more closely.
Farrell and Drezner argue that blogs have influence in the current political world because of their connections to people that matter. Despite not reaching nearly as large of a portion of the population as mainstream forms of media, blogs help to shape political discussion because they reach journalists and opinion leaders. There is a kind of social elite that reads political blogs, according to Farrell and Drezner. Bloggers often have local knowledge or policy expertise that raise the influence of the blog. Blogs also have personal network ties to media outlets and are quickly published, (Farrell).
Many of these characteristics that are important to blogs also apply to other forms of new media. Social media exists because of its ability to operate in real time, with immediate publication of thoughts. Journalists and opinion leaders are also very present in new media and often use them as avenues to gather information. Social media makes these people more accessible than ever and conversations can take place and events can be organized easily. These connections are essential to the growth of the netroots because they inspire the belief that the netroots can have a legitimate impact on the election.
Kreiss describes the ability of the netroots to cover some of the minutia of the campaign cycle that mainstream media doesn’t have time to cover. If an issue gets enough attention in the netroots it will be picked up by the mainstream media. Kreiss also discusses how campaigns can use the netroots as a way to anonymously distribute and push information they want to be known. Negative campaigning can be done with an appearance of authenticity because blogs and new media are often presumed to be authentic civic expression.
As David Carr wrote for the New York Times, the Obama campaign used new media in 2008 to raise money, locally organize, battle negative campaigning from the other side and get out the vote. Carr contrasts the Obama approach with the Republican use of the ground game. Carr calls the ground game “crude and expensive” when compared to the Obama campaign’s use of netroots. New media was an essential player in the raising of a record breaking $600 million. Media clips from the campaign, like the notable 1984 commercial, were viewed millions of times online and listserves were created out of information gathered from tickets purchases. Carr also discusses the ability of the new media to make the campaign seem more accessible and responsive. He compares the Obama campaign’s “20-month conversation with the electorate” with the 311 system developed by Michael Bloomberg to report problems, (Carr). All of this power derived from new media gave the Obama campaign a massive advantage in the election.
As Dutta and Fraser’s piece for US News shows, this power actually translated into a tangible benefit when the election came. The Obama campaign made it a goal to dominate the youth vote and succeeded, with nearly 70 percent of voters under 25. Dutta and Fraser credit the campaign for hiring a Facebook cofounder to be a key strategist for the campaign. The authors say that the Obama campaign distanced itself in new media by a long stretch because of its overwhelming presence across all platforms. The article cites a Pew Research Center survey that showed 46 percent of Americans used the web, email or text messaging to learn, debate or mobilize during the campaign, (Dutta).
The marked effect of the netroots and new media on the 2008 election and the structure of the netroots itself dictates future growth in the area for political campaigns. The 2008 Obama campaign set a standard for netroots performance. Campaigns are constantly needing to improve and expand to stay ahead of the opponent, so the use of the netroots will grow similar to the amount of campaign fundraising that increases consistently. We are becoming an online society and as more of our lives shift to new media, it only makes sense that the focus of campaigns would shift accordingly.
Carr, D. (2008, November 9). How Obama Tapped Into Social Networks’ Power. New York Times.
Dutta, S., & Fraser, M. (2008, November 19). Barack Obama and the Facebook Election. US News.
Kreiss, D. (2012). Acting in the Public Sphere: The 2008 Obama Campaign’s Strategic Use of New Media to Shape Narratives of the Presidential Race. Media, Movements, and Political Change, 33, 195-224.
Farrell, H., & Drezner, D. (2007). The Power And Politics Of Blogs. Public Choice, 15-30.