There are those in the media who over hype the net and the blogosphere, and there are those who wrongly denounce its influence. Paul Andrews of the Seattle Times falls into the later category. In a piece entitled Internet buzz fizzles out in Iowa test, he alleges that the failure of the Dean and Kucinich campaigns in the Iowa Primaries is indicative of the failure of the internet to reflect voter sentiment, and that the Net managed to distort Deans and Kucinich’s appeal “like the proverbial flea on the elephant” whilst not providing the results it promised. We say rubbish.
The problem here is hype, as my friend at Weblog Hype will tell you. At the Blog Herald we have tried to avoid the hype of the Dean campaign and others, only occasionally reporting on some of the more interesting uses of technology and blogs. The same cannot be said for many in the Blogosphere, and more importantly, many in the mainstream press.
But let’s look at some facts: The Internet and the Blogosphere has assisted Howard Dean raise the largest war chest of any candidate and arguably one of the biggest supporter groups. It propelled him from not even being seriously considered a contender to front runner (at least prior to Iowa). And a lot of this was word of mouth, or more accurately posting of blogs. The Internet made the difference in the Dean campaign. Did anybody say that the Internet would win the campaign for Dean? No. Other candidates have followed Deans lead with blogs and similar meet up style gatherings. George W has launched his own blog. Dean led the field on net campaigning, pushing the boundaries of what was practiced in the past, and it got him a lot of publicity. But again, the internet did not promise victory.
And for the hype: there have been many mainstream press articles on the Dean/ Net angle, many hailing him as a type of new digital age messiah come forth to convert the masses by router and keystroke. Paul Andrews own newspaper has been amongst them. But hype is hype, and in a global age, all politics remains local, and in the American electoral system, it is the ability of the candidate to connect at the community level which makes the difference. The Internet and the blogosphere is essentially a marketing and promotional tool that assists the candidate, it does not make the candidate, nor will it ever make the candidate. In the end it could perhaps be argued that Dean was over-hyped to the point that it alienated the very people he needed to appeal to, swinging voters who are looking for substance over style.
To Paul Andrews we say take away the hype of your colleagues and look at the bigger picture. The internet, and the blogosphere is playing, and will continue to play a growing and important role in electoral systems and elections around the world, but at the end of the day the internet is not going to get Coco the Monkey elected at the President of the United States of America, although it may very well get him close, will make him extremely well known, and he’d probably give a better speech after the Iowa primaries than Howard Dean.
The net may have played no role in the decisions of 60% of voting Iowans, but the 40% may include all the independents and undecided. If somebody told me that there was a cheap, easily accessible, and readily refreshed marketing tool that potentially could influence 40% or even more key voter within the electorate, I’d jump at the chance, and candidates and parties across the United States and the world will continue to do so.