Obama’s Internet Army Eager to Re-Up

The legions of online activists who mobilized to help Barack Obama win the White House were expected to return to their normal routines after the election, but they apparently did not get the memo.

Rather, this group seems intent on remaining active as the new administration takes shape,for the most part using the same networking techniques that led to its formation. That is the finding of a new study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Direct communication from Obama — or someone from the President-elect’s team — isan expectation of 46 percent of the 2,254 adult Obama supporters surveyed between November20, and December 4. Thirty-four percent of those who use e-mail expect directe-mail communication from the new administration; 37 percent of socialnetwork site users expect to receive SNS updates;and 11 percent of phone texters expect to receive text messages fromthe new administration.

However, many of these supporters are not waiting to hear directly from theadministration: 24 percent have visited a Web site affiliated with thetransition effort; 6 percent have signed up to receive e-mail updatesabout the transition or the new administration; and 5 percent havejoined e-mail lists or participated in online groups discussing thenew administration.

Flying Blind

This is the first time anyone has examined how a winning politicalcandidate’s supporters intend to remain involved in his or heradministration, Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & AmericanLife Project, told the E-Commerce Times. “In some sense, we were flying blind — we didn’t really know what toexpect as we began this particular study after the election was held.”

Clearly, there was a huge interest in Obama, both online andoff. The president-elect funneled that interest into anunrivaled online network that reached out tounprecedented numbers, according to Rainie.

Once the election was past, he said, Pew began getting calls asking what impactthis networked army would have on policy. “We werewondering, ‘Would they be easy to mobilize once he gets into office tosupport his agenda, or would they affect his ability to govern?”

The study’s findings suggest the former. For instance,62 percent of Obama supporters say they will encourage others tosupport the new administration’s policies during the upcoming year. Ofthese, 48 percent will do so in person; 25 percent expect todo so over the phone; and 16 percent expect to promote the ObamaAdministration’s agenda over the Internet.

Among Obama voters who wereinvolved online during the campaign, 25 percent said they plan tomobilize support for his presidential policies by using the Internet.

Harnessing this group will be interesting to watch, Rainie remarked.”These people were highly engaged in the campaign. They werenetworking more than we have seen in past political campaigns andmobilizing more supporters.”

If they apply the same level of energyand enthusiasm to pushing policy in the administration and throughCongress, it could have an impact akin to when President Ronald Reaganwent on television in the early 1980s, asking people to support histax plan. “Congress was inundated with calls,” Rainie recalled.

Duplicating the Obama Effect?

Obama’s administration will have a vested interest in keeping hissupporters active online, David E. Johnson, principal of the politicalconsulting firm Strategic Vision, told the E-Commerce Times.

In addition to helping promote his legislative agenda, they can be tapped for further donations in the next election cycle, he noted. Obama raised US$740.6 million — an unprecedented totalthat swamped the combined $646.7 million that George Bush and JohnKerry raised in 2004 — and a sizableportion of it came in the form of small donations made online.

Obama will surely be looking to match, or possibly beat, that record,Johnson said — and his online supporters will be key to that effort.

Just as surely, the Republican party will be looking to duplicate thestrategies that ultimately overwhelmed it in this election cycle. Ingeneral, Republicans have not been as savvy in harnessing the Web,according to Johnson, who has worked on several Republican campaigns.

That may be changing, he noted. Two of the candidates for head of theGOP party are leveraging e-tools to make their case. Also, 33 percent of McCain voters expect to stay in touchwith the Republican Party or GOP officials moving forward, the Pewsurvey found.

Whether Obama’s methods can be easilyco-opted by the opposition — or for that matter, by other Democrats — is a burning question.

The online army Obama recruited is not necessarily loyal to theDemocratic party, said Johnson. In the run-off elections held in Louisianaand Georgia, the Democrats used the Internet to drive turnout — butthe numbers did not mirror Nov. 4.

Thatcould have been election fatigue, Johnson allowed, “but it is mybelief that Obama’s success on the Internet is a combination of verystrategic and savvy use of the Internet — plus his own personalappeal.”

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