Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s recent record online fundraising tally of $500,000 (US$) in one day signals the arrival of a key new factor in the U.S. political process, according to a new report by Forrester Research.
Just as the televising of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates broke new political ground, McCain’s success at collecting donations online has cemented the Web’s position as a viable means of connecting politicians with their massive base of supporters, Forrester says.
Average Online Donation Is $110
“With an average donation of $110, McCain’s accomplishment reflects the growing pool of households connected to the Internet (39 million) and the number using their credit cards to shop online (13.1 million),” the report says.
It also proves that many average citizens are not as cynical about politics as one might imagine. When McCain raised $500,000 in one day, it represented donations from about 5,000 people.
McCain’s site has a solicitation letter from the candidate that changes as the campaign evolves. It also has a big “Click here to contribute” button.
Wednesday’s letter says, in part, “My friends, we have made history. The support and contributions over the Internet have allowed my campaign to compete against the seemingly unlimited funds of my opponent. Our support is growing and with your help we will continue to gain momentum during this primary season.”
Undercuts Establishment Power
Like McCain, Forrester believes that such online contributions made by average citizens will have far-reaching political implications, including the undercutting of establishment power in the nominating process.
“As Internet use explodes, direct citizen donations will grow, diluting the importance of wealthy donors willing to give $1,000 each. This will weaken the potency of the campaign finance issue,” the report adds.
Additionally, Forrester argues that the ease of contributing to a candidate via the Internet will allow “Me Generation” voters to participate without getting their hands dirty by knocking on neighbors’ doors.
Translating Success into Instant Money
Forrester also sees that the Web helps translate a “bounce” — or the kind of momentum McCain received from primary victories in New Hampshire and Michigan — into instant money, helping an underdog overcome the advantage of big-bankroll players.
Forrester also adds that Web-based campaigns will substantially lower a candidate’s fundraising overhead.
“Voters come to the campaign rather than the campaign having to reach out through expensive fundraisers, mass mailing or television ads,” the report notes.
Precursor to Online Voting?
Finally, Forrester’s report on e-campaigns asserts that just as e-commerce paved the way for online political donations, online donations will help pave the way for the eventuality of online voting.
“This means the debate around privacy, security and authentication — all key issues in online voting — will increase,” the report concludes.
In a Perfect World
While I certainly agree with Forrester that online campaign financing will continue to grow and will greatly affect the political landscape, I disagree that it will somehow lead to a new kind of electronic pluralism.
In fact, I predict that quite the opposite will happen. Now that the big political players and the legions of special interest groups that back them have seen the power of electronic contributions, you can bet that they will soon be leveraging this technology to the maximum.
Meanwhile, in a perfect world, it would be great to vote via the Internet. However, in the real world, it could foster massive voter fraud. It is also the antithesis of today’s movement toward privacy on the Internet.
A requirement of online voting, after all, is the ability to identify each voter in an absolute fashion.
So, while there can be no doubt that the advent of raising political contributions online will have a great impact on the electoral process, the jury is still out whether the average citizen or special interest groups will end up with the biggest advantages.
The jury is particularly out on the concept of electronic voting — at least over the next several years at a minimum.