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Loose Democracy

January 28, 2004

Block that meme!

Clay writes in full what-if mode that social software may have been bad for the Dean campaign:

But what if this [bottom-up and edge-in] style has also created a sense of entitlement or even inevitability about the change? What if communing with fellow believers has created the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from participation in a shared effort, but hasnít created a sense of urgency or threat? What if Dean supporters believe that believing is enough, and what if the Dean campaignís brilliant use of tools to gather the like-minded both online and off has fed that feeling?

Well, sure, what if? And what if not? From Day 1, the Dean campaign has explicitly aimed at using on-line to move people to-street ("mouse pads and shoe leather"). Large numbers of people who have never before been active in campaigns have come out to do the real world stuff that campaigns are made of: I was at a half-day meeting in southern New Hampshire for organizers — you know, the type that have to put on mittens because they're going outside — a couple of weeks ago that pulled in 700 people. Over a hundred thousand people turn up for MeetUps in real-world watering holes. Thousands of people went to Iowa, which is reportedly a real state, although it does seem rather improbable. I spent yesterday standing in the cold holding a Dean sign.

Yes, my evidence is anecdotal. But Clay's is speculative. The closest he gets to supporting his contrarian meme is:

We know well from past attempts to use social software to organize groups for political change that it is hard, very hard, because participation in online communities often provides a sense of satisfaction that actually dampens a willingness to interact with the real world. When youíre communing with like-minded souls, you feel like youíre accomplishing something by arguing out the smallest details of your perfect future world, while the imperfect and actual world takes no notice, as is its custom.

I don't know what past attempts Clay has in mind. Are they attempts by real-world political campaigns of one sort or another? And if they are, do we know that their on-line efforts failed because the pleasant hum of online voices lulled the participants into a smug but vacuous sense of accomplishment? Or did they fail for some other reason?

We do have a couple of indisputable facts: Dean came in a poor third in Iowa and a disappointing second in New Hampshire. But this by itself leads to no conclusions about whether social software hurt the campaign. For all we know, Dean would still be in single digits as an ex-governor of the Maple Sugar state if the online connection hadn't happened. And we certainly don't know that, if social software failed, it was because it lulled participants into a sense of "inevitability." That's just Clay's speculation.

But speculation has a political effect. I don't have evidence other than participatory. And I am a partisan, so, I certainly don't trust my own experience. But if I'm embrace Clay's argument, I need more from him than a string of what-if's and a quick gesture at what "we know" about why social software has failed in the past. After all, I have to weigh that against both the campaign's explicit rejection of a masturbatory online approach and my personal interaction with hundreds of people who met on the Net and then hit the streets in some very cold weather.

Clay is a powerful writer and thinker. I think he's wrong here, but the meme is attractive. That worries me.

I like Britt Blaser's take on Clay's piece.

Posted by David at 12:44 PM
  Comments and Trackbacks

_We do have a couple of indisputable facts: Dean came in a poor third in Iowa and a disappointing second in New Hampshire._

We've got more facts than that. What we've got is a candidate who raised more money than anyone else, using the internet as one of the principal tools, if not the main one, and for whom most of the money was raised in small sums, a candidate who pioneered the use of things like MeetUp, that have gone from 'surprising innovation' to 'required for operation' for serious campaigns in less than a year.

And we've got a candidate who, earlier this month, was ahead in the New Hampshire polls by 25%.

So one thing we know is that, for whatever reason, the campaign is good at the things its easy to do online, like raising money, but has been bad at getting votes despite having what looked as recently as two weeks ago like a commanding lead.

As a partisan (albeit a gracious and self-declaring one), you've unfairly portrayed the original article, which after all was titled with a question, not a statement. I'll restate the thesis here, in more open-ended terms:

* The Dean campaign has been more broadly embracing of social software, and of a distributed campaign technique, than any other candidate this year (or ever.)

* In particular, Dean is the most successful fund-raiser in the current race, in part because of his embrace of these techniques.

* The campaign enjoyed, in all predictive measures, a huge lead over all contenders.

* Dean lost both of the early challenges he faced, by margins that made the predictive measures look like dart board work.

And the question I'm asking is: since the Dean campaign is so good at using online tools, why has that translated to double-digit losses in States he was tipped to do best in?

And my speculation is that the tools were used in a way that overemphasized the easy bits, and gave the meme of Dean inevitability too much strength.

(And before you cast aspersions on Dean's inevitability as a topic of conversation, make sure to Google "Howard Dean"+inevitable. Just be sure you do it when you've got some time to kill.)

I'm not suggesting that anyone give up on social software, god knows, in campaigns or elsewhere. However, I remain concerned that some of the pleasures of social software are like the dangers of writers talking about their work -- having talked about it, the pressure to actually do the hard work of writing it decreases.

Posted by Clay Shirky on January 28, 2004 02:26 PM | Permalink to Comment

Explain if you will the graphic on the blog for america site, with "Come Back Bat" in bold red letters with the roughly-drawn, muscled-armed man giving a salute or gesture that might have historical significance with a bat slung over his shoulder. Gee, let's see if we can stimulate the hypothalamus and the limbic systems of the American voters.

Why can't we keep this campaign on a cortical level?


Posted by Dan Herzlich on January 28, 2004 02:41 PM | Permalink to Comment

What if the Web allowed *anyone* to say *anything* they wanted and *anyone*, *anywhere* could read it? Then we might have to deal with a lot of uninformed nonsense.

The success of the Dean Campaign has been the coming together of message, delivery, and people at a historical point in time. The medium - social software is simply a tool. I got on the train when I walked into a bar in Oakland in March '03 and the room was *packed* with people who were absolutely champing at the bit to do *something* to move this country in the right direction.

I stay involved with the campaign because of Dean, but more so because of the social network that has been established. I am working, in community, with like minded people to bring change. Today that is with the Dean campaign and at some point it will be in a different context. To those of you who think that the Dean *thing* is about a bunch of people staring at their navels and thinking "what a good child am I" should get yourself out to a MeetUp and actually DO SOMETHING rather than sit around and theorize.

I don't know anyone who feels entitled to much of anything. The only real concern I have is what happens to this network post-Dean?

Posted by Dan Robinson on January 28, 2004 02:59 PM | Permalink to Comment

"The success of the Dean Campaign has been the coming together of message, delivery, and people at a historical point in time."

YES! This is exactly right, and is my starting premise. And what I'm wondering is, since this is true, why has that not translated into votes?

Posted by Clay Shirky on January 28, 2004 03:37 PM | Permalink to Comment

Green Mountain state, not Maple Sugar state.

Posted by Maciej Ceglowski on January 28, 2004 03:38 PM | Permalink to Comment

Clay, I think there is a fallacy in your article. If the use of online tools created an in-breeding of sorts that did not translate to results at the polls, then why was Dean *ever* leading by 20+%? You say that those leads were shown in predictive measures, but those predictions are based on....polls.

In other words, I don't see a qualitative difference between Dean's lead in pre-voting phone surveys and Dean's loss in caucuses and voting booths. Something happened before the voters got to the caucuses and the booths, and I'm not buying that they just didn't unplug and show up.

You can see this another way: if Dean's support was all online, why didn't he lead in the New Hampshire polls this weekend and then lose in the actual results? Why did he start to lose his lead in Iowa before the actual caucuses?

I think you're on to something interesting, but I'm not sure you're asking the right questions....maybe another line of investigation would be, is the impression of the candidate formed online (through, essentially, writing -- web pages and emails) substantially different from the impression formed in person (stump speeches, nightly news coverage); and is what we saw in Iowa the collision of the virtual Dean with the real Dean (lubricated by ridiculously bad press coverage)?

Posted by Marc Hedlund on January 28, 2004 03:47 PM | Permalink to Comment

The use of social networks within the campaign has turned into a bunch of stuff, including votes. Just not enough. Rule of thumb is that an effective field operation can swing an election ~+/-5%. There are other dynamics at play. Rightly or wrongly the perception of voters in both Iowa and NH was that Dean was a left leaning, anti-war candidate who is not positioned to do well against GW (this is what I've gathered looking at exit polls from both states). Just because we used the right tools doesn't mean we win. The results were a mixture of political message, perception, spin, momemntum and the strength of the Campaign organization.

Equating the ultimate success of the campaign with the methods used would be a mistake. We need to take what worked, throw out what didn't, and continue experimenting until we understand the dynamics.

Posted by Dan Robinson on January 28, 2004 04:26 PM | Permalink to Comment

Clay, I'm not disputing that the Dean campaign did worse than most of us expected. Believe me, my distraught emotional state is testimony to my agreement with you on this point. I'm questioning your grounds for speculating that this loss was caused (in some meaningful sense) by its embrace of social software. You write:

And my speculation is that the tools were used in a way that overemphasized the easy bits, and gave the meme of Dean inevitability too much strength.

I can offer other speculation. E.g., perhaps Dean was considered inevitable enough to put on the covers of the newsweeklies because he raised more money than any other candidate, and perhaps his supporters fell for the media hype. Perhaps the media liked the story of an insurgent. Perhaps they looked at the early polling that had Dean ahead in a whole bunch of states. Perhaps his campaign artwork stimulated our limbic systems. There are lots of possibilities for why he seemed inevitable to some supporters and/or media. I'm asking if there's anything behind *your* speculation that should persuade us to accept it. If not, why raise it?

Further, you've speculated not just about why Dean seemed inevitable but about why the campaign has failed in important ways: You say (and I hope I get this right) that social software gave the participants a sense of the inevitability of victory sufficient to dissuade them from doing the necessary work in the real world. I'd suggest that the evidence goes in the other way: Lots of people did lots of real-world work, way out of proportion to what would have expected before the campaign began. Am I missing evidence that supports your view?

So, yes, you are merely speculating, with a question mark at the end. But what makes you think that your speculation is worth speculating about, as opposed to the infinite number of other hypotheses you might have offered with a question mark? Is that not a fair question to ask you?

(Maciej, I was making a little joke about the Maple Syrup state, but thanks for the correction anyway.)

Posted by David Weinberger on January 28, 2004 04:31 PM | Permalink to Comment

Can I pretty pretty please have the full posts in the feed? and not only the first two exasperating lines? please? Sorry to bother you. And thanks.

Posted by Gaspar Torriero on January 28, 2004 04:35 PM | Permalink to Comment

I think that it's obvious to most people who follow politics that Dean personally turned a lot of people off in the last week before Iowa. The polls showed him declining and showed Kerry surging. The actual results were just a continuation of the trend in the surveys.

Clay makes it sound like a bunch of Iowans supported Dean from the comfort of their keyboards but then didn't turn out to caucus. Clay offers no evidence.

I think of the typical Iowa voter as a 60-year-old woman. I don't think that she is so into using social software that she forgot to caucus. Instead, I think that she goes with her instinct of who she and her friends like, and they liked Kerry and Edwards at a personal level more than Dean.

My $.02

Posted by Arnold Kling on January 28, 2004 05:20 PM | Permalink to Comment

Hedlund says: "Something happened before the voters got to the caucuses and the booths, and I'm not buying that they just didn't unplug and show up. You can see this another way: if Dean's support was all online, why didn't he lead in the New Hampshire polls this weekend and then lose in the actual results? Why did he start to lose his lead in Iowa before the actual caucuses?"

Fair cop, and if I'd written this after NH, I'd have asked "Why was Dean's lead so soft?" Unlike you, I do think non-participation was a factor in Iowa, because non-participation is now the most salient feature of American elections, so, based on steadily declining participation generally, I'm assuming that voters need less and less incentive to stay home.

I also don't mean to say that Dean's support was all online, but rather that the things Dean did so beautifully online didn't translate into votes. I don't know the balance between pollsters polling people who weren't likely to vote vs people changing their minds, but in either case, two huge leads vanished in 8 days. Either those leads were virtual (people 'supporting' Dean but not voting) or real but soft, but in either case, I think the critical question is still 'Why did the political tools Dean put into play not translate into votes?'

Posted by Clay Shirky on January 28, 2004 05:25 PM | Permalink to Comment

Clay writes: 'Why did the political tools Dean put into play not translate into votes?'

Yeah, I agree that's a good question. I still think it may be the external factors and not the tools (say, the tools worked but were overwhelmed by the bad press coverage); but that's just gut feel and I think your question is still a great one.

Posted by Marc Hedlund on January 28, 2004 05:39 PM | Permalink to Comment

Check out Jim Moore's appraisal of what's happening at DFA. I think he nails it. The Dot-Com model totally applies.

Posted by Dave Winer on January 28, 2004 05:39 PM | Permalink to Comment

Ooops, no HTML.


Posted by Dave Winer on January 28, 2004 05:40 PM | Permalink to Comment

The blogging world has to be receptive to genuine criticism:

1. Trippi is gone; Dean says now he's up against someone who's inside the beltway (and outside the Internet.) Why didn't one of his bat-wielding advisors tell this earlier?

2. Clay is being way too charitable. This whole internet candidate thing was great for raising money which is drying up rapidly now as his congressional endorsers are withdrawing their support unless he wins one primary soon.

3. Dean's pursued his angry man, anti-Bushist act despite embarassing press pieces including the Sunday NY Times mag article which portrayed his supporters emotionally-damaged clinging to a father figure.

4. I agree with Dave and Jim about the Dot-com analogy. You can't have a tool looking for problems to solve. Clinton didn't need social software and its importance as with blogs is way overrated.

DH - Kerry/Edwards is the plan

Posted by Dan Herzlich on January 28, 2004 07:53 PM | Permalink to Comment

I spent much of the day Tuesday in NH making calls from a Dean phone bank (I'm hard-wired to make that trek every 4 yrs.) and really noticed that the mouse pads and shoe leather combination made a significant difference. In the past, on election days I'd be working from phone lists that were a year out of date, had hen scratches all over them, etc., and I really wondered whether there was any real organization to the effort. By contrast, this was an extremely disciplined, methodical operation, which really was an ideal high-tech, high-touch synthesis. Only problem was that it was harder to really get as enthusiastic after the past two weeks. It will be very interesting to see if the digital part of the campaign can be sustained under Roy Neal, or if it dies with Joe Trippi's departure. More important: can Kerry somehow entice the legions of young digerati later this year, or will they walk away in disgust?

Posted by W. David Stephenson on January 28, 2004 08:20 PM | Permalink to Comment

We don't know that the Net-based "political tools Dean put into play didn't translate into votes." We know they didn't translate into enough votes, but it's possible that a large percentage of the not-enough votes came directly or indirectly through Net participation. Maybe the Net strategy totally tanked, maybe it was a contributing cause, maybe the Net strategy is the only thing that got the Maple State governor this far. But speculation about why the Net campaign didn't work seriously loads the question.

Posted by David Weinberger on January 28, 2004 09:32 PM | Permalink to Comment


The net stuff isn't the cause, but it's a contributing factor. The Dean campaign reminds me of Oklahoma football last year. There was lots of hype and bluster about a "dynasty", about "the greatest team ever to play college football", speculation on whether they could beat the San Diego Chargers in a hypothetical game, etc. Most of the votes that Jason White got for the Heisman were submitted before the Sooners ran into KState. But there was no "there" there. In fact, they got clobbered in their conference championship game, undeservedly took USC's spot in the Sugar Bowl, and were beat soundly by LSU.

I think the Dean campaign believed its own hype. I think it manufactured its own hipness. As I said in comment boards somewhere a couple months ago, why were we conceeding the Democratic nomination to Dean when nobody had voted yet?

You know that the press loves this kind of thing. They don't lose credibility for fueling it. What they gain when reality comes crashing in is a wonderful train wreck. YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAGGGHHHHHH! Which is primal shorthand for "We are no safer with Sadaam in custody". The people in the red states don't buy it, and whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have to win at least one red state to become President.

Why not get behind a reasonable Democrat like Senator Heinz or (seriously) Joe Lieberman?


Posted by Brad Hutchings on January 28, 2004 10:04 PM | Permalink to Comment

Hey guys -

I love ya Dave, Doc, Britt, et al... but...

You've got to start realizing that the network we are a part of is in its infancy. It's tiny. Sometimes i get the feeling y'all are in a really crowded echo chamber of your own.

My take:

Iowa: Kerry ambushes us - catches us flat-footed with his trotting out the vet whose life he saved in Vietnam. This on the heals of a Gephart/Dean ad war... A media assault (no doubt Dean is Rove's biggest fear - Drudge, Rush, Ingraham, OReilly and Hannity, to name a few, were very coordinated in their attacks) had us reeling... The Iowa caucus story broke just the week before the vote... So... The steady drip of negativity combined with Kerry's real world, powerful and noble story killed us. Remember, Kerry trotted this guy out over the last three days. It got all sorts of national media coverage - the guys a republican for god's sake - and he's gonna vote for Kerry. Finally, the net effect of all of the media crap about Dean's temperment became an electability problem. So not only was Kerry a hero, he was electable - he was even drawing Republicans...

So now we had a problem... First of all, the average voter is only 10% as engaged as we are. The average voter is a 40 something housewife working all day at the Town Hall and getting her news at 6pm. She isn't blogging...

And she voted for Kerry.

Then the scream.

Electability reinforced.

New Hampshire comes. To be honest, 26% is pretty damn good given the fact that Kerry has the momentum and press favorability - Dean's scream dominated the air waves, crowding out any substantive Kerry coverage.

And that's the problem we have now - the primaries come so fast - will Dean have time to let Kerry suffer the withering scrutiny and abuse that Dean took over the summer?

Anyway - I'm rambling... lemme get back to the point. We are a small minority. Dean's only got around 650K emails... of those, maybe 15-20% are hard-core, wired supporters... only about 1/3 signed up for meetups. And obviously, they aren't all in Iowa or New Hampshire.

So what we need to remember is that we are a force, but we are still marginal... We need good ads, motivated organizers, and a professionally honed, focus grouped message. We need to accept the proven political methods that drive people to vote while remaining true to the ideals that will allow us to change politics forever.

Posted by Mike Stark on January 28, 2004 10:54 PM | Permalink to Comment

It's a perfect storm we're watching, of another sort; the truth is that the Dean campaign has been a postmodern effort which must continue to work with modernists and traditionalists simultaneously. As much as we Deaniacs would like to run off on our own, we can't do it without bringing the modernists/traditionalists with us.

Take a good look at UCLA's Center for Communications Policy Internet Report and the demographics of wired-ness; there's a correlation between propensity to vote (and participate in traditional/modern processes) and being un-wired. The un-wired don't make up their minds until late in the game because they are inured to the constant feed of modern media (television and radio). Mentally tuning out until the last minute is the un-wireds' method for dealing with a surfeit of data.

The wireds aren't the ones we need to convert and win because they're already on board. What the Dean team needs is an approach which will address this truth, that we're tackling two disparate realities, two disparate groups simultaneously.

The one place at which PoMo and moderns/traditionalists meet is human interaction; "friend-to-friend" campaigning, which Howard Rheingold recently discussed, is appealing as an event for PoMo's and as a human touch to moderns/traditionalists. This is the one constant that must remain, in spite of the efforts necessary to reach the Two Americas. They're not as John Edwards refers to them; they're wired/un-wired, PoMo/Moderns.

The initial Dean/Trippi approach was merely an election ahead of its time. Will it readjust quickly? Let's hope and see.

Posted by Rayne on January 28, 2004 10:56 PM | Permalink to Comment

It doesn't take long after reading the comments to Trippi's note on the Blog for America to come away with a sincere belief that he is going to be missed by the vaunted forces at the edge. I spent over 30 years as a professional observer and have never been more inspired by a method and turned off by a candidate as I have been with the campaign of Howard Dean. On more than one occasion, I came away from a televised appearance, debate or whatever wondering if this was really the man behind this wonderfully new approach to politics. I think Dave, Jim and Joe were the juice for the engine that broke all this new ground, and I, for one, hope that history recognizes it as such.

Posted by Terry Heaton on January 28, 2004 11:02 PM | Permalink to Comment

Mike, I agree with you. There are lots of reasons why the Dean campaign has faltered. (I'm not willing yet to say that it's failed. We need more citizens to vote before we can reach such a conclusion.) And certainly a Net-only campaign couldn't win. No one ever said it could, especially (btw) Joe Trippi, who told me last June that despite the media hype around the Net, the Dean campaign was setting out to win in the conventional political arenas, starting with fund raising and TV. That pragmatic refusal to let the warming mist of the Net befuddle them is one of the reasons I was attracted to the campaign.

So, I repeat, I am NOT saying that the Internet wasn't a contributing factor to the falter. I am NOT saying that all you need is Net. I am NOT saying the Net campaign was only or even mainly helpful to the overall campaign. I am simply saying that Clay's speculation that social software lulled Dean's supporters into inaction is unfounded and runs against my own, biased, keyhole-sized experience with the campaign. I could be wrong, but before we embrace Clay's speculation - which is powerful and attractively contrarian - we need some evidence. So far, I haven't heard any. But the night's young...

Posted by David Weinberger on January 28, 2004 11:24 PM | Permalink to Comment

And just to be clear: Clay has not embraced his speculation as anything more than an idea that we should consider.

Posted by David Weinberger on January 28, 2004 11:34 PM | Permalink to Comment

Clay's suggestion that social software bears some of the responsibility for the loss is blaming the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic for its sinking.

Most Americans still get the vast majority of their news from TV, and I think you have to look first at the idiotic and sometimes vitriolic press coverage of Dean (build him up so you can beat him down, "is he electable", the scream, etc.), plus Dean's own stumbles, for reasons for the failure of his insurgent campaign ***to do as well as the media predicted he would***.


P.S. David, congratulations on the new pulpit. I look forward to reading what you write.

Posted by Tim Bishop on January 29, 2004 04:34 AM | Permalink to Comment

If you scooped all of the intllectuals knowledgeable about politics up in a basket you'd have a big basket. But the world would be lefted, the orchard wouldn't miss them, and there would be a need for shitload of baskets to pick haul off the rest of the people. But it is fun. And all the energy going into this self flagellation is being diverted from ringing doorbells and stuffing envelopes in places like Missouri. But enjoy...after all, the real joy of the campaign is gone (fired) and only the candidate, apparently of little interest, remains now. LOL (yeah, cross posted, but I like it so much I couldn't help myself)

Posted by Steve on January 29, 2004 05:04 AM | Permalink to Comment

Neither software nor Trippi is responsible for Dean's loss in the Midwest. Talk to the people in this area and you'll hear words like "Dean doesn't seem to think much of the people here", or "He's too aggressive, pushy". There is a fundamental difference in behaviors between people in New York and people in say San Antonio. Or St. Louis. Or Des Moines. A good candidate adjusts -- Dean did not adjust.

(Perhaps the Net and Trippi did have something to do with it -- encouraging Dean in behavior that backfired against him in Iowa and New Hampshire. We'll see how this continues to play next week.)

While I don't necessarily agree with the belief that the average voter is a '40 year old housewife', we do know that Internet users in general, and webloggers specifically, make up a very small minority of the people in this country. Though they can help a candidate gain more attention, they aren't going to gain him the nomination.

And I don't agree that the wired are all 'onboard' behind Dean. Just the noisy ones on the A-List. Lots more folks in the shadows going their own way.

Posted by Shelley on January 29, 2004 08:43 AM | Permalink to Comment

Evidence, not speculation: I was volunteering in New Hampshire for the primaries. Of the 15 or so people volunteering in my ward, only one had ever been involved in a political campaign before. All of us were recruited and coordinated through social software.

The problem is not that social software failed. The problem is that after you've exhausted the small group of under-30 people who actually care about politics, young people do not vote. The Dean campaign makes a big deal of bringing in non-voters. Nobody, no matter how inspiring, has ever done that. I'm not sure they ever will.

Posted by iconoclastia on January 29, 2004 09:02 AM | Permalink to Comment

iconoclastia points to a serious trend; there has been an increasing percentage of non-voters, of which some are systematic or repeat non-voters. Campaigns increasingly expend effort over the known voters while non-voters may offer the greatest potential for swing votes.

See http://quest.cjonline.com/map/ -- there is an increase in the number of people who are too busy to vote. Does this mean that new tools for voting (not gimmicks) which allow the too-busy to participate will return these folks to voter rolls? There may be a higher rate of adoption of internet-based tools among this crowd.

In the 1970's a substantial number of citizens didn't vote because they felt there was no substantive difference between the candidates. As we approach a single-party state, voter apathy could increase for the same reason. It becomes imperative that competing parties break this impasse to improve voter participation if this is to be a real democracy.

If this is the case, the Dean campaign is making serious headway into improving democracy by luring the previously disaffected back into political action. Perhaps at any given time the blend of tools the campaign uses is not perfect; voting is a local event even for national outcomes, meaning that blending must be tweaked locally. (What works in NYC may not work at all in Montana, yes?) Localized empowerment, appearing as grassroots efforts in the Dean campaign, can make the difference.

Posted by Rayne on January 29, 2004 10:34 AM | Permalink to Comment

IMO, the fundamental problem Dean had (and continues to have) was with the transformation from a "movement" to a campaign. The movement raised all that money and created all that buzz. I don't think anyone will deny that having $40 million in small donations is a good thing, and that wouldn't have happened without the Internet.

But the average voter is a moderate. Moderates are suspicious of revolutions and the people who instigate revolutions. They needed to be reassured that Dean's positions and record are centrist, not radical. Instead, especially in Iowa, they got larger and larger helpings of red meat rhetoric, culminating in the now infamous scream. Especially in Iowa, the campaign pandered to its radical core, failing to reach out the moderates who decide elections. The problem wasn't that the Internet supporters stayed home. If anything, they were too active.

After that debacle, 26% in New Hampshire really was a victory, but a hugely expensive one in time and resources. It remains to be seen whether the transformation to a campaign will be successful, or whether it's coming too late in the game.

Posted by Katherine on January 29, 2004 10:46 AM | Permalink to Comment

Yup, the campaign needs to improve the supporter:voter ratio. But if lots of voters find the candidate unattractive - for reasons good or bad - no amount of Nettiness is going to fix that ratio.

Posted by David Weinberger on January 29, 2004 10:48 AM | Permalink to Comment

Yes, use of the Web is still in its infancy, and yes, the night is young.

And I think that the campaign's use of interconnected technology and people has accomplished a lot in a short period of time ... and yes, Jim Moore's point about "learning organization" is apt.

David W.'s point about the 3-minute furrow is also pertinent.

All of these reflect the current dominant mindset, in businesses and organizations and our North American culture of coming up with a neat clean solution for complex problems quickly and at the first go - and there are reams of material re: pendulum-swinging as most implemented solutions don't do the job, or create other less-than-fully-foreseen problems.

I also think Tim Bishop's point above is important - the antibody-like machinations of the mainstream TV media really started to go to work on Dean about 2 months ago, and I think that this impact should not be minimized in any way, nor left out of a discussion of what social software and interconnectedness should, can and may accomplish.

While $$$ buy TV ads, what the Dems do not have on their side (generally)is the entrenched attitudes of the talking heads on the main TV networks, and their manipulation of language and the portrayal of personae and events - and this must be countered at each and every turn.

For any citizens concerned about the direction of your country, use of the Net and social software should just plain be encouraged, and used, used, used, rather than analyzed, analyzed, analyzed. It's one of the most important and effective tools at your disposal.

Posted by Jon Husband on January 29, 2004 12:40 PM | Permalink to Comment

"Why did the political tools Dean put into play not translate into votes?" I think the answer is kind of old school and banal: After all's said and done, Dean is almost stereotypically northeastern; combative and cerebral. And all the enthusiasim of his followers doesn't change that. We no longer need Dickens or De Tocqueville to point out the deep-rooted nature of American anti-intellectualism. Dean tanked with the high school graduate demographic in Iowa and NH. And within more sympathetic (i.e., highly educated) groups, hatred of Bush seems to be a stronger motivation than love of any particular candidate. Hence, the apparently significant number of "electability question" defections.

That said, it seems pretty clear to me that the tools pioneered by the Dean campaign matter; that they work very well for certain things (organizing, mobilizing, messaging w/in a certain demographic); and that they'll be an indispensible component of the politcal tool-box going forward. Also that they'll be less of an advantage for any particular candidate; simply because everyone will use them in some form. Like Dirty Tricks. A really big deal when inititally rolled out by pioneers like Roger Ailes, they're now just another important arrow in any competitive politician's quiver.

Posted by Joe Mahoney on January 29, 2004 02:27 PM | Permalink to Comment

You Americans are so funny to watch spinning around your own navels. I have two words for Clay on this issue... well, actually three: Philippines, and South Korea (Okay, so four...)

Nothing says that the Internet is the exclusive realm of the social/socializing effects of instantaneous communications. In both those countries, net effects played, and are playing, a decisive force in political change. The fact that such political net effects have finally drifted in to the U.S. doesn't mean that they haven't worked elsewhere, and that they haven't already irreversably changed the nature of political engagement in your country. (Even more unfortunately, Canadian politicians still don't have even half a clue.)

Net effects don't exclusively happen online, that is, on the Internet, as we saw from the cross-over between cyber- and physical space with the "early Dean" campaign.

Posted by Mark Federman on January 29, 2004 04:09 PM | Permalink to Comment

Clay's speculation was hackery, pure and simple.

Posted by Eric on January 29, 2004 11:30 PM | Permalink to Comment

Clay Shirky is renowned for his knowledge of network effects, and has applied it to an analysis of the Dean campaign and itís fall. Itís an excellent analysis yet it fails terribly to explain the loss and does so for the very same reasons that he claims to have undermined Howard Dean.

Shirkyís main premise is that the Dean campaign fooled itself by turning the race into an internet-centric event; a techie movement instead of the feet-on-the-pavement political campaign that it should have been. He faults the campaign for failing to reach beyond the insular world of the web and reaching the real target - the voters.

But I have to ask, how much time did Shirky spend knocking on doors himself? How many times did he set up a table downtown and pass out literature and engage passersby in political discussion? How many party functions did he attend where he discussed the political wishes of the electorate? Did Clay do exit polling after the primary to evaluate the motivations of the voters?

Well I and tens of thousands of Dean supporters did, and from what Shirky wrote Iíd wager that he didnít do any of these things. Yet for all his criticism of the Dean campaigns internalized focus on the internet and of its lack of ďrealĒ outreach, he contents himself to sit in front of his keyboard and judge the campaign based entirely, as far as I can tell, on his view of events from the narrow perspective of his computer. This isnít objective analysis - itís projection.

From here in the trenches, I see his analysis as little more than naval-gazing fluff. Contrary to the opinions he has formed by reading websites and watching big media, our internet effort was only the tip of the campaign iceberg: We devoted by far the bulk of our labors on the ordinary and traditional campaign strategies and tactics and in person-to-person outreach.

Furthermore, neither Howard Dean nor his supporters ever considered this to be an internet based campaign. This was a fiction pushed forward by an army of lazy reporters who never bothered to look at the ground war being conducted. We would be holding a mass meeting of Dean supporters and the reporters would troop in to cover it and all they could ask about was the internet aspects of the campaign. No matter that the room was filled with real, live people, the story in the paper the next day would be all about the ďinternet campaign.Ē

Shirkyís focus on the failure of the campaign to capture real voters is also off-kilter. Our campaign was hugely successful until about the middle of December, when the tone in big media turned negative against Dean - a turn documented by media watchdog organizations. The timing of this twist was suspiciously cooincident with Deans comments about re-regulating the media conglomerates. Consider this tin-foil hat thinking if you like but I saw it quite clearly.

If you look at the polls in the months leading up to the Iowa caucus, you will see that the more that Dean campaigned, the better his favorable/unfavorable ratio became. Just before New Hampshire, his that ratio stood at an unbelievable 74/9. This wasnít based on internet statistics, but from major polling sources. Following the Iowa caucus, these numbers dissolved in what could only be termed a flood of negative media - since nothing else changed.

Our stateís exit polling told one overwhelmingly consistent story:

Q: Who did you vote for?
A: John Kerry
Q: Why did you vote for Kerry?
A: Because he has a better chance of beating George Bush.
Q: What makes you think that?
A: Thatís what everybody is saying.
Q: Who is ďeverybody.Ē
A: Why, itís all over the news.

The only lessons I can draw from this is that big media has the power to break a candidate and that voters did not pay attention to the race until the last minute - when the momentum had suddenly shifted to Kerry. It says nothing at all about the internet as a campaign tool or Deanís use of it. True, the campaign made some mistakes but even taken together those mistakes were insufficient to explain the last minute break in the polls.

For Clay Shirky or anyone else to critique the Dean campaign as a failure of internet based politics based on what was said over the web or on the nightly news is foolishly naive, totally self-serving and highly innacurate.

If the internet contributed to Deanís loss it was because too many people who should have been involved in the political process instead sat in front of their keyboards and failed to become involved. Sitting back now and making half-informed and misled guesses at what might have happened is damned near criminal.

You know who you are.

Posted by Del in MO on February 23, 2004 03:16 PM | Permalink to Comment

Del, the opening paragraphs of your comment seem to me to be really unfair to Clay. The fact is that you have no idea what Clay did or didn't do to support the candidate of his choice. And, even if Clay didn't do anything at all, what difference does that make to whether his arguments are right or wrong?

I also disagree with your analysis. I don't think Dean lost simply because the media got ugly on his ass. That sure didn't help. But I think we also have to face the fact that a vast majority of Democratic voters preferred other candidates' personalities and politics.

Posted by David Weinberger on February 23, 2004 06:28 PM | Permalink to Comment

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