Saturday, May 31, 2008

Social Networking and the US Presidential Primaries: How Barack Obama is changing the face of democracy using the net.

Last year I discussed how politicians were beginning to embrace social networks to get their message across and engage with younger voters. I looked at one of the key exponents of this new approach, Barack Obama, and how he has developed a social network to get people involved with his campaign, spread the message and encourage others to join in.

As the Democratic Primary campaign has rumbled on it has become more and more clear how vital this social networking approach has been to Obama's widely-predicted victory. Despite a clear handicap from the beginning based on previous US political campaigns, Obama couldn't hope to raise anywhere near the same level of funding as Hillary Clinton from tradition sources, he has raised funds far in excess of Clinton, who had to dig into her own pockets at one point to keep her campaign on the road.

The Sunday Times picked up on this last week. In his article, Obama is master of the new Facebook politics, Andrew Sullivan talked about "a candidate who is primed to take advantage of web power and a generation used to relating, thinking, talking and meeting online."

Sullivan describes how John McCain's 2002 campaign finance law, restricting the maximum legal amount of any individual donation, allowed Obama to overtake Clinton by bringing in over one million small donors, rather than a few big financiers. 94% of Obama's $31m donations came in sums of $200 or less. Fewer fundraising parties were needed and fewer 'favours' are owed to individuals. Perhaps this is something that will make a huge difference in our own Party system.

Interestingly, one of the key players in developing Obama's website has been Chris Hughes, a former founder of Facebook.

Networking isn't just changing the face of business. If it makes this big an impact on the biggest election process in the world, who can doubt its importance and what else can be achieved?

1 comment:

  1. Martin Bell, speaking at the Institute of Directors this morning, referred to the importance of the funding of Obama's campaign to democracy.

    "You fund political parties the way Barack Obama has funded his. So lots of people have their share of ownership.

    "The upper limit on any individual contribution should be £100"