Blogs Don't Win Campaigns
The blogosphere has a pretty high opinion of itself. It's given birth to a lot of insta-pundits and become a buzzword unto itself, the epitome of Web 2.0 hype. There's a lot of back-patting and preaching to the choir that gives the impression of a groundswell of popular sentiment, but it only reinforces the groupthink sense of self importance. This is especially true when it comes to political campaigns. Blogs have proven themselves to not be effective in the political realm except among a very small and specific segment of the electorate.
The most high-profile campaign to whip up the blogosphere was that of Howard Dean in 2004 with his shot at winning the Democratic nomination for President. With the plethora of online buzz, it was just expected that he was going to take New Hampshire and Iowa by storm and wipe out the competition. Traditional media outlets bought into this and parroted the blogging world's cries of "look how important we are." What happened, though, was the same irrational exuberance that pumped up the Internet bubble in the late 90's. Something new was here and by golly it's going to change everything.
The media and the pundits, however, failed to realize that Dean's blogging powerhouse was simply a very loud minority. The vast majority of bloggers are tech-savvy little-"L" libertarians, hardly a large segment of the voting populace. Many voters still don't have a computer or go online, and many of those who do use it as a tool for paying bills, looking up phone numbers, and ordering William Shatner's old toupe off of Ebay. The main audience for political blogs and bloggers are other political blogs and bloggers, not the general public.
Utah is currently showcasing a repeat of Howard Dean's online foray: Hatch vs. Ashdown. Orrin Hatch is probably the most hated man in the technology world and for good reason. He has sponsored or voted for every pro-copyright law, patent extension, and Internet filtering law in the last decade, earning the hatred of almost every Slashdot-reading technophile in the world. As a tech-savvy ISP owner and former sysadmin, Pete Ashdown is the natural enemy to these aspects of Hatch and has successfully tapped the tech-savvy blogosphere for support.
Despite the outpouring of online support, Ashdown is having a hard time translating that into good poll numbers. The most recent surveys show Hatch leading 61-27, a commanding lead. There's a reason for this: bloggers are very good at running their mouths but very poor at translating that into some kind of tangible and useful action. They'll be happy to write article after article endorsing and promoting Ashdown, but they aren't pounding the streets for his campaign, putting up yard signs, or even talking to their friends and neighbors about why they should ditch Hatch and support Ashdown.
This isn't really Ashdown's fault either. He's a smart guy, and I'm sure he's well aware of what needs to be done to win a campaign. It's just that it's so darn easy to be a talking head instead of a pair of working hands and so many bloggers fall into that former category. Blogging is politics for the lazy.
I have no idea what it takes to get bloggers motivated to get off of their duffs and start pounding the streets. So far, most politicos and candidates can't figure it out either and not for a lack of trying. Once a candidate figures out the magic formula for using this new way of connecting with supporters to actually win campaigns, the whole political landscape will change, hopefully for the better.