In an article for Real Clear Politics, strategists Mike McCurry and Mark McKinnon argue that, because the Internet was so integral to, and effective in, this campaign, politics — and perhaps democracy — will have a new business model:
The 2008 campaign shows the Internet can bolster democracy by fostering a two-way dialogue between candidates and citizens and, potentially, by mobilizing the country behind common goals. To reap those benefits, we should treat the Internet like democracy itself — a national resource that we must safeguard and protect as a vital new forum for politics, debate and policy discourse.
Already, many analysts and strategists have said that the Internet brought about, or at least contributed to, Barack Obama's victory last week. On The Independent's blog, Andrew Keen, a media columnist for the British newspaper, asks a few provocative questions:
Could Obama have been elected without the Internet's citizen-media blogs and the social-networking activism of Facebook users and all those millions of user-generated YouTube videos? Is this really the firstly truly interactive online election which has not only revolutionized the politics of race in America but has also fundamentally changed the way in which media influences and is influenced by democratic politics?
On Slate, technology columnist Farhad Manjoo summarized the wide-ranging effectiveness of Obama's Internet apparatus:
Barack Obama ran the most technologically sophisticated presidential campaign in history. In addition to siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars from his online fans, Obama's team recognized the Internet's capacity to attract and organize volunteers across the country. His bloggy, YouTube-addled supporters helped shape the larger media narrative surrounding his bid; they overwhelmed social news sites like Digg and Reddit, trumpeting McCain or Clinton missteps into blogospherewide news. Most important, Obama relied on the Web's social-networking capabilities to channel boundless enthusiasm into effective campaign activity. His site encouraged supporters to connect with one another to launch their own voter-registration drives, phone banks, and door-to-door canvassing operations—efforts that proved pivotal to Obama's victory in the primaries and in last week's general election.
About those hundreds of millions of dollars... According to The Daily Telegraph, by the time his campaign ended, Obama had an email database of more than 10 million supporters, 3.1 million of whom gave money.
The McCain campaign didn't ignore the Internet completely, but senior advisers publicly doubted — and derided — the potential efficacy of a large online presence. In an opinion piece, Republican strategist Lisa Sanchez, the author of Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other, argued that the "GOP needs to catch up to Obama's Web savvy." On election day, she wrote, "Obama showed the Republicans the Internet's endgame."
When she looks to the future of American politics, Sanchez sides with McCurry and McKinnon: "The Obama campaign's use of the Internet will change campaign politics just as much as the fax machine and the autodialer did," she wrote. "If the GOP is going to compete in this growing tech world, they'll have to do more than just reverse-engineer the bells and whistles on Obama's Web sites."
Getting a handle on all those "bells and whistles" would be a start, of course. But implicit in Sanchez's assessment is an important question: "What's next?" Plenty of prognosticators are wondering, for example, how the Obama administration will use all that data collected by the Obama campaign. Did someone say 2012?