The Clinton campaign belatedly sought to mimic Obama’s Internet success, and has raised what in any other context would be considered significant money online—but nothing like Obama’s totals, in dollars or donors. John McCain’s online fund-raising has been abysmal.
As I said earlier in the year, the web will continue to gain influence and in the 2012 US Presidential Election, a robust web strategy will become the crux of all the campaigns. However, part of Obama’s success resulted from mining entirely new set of donors, in an entirely new way. His model and his demographic are now common knowledge, and I wonder whether future candidates will reap quite such a harvest from future fundraising drives.
I remember watching a version of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now on TV a few years ago. Melmotte (played by David Suchet) declares that his grand plans for a trans-continental railway in the USA were a business opportunity that could only be exploited “once per continent”. I’m afraid I can’t find the appropriate reference in the book text.
Could it be that Obama’s fundraising exploits represent a one-off? A ‘once-per-continent’ – or perhaps, in this case, ‘once-per-medium’ – moment. He is often referred to as the Google of the Presidential race, and one thing that characterizes successful dot.com “killer-apps” is that they tend to pull up the ladder behind them. The innovations, once invented and exploited by the vanguard, have a very obvious key to success, which is easy to reverse-engineer and copy. However, none of the copies really achieve the stratospheric success of the trail-blazer.
I think Obama’s next challenge, aside from winning the Presidency and then saving the world, is to expand his fundraising network in such a way that it benefits more people. Perhaps an online project which could be an equivalent of Emily’s List for young, grassroots activists from areas that do not normally produce political candidates? This would certainly be a logical and interesting next step for a movement that, while supposedly about many-to-many networks and bottom-up organising, nevertheless has a single, strong personality at its centre.
Note the recent collapse of the Labour vote, the hemorrhaging of councillors and the plummeting ratings in the opinion polls. Ministers and Labour supporters lament the withering of grassroots support. Remember Gordon Brown’s coronation as party leader. One wonders that, if he (or a challenger) had been forced into a grinding leadership campaign, he might have built up more of a base of support within the party.
The activists and donors to Obama’s campaign became effective advocates for the candidate, inoculating him from the full force of smears, and putting out a positive message after gaffes. Who’s doing that for Gordon? Let us never have a coronation again.