Digital Stumping Changed Election Landscape

The tumultuous 24 months of presidential campaigning feels like an eternity. It has been bound by digital interactivity that has played an unprecedented role intensifying voices and votes and will continue to redefine American politics and democracy. That is a bipartisan victory for all the people.

Only America can produce such a contrasting roster of candidates: from a two-term senator and first lady, an unknown Alaskan Governor and hockey mom, a Vietnam War and senate veteran to a slim-chance junior senator from Illinois whose street credentials forged a grassroots movement online. For every twist and turn on the political map, there have been many more by a tech-empowered electorate that has helped revamp electioneering.

Bloggers and real-time town-hall tracking have soared, while newspaper headcount and print issues have shrunk. Eclectic Web sites like Project Syndicate have provided a sobering world view on our politics from 400 newspapers in 147 countries. There have arguably never been more unabated voices, views and information, although the consumer must determine what is credible.



The TV and print pundits turned on each other while consumers twittered among themselves. In much the way that James Carville changed politics with war-room tactics for Bill Clinton, team Obama (led by David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs) organized and rallied connected constituents in new, more personal ways. Perhaps the best example has been the almost-daily first-name email or text message from Barack or Michelle sharing their personal campaign impressions on the way to a donation or volunteer Web page. It's how they built an organization from scratch in two years.

There is much this presidential race--seen through a digital lens--has taught us about ourselves, and our political process and expectations.

Team Obama has demonstrated ways to utilize affinity-driven interactivity from raising funds to streaming speeches. The growth and evolution of the Obama brand has been stunning. Spending more than $100 million in each of the final months before today's election, and way more than a half billion dollars in total, will invite calls for campaign reform. But there will be no regulating the viral Web.

Reigning Democrats who will more closely scrutinize mergers and acquisitions already have said they will use broadband technology as "an economic catalyst" and will create America's first cabinet level chief technology officer to oversee technology and communications matters.

Slicing, dicing and leveraging voter data for political purposes is a sleeper issue. How to use technology to raise citizen awareness, support and action is crucial. Hopefully. Some of the sniping or innocuous wall "posts" will give way to innovative ideas or solutions. Maybe the vote early billboards in Xbox Live video games will create the avatars of presidential candidates slugging it out in Second Life. Maybe next time, the majority of polls conducted on landline phones will find a way to include the growing number of wireless consumers, who tend to be more liberal, younger and more affluent.

From an economic standpoint, the Obama campaign especially demonstrated how substantial funds could be raised interactively. The presidential candidates discovered new ways to leverage social networks like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter--even as those sites struggle to monetize their user base. A Waggener Edstrom study in June revealed a majority of 18- to-35-year olds said interactive devices and the Internet--not particular candidates--were the impetus for their increased engagement in the process; and hopefully the heavy lifting yet to come.

The use of digital media on election night will offer a glimpse of how far we have come. Twitter Vote Report will give users tools to report on personal turf--monitoring polling place activities and issues. Voting experiences will be recorded and shared on iPhone apps. Ways to track polls, fund-raising and the candidates' every move have been endless; the digital voters' appetite for more has been insatiable.

It wasn't enough that 63 million prime-time viewers tuned into political theatre debate. Or that 34 million tuned into the $2 million, 30-minute polished Obamamercial. The voters this time wanted to connect with their candidates and other influencers on their personal pages. They wanted to access the top 10 moments of the grueling campaign in streaming video on YouTube or Hulu--from "Saturday Night Live" spoofs to Colin Powell's Obama endorsement on "Meet the Press." Never have voters reveled in such information overload and diverse discourse.

Race and gender have become nearly incidental as dire economic matters have dominated the election. The digital broadband mirror held up to the candidates and American psyche, punctuated by a steady stream of revealing Pew Center surveys, has been instructive. For all the huffing and puffing the new guard (Huffington Post, The Beast, Politico, Daily Kos) do over the old guard (the MSNBC left, the Fox right, new stars like Rachel Maddow, self-indulgent stars like the dueling Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly, and fallen stars like Tim Russert), consumers inevitably have studied and contributed to the election their way.

Still, Obama and McClain continue their tireless case to voters. Both reached out to male voters doing separate interviews with sportscaster Chris Berman during "Monday Night Football" halftime to an estimated TV audience of 12 million. They continued to orchestrate their cross-country stumping in key swing states while voters stream to the polls today, in sync with coverage on the national newscasts.

Although Joe the unlicensed plumber was allowed his 15 minutes of fame, and Tina Fey's Sarah Palin looks like the winner, tech-savvy consumers have grown wise these 24 months. Everyman politics has not solved our problems (yet); it has changed the way we look at them and ourselves.

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