Thursday, June 23, 2005

Round on the End, High in the Middle

Excuse me if I sound a bit perplexed.

Reading about the "narrowcasting" that went on in Ohio in 2004 (in an article by Steve Purpura, Jacob Karczewski and Annie Hanson), I'm not sure I agree with the authors' conclusions. If the concept of narrowcasting (i.e., the opposite of broadcasting, a message that has been tailored specifically to a small segment of the voting population based on what we know about those voters) is set to be the marketing of the future, why aren't Americans Coming Together's efforts in Ohio getting recognition for its impressive ground campaign? Instead, it's Rove and his "Amway-style" field operations (read: the antiquated approach) that's getting all the kudos for a job well done. The old fuddy-duddies beat the slick new technology here.

What the Bush clan did in 2004 could be called mobilization in a true grassroots design -- where neighbors organize and influence one another's votes. As an Ohio native who spent the 2004 election working on a statewide campaign in Ohio, it actually sounded as if ACT might actually have been perceived a bit negatively in certain areas of the state. Remember the trouble Howard Dean had with his "Perfect Storm" in Iowa? Instead of orange hats, the ACT ground team had something else that screams "outsider" -- PDAs that showed political videos.

Perhaps I'm not being entirely fair. PDAs didn't cost the election for Kerry. Neither did ACT. But we should look at what effect (and it's certainly not all good) interest groups have on these campaigns. After all, had it been a neighbor that came to my house saying, "You gotta check out this video," we might have a different story on our hands. While 527s certainly helped boost the Kerry turnout in Ohio, their mere existence confounded Democratic efforts in the state and led to a lot of grassroots overlap, which could have been avoided had there not been eleventy billion PACs, 527s, etc. pushing voter mobilization on the Democratic side -- or, if the state party or the Kerry campaign taken control from the get-go. Instead, the Kerry team was hoping to be "crawling all over each other," according to Karen Hicks, who ran Kerry's field operations but more notably was my boss in New Hampshire.

In the end, Bush won because he had organization. All Kerry had were organizations.


Peter C said...

Great conclusion.

Ironically, it seems the Democrats basically 'outsourced' the job of GOTV to ACT and MoveOn, despite John Kery telling everyone he would put a stop to all this outsourcing.

For me, the key fact was that Bush used 1.3 million volunteers, whereas too many of Kerry's 'volunteers' were paid outsiders working for groups like ACT, who were undoubtably committed to him, but lacked a local or personal connection to the states they were working in.

I wonder whether 2008 will see a Post-Internet age, where person-to-person contact is seen more as crucial than PDAs showing videos?

Shadow said...

Both mister toaster and Peter C make excellent points. But I disagree with the idea that the Bush strategy was entirely old-fashioned. What made it a story was the application of new media controls to the old-fashioned grassroots outreach, making for more efficient control of the volunteers.

Steve said...

I'm sorry that one of the key points in the piece was unclear to you. Although ACT and the Bush campaign used different methods to influence voters, both campaigns relied on improvements in technology to directly target voters based on their preferences. The article was about this use of "targeted marketing" and not about which solution might be better. IMHO, the Bush campaign's methods intuitively seem more effective to me.

Another key point in the article was the reduction in the transparency of political messages. The technology and the law enables campaigns to better hide the messages they are sending to each individual voter when using these techniques. The resulting reduction in transparency of the messages that a candidate can use to get elected allows a candidate's organization to take controversial positions to a small portion of the population without any accountability to the public at large.