Monday, July 28, 2003

Via Leanleft, I discovered just how powerful the Dean Internet machine can Really Be:

It's time for Vice President Cheney's luncheon with a handful of special interests in Columbia, SC, and so far 6,558 Americans have contributed $344,428.19 to the Dean Team v. Bush-Cheney challenge.

Today, you are demonstrating that the people are more powerful than the special interests. Let's continue to show how the grassroots will defeat George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in November of 2004. If 1 to 2 million Americans each contribute $100 to the Dean campaign, we will have raised enough money to beat back the special interests that fund the current administration.
Leanleft's Kevin notes, with some apparent incredulity, that "they did this with a website". It's not that surprising that political solicitation of funds is moving online, as other kinds of business did the same a long time ago. What really has struck me is that the paragraph above about "1 to 2 million contributions" is actually not entirely implausible. It's very unlikely that Dean will get that many donations through random visitors to the website, but television ads and print ads pointing to the website might be able to.

This is fascinating. From what I've seen, the contribution process on the website is fairly simple, and encourages small donations. The combination of ease of use and small amounts turns political donations into an impulse buy. One might not be willing to contribute thousands of dollars at a time, but people can spare 25 bucks here and there, especially if they feel that they're getting something for their money. It also means that the act of soliciting political donations can become a one-to-many enterprise, as candidates can be fairly confident that their calls for donations will reach people who will contribute back in turn. Weblogs are perfect for this- they combine the personal tone of a face-to-face chat with the ability to reach as many people as necessary.

(Yes, this sort of donation scheme is present on most candidates' websites, including Shrub; what seperates the Dean campaign is how well they seem to be taking advantage of it.)

What's really surprising, though, is that it appears to be a Democrat that is taking full advantage of this. Considering that the Republicans have been driving the game of politics in the United States for a generation, this really does break the mold. Even if the Dems don't decide on Dean, the solicitation tools that he's pioneering (like the meetups, the emphasis on online donation-gathering, the weblog integration, that sort of thing) will be prominent for a long while to come, and will benefit Democrats even more as more and more traditional Democratic constituencies (such as union workers, minorities, women, etc.) come online and take their place in what has been largely a white upper/middle class male's playground.

One more thing I've noticed. One of the most lionized character traits of Americans is an appetite for competition, right? The way that the Dean campaign has approached this fundraiser, as a "Beat Bush!" challenge, is a really brilliant way of using this to their advantage. There really isn't much point to trying to beat Cheney's fundraiser, but it gets people interested and involved in a way that simple pleas for support can't begin to match. It pits the scrappy Democratic outsiders against the Bush/Cheney machine, and that's something that people will put their money towards and be a part of. Americans love an underdog. Going overboard on these competitions wouldn't be smart, but it's a great tactic to use for big pushes.

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