Blogs, campaigns and the 2006 election Posted by: Jon Henke
on Saturday, November 18, 2006
Lost in the schadenfreude over the Lamont loss to Lieberman is the fact that the blogosphere — specifically, the Leftosphere — was spectacularly effective during the 2006 campaign. Time Magazine observes... the blogosphere — specifically, the Leftosphere — was spectacularly effective during the 2006 campaign
This cycle, bloggers may have been most strongly linked to Lamont, but they actually donated more money to Jim Webb of Virginia. Bloggers also made "macaca" into a scandal that helped sink Webb's opponent, George Allen. The netroots' record is probably too short to be judged definitively, but instead of looking at pure win/loss records, an examination of where the netroots put their emphasis suggests that the online community is either becoming more sophisticated in picking its candidates or is helping push long shots over the top.
It would be incorrect to premise the blogosphere's effectiveness or lack thereof on the win/loss record of the candidates it supports. The New Media is but one constituent aspect of the new political landscape - their efforts are best seen as a vital, but not sufficient, component of successful campaigns. Direct mail, GOTV efforts and campaign ads are vital to any serious national campaign, and they can be individually effective, whether or not the campaign is ultimately successful. The same is true of blogs and new media outreach. the media is frequently captured by narratives established in the blogs In an opportunity cost sense, the Leftosphere was very effective in this election cycle. They didn't win every race, but they made significant contributions to individual races (Webb in Virginia, Tester in Montana), to the national anti-Republican mood, and to the media climate. Most of their successes won't be readily apparent to the general public (that was certainly true in my own campaign experience), while other successes are subtle and loosely connected — e.g., the media is frequently captured by narratives established in the blogs.
In a seminal essay, Peter Daou explained the power and limitations of blogs.
[The influence of blogs is] a difficult question to answer. First, there’s no consensus on metrics. Second, blogs serve many purposes, some of which are more social than political. Third, the use of the Internet in political campaigns cuts across so many areas that it’s easy to confuse netroots influence in the communications and messaging realm with other Internet-based political applications such as organizing and fundraising. Fourth, ‘influence’ is a hazy term. influence: the capacity to alter or create conventional wisdom. It might be easier to approach the question by setting a more specific, and admittedly somewhat arbitrary, definition of political influence: the capacity to alter or create conventional wisdom. And a working definition of “conventional wisdom” is a widely held belief on which most people act. Finally, by “people” I mean all Americans, regardless of ideology or political participation.
Daou's insight was that bloggers, acting alone, "cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom", but that bloggers can "exert disproportionate pressure on the media and on politicians". When the new media — or anybody who wants to engage the new media — can work in conjunction with the other sides of the triangle (political establishment and mainstream media), they can be enormously influential. Blogosphere power, Daou writes, "is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment." bloggers can "exert disproportionate pressure on the media and on politicians". Conversely, the degree to which the political establishment and the mainstream media are willing to engage the new media will determine how effective they are within it. . .and how effective it is for them. As the Leftosphere demonstrated in the 2006 elections, the New Media can be very effective.
Perhaps the biggest success of the Leftosphere happened here in Virginia, as Jim Webb took a long-shot campaign and, with a significant boost from the netroots, capitalized on the general anti-Republican zeitgeist and the missteps of George Allen to pull out a win.
Make no mistake, without the netroots, Webb would not have won. He may not even have been close. It was a long-cultivated activism/outreach/media-hounding New Media campaign that brought Webb to the attention of the institutional Democrats, sold him to the activists and shaped the narratives of both Webb and Allen for the media.
Specifically, I'd draw your attention to the Raising Kaine (run by Webb campaign staff) and Not Larry Sabato (a surrogate "oppo" outlet with plausible distance from the campaign) blogs, both of which have now played a major part in the elections of Tim KaineandJim Webb. Though there were aspects of their efforts with which I had real problems, there is no denying that their efforts to (a) generate local and national attention, (b) develop the narratives early and (c) sell Webb carefully were tremendously effective. Republicans have not quite caught onto the potential of engaging the blogosphere yet Those New Media efforts lead directly to the beating that Allen eventually took in the press, and to the Democratic mobilization on Webb's behalf. The Webb campaign may have taken advantage of that, but it was the careful netroots preparation that allowed them to do so.
Republicans have not quite caught onto the potential of engaging the blogosphere yet, though they seem to be considering it. (relevant disclosure: I was hired by the Allen campaign for the last couple months of the campaign) Dean Barnett is correct, for now, when he says that Republican "politicians just aren’t that into us." the most important new political battlefield since talk radio However, that will change. Republicans — both institutionally and during campaigns — will either develop strategies and hire experts to engage the blogosphere quickly and bumpily as happened with the successful Democratic engagement of the blogosphere. . .or they will do so slowly and with great regret that they've effectively ceded to Democrats the most important new political battlefield since talk radio.
Whatever they choose to do, they should be aware that, as effective as the new media has been so far, it's still developing. Republicans are crawling while Democrats are riding bikes. . .but there is much more than can be done. The Leftosphere has been effective because of Democratic engagement (both official and surrogate) and the unifying effect of minority status. Republicans have a similar chance now. If they accept the existence of the New Media and develop a holistic, long-term strategy, they can still retake the battlefield. were Republicans more engaged, they would still have the Senate. One lesson of 2006, however, is that the blogs are an effective component of the Triangle. Were Democrats not as engaged, they would not have the Senate today; were Republicans more engaged, they would still have the Senate.
Meanwhile, there are more elections on the horizon, and the Leftosphere is already seeding the ground with their new narratives...
Make no mistake, without the netroots, Webb would not have won. He may not even have been close. It was a long-cultivated ctivism/outreach/media-hounding New Media campaign that brought Webb to the attention of the institutional Democrats, sold him to the activists and shaped the narratives of both Webb and Allen for the media.
So, why did Allen lose, then, given he had far more in the way of netting experience in his corner?
I do not suggest that your efforts were inferior. Quite the contrary.
What I am suggesting is there’s a major difference between the medium and the message. The Nutroots I’m sure, would claim the stronger message won. I rather think their message got better help. Like so:
Your points about the Nutroots and their message getting into the mainstream media are well taken. In your experience during this cycle, would you consider that the media was far more amenable to spreading the message of the far lefist nutroots, than they were the message you were sending?
If the Republicans were BETTER candidates, they would still have the Senate.
Yes, and if the Republicans had another 5 million in Virginia or Montana they’d still have the Senate, too. The points are not mutually exclusive.
And Macaca wasn’t a blogstorm, the WaPo covered that area all by itself.
It was inclusively a blogstorm. My thrust there, though, is that the groundwork for that particular narrative was laid by the netroots well in advance of the ’macaca’ moment. That was only a big deal because the new media had been building that narrative for some time beforehand.
So, why did Allen lose, then, given he had far more in the way of netting experience in his corner?
Restricting the question only to the new media component, Webb’s netroots began almost a year ago and they had an infrastructure built years prior. The Allen campaign engaged the blogosphere in the last 2 months. We had no time to do more than pushback.
Make no mistake, without the netroots, Webb would not have won.
I suspect that is true, but only in the sense that but for any one of a hundred separate items there would only be ninety-nine. Insofar as the point is that both political parties will be required to embrace and use the blogosphere just as they have been forced to use all the other emergent media and political influencers, it’s a fair cop.
But there are so many other reasons Webb managed to eek out a victory, not the least of which was simply that in this particular election at this particular point in time Allen suffered, amazingly enough, from being a de jure Republican instead of Webb’s importantly being a merely de facto Republican. I know at least a dozen people whom Allen would ordinarly have been able to count on, myself included, but for the fact that we decided the Republican party, itself, needed to be reined in. I don’t know all that many people but I think it must have been a more widely spread feeling than among my circles, so when you’re talking about a delta of around 10,000 votes, one could just as easily make that the determining factor.
WOW this greatly overstated the case. Look, traditionally the sixth year of an administration, its party gets hammered, usually even worse than the Repubs got. Furthermore, you have a lack luster leadership, plenty of scandals, and an unpopular war.
put all that together and the Dems should have done much better than they did. I give the Nutroots no credit at all.
Kyle, Jon is quite correct. First, admits Rich Lowry about the myth that "Republican losses were in keeping with typical setbacks for a party holding the White House in the sixth year of a presidency" :
Conservatives reassure themselves that the “six-year itch” has cost the party in power roughly 30 seats on average since World War II, so this year’s losses aren’t remarkable. But as liberal blogger Kevin Drum points out, most of the big “itches” came prior to the past 20 years when gerrymandering got more sophisticated. Reagan lost only five seats in his sixth year, and Clinton only five (although he had already suffered a wipeout in 1994). For Democrats to win 29 seats despite all the advantages of incumbency enjoyed by the GOP is a big deal.
Further, on election night itself I heard Bill Kristol say — none too happily — point blank, that the blogs won for Webb.
Here’s some eye opening background information behind many recent watershed events (Macaca, Foley, Ted Haggart, David Kuo, the US election, Hurricane Katrina, etc., etc.) that will prove very enlightening on many levels. Many of the events and situations of recent years were not mere coincidences and I have meticulously produced stunning and comprehensive proof of this, and much else. Resist the urge to dismiss the things I discuss before you review the evidence; be patient and strive to understand what I am presenting. Ask yourself; how many unlikely coincidences are necessary before you recognize a pattern in the noise? Remember, "scoffing in the face of profundity causes blindness..."
I want you all to pay very close attention to the fact that my birthday was August 11th, the day of Mr. Allen’s "Macaca" gaffe. His defeat during month 11, along with many of his ilk, was an apt belated birthday present for me. Also notice that my last name is Page, matching the so-called "page" scandal associated with Mr. Foley. Furthermore, I have been writing and exposing religious deception and hypocrisy and Ted Haggart’s downfall and David Kuo’s book, along with a string of other events, served to prove my earlier assertions in stunning fashion. Inspect my photo in my Free Ebook... to see the hat I’m wearing and you’ll better appreciate the full scope and import of these recent events. It is from the Troopers (11) Drum and Bugle Corp. of Casper Wyoming, who marched during the Bush-Cheney 2001 inauguration parade. Pay special attention to how the number 11 marks key events during the Bush-Cheney administration. For example, notice that Dick Cheney’s hunting accident occurred on February 11th, which was the 6-month mark between August 11, 2005 and 2006 and he is from Casper, Wyoming. Likewise, notice that Hurricane Katrina was named storm number 11, came ashore on August 29, and 2+9=11. This is merely the tip of the iceberg, so be prepared to be shocked and amazed.
Restricting the question only to the new media component
Exactly my point Jon; I don’t think you can , in any full analysis, eliminate all but the new media and judging an outcome on this or any election for the foreseeable future. It can only be taken in the light of what’s happening in the eyes of the voters, and that by necessity includes all other media.
As my original question suggests, it’s my contention that the new media for the left, simply augmented the efforts of the old.
Logically, then, for any NON-far left new media efforts to be totally successful , I E.: getting someone elected, it has to be able to overcome the combined efforts of the Nutroots and the traditional media which has always tilted left. That’s a pretty tall order. That gets even taller an order when we start talking about the traditional six year itch Lowrey alludes to.
Oh... and speaking of which, one wonders if Mona isn’t implicitly admitting that this last election had nothing whatsoever to do with the Iraq war or any of the other leftist pet peeves... and everything to do with the traditional six year hitch that Lowrey mentions.
WOW this greatly overstated the case. Look, traditionally the sixth year of an administration, its party gets hammered, usually even worse than the Repubs got.
I specifically distinguished between the won/loss outcomes and the effectiveness of the netroots. The effectiveness of any component does not require total victory. That’s a fallacy of division.
The effectiveness of the netroots is not as clear as simple won/loss outcomes. Their ability to drive stories and establish narratives over a long period was a significant factor in the anti-Republican climate to which you referred. The fact that "lack luster leadership, plenty of scandals, and an unpopular war" were such issues was, at least in part, a result on the fact that the Leftosphere has been pushing those stories and narratives for some time.
I do not imply that they get sole credit for the existence of those problems. But, e.g., macaca wouldn’t have been the story it was had the online chatterati not pushed the ’racism’ narrative on Allen for months beforehand. Once ’macaca’ happened, the Post could glom onto it precisely because there was an existing narrative.
The various components of Republican failure were already in place. The Leftosphere did not create them. But it did a tremendously effective job of framing, promoting and exploiting them.
Do you think that the netroots campaign in Webb’s corner is something to aspire to?
They performed well in some respects, discreditably in others. The two can be distinguished.
I guess a better question is, Can the netroots campaign in Webb’s corner be emulated by the Right?
I personally think the morality or decency is a factor in what I’m about to describe, but instead I’ll put that aside just talk demographics and known behavior.
The demographics of the left netroots is such that they have more internet "cyber warriors". Democrats are more likely to be young and/or less likely to have a 40 hour work week (which really means a 50-60 hour work week). I really wanted to say geeks living in their parent’s basement spending 24/7 on the internet, but I won’t.
The other behavior is that there is more of a group think on the left side of the blogosphere. As evidence I offer a handful of sites get the bulk of the blog reading traffic whereas on the right side, the traffic is much more distributed onto several medium sized sights.
I just don’t think Right side of the internet has the same resources avaible and the same demeanor as the Left side of the internet and so constructing a copy of much of the Left’s efforts would always fall short or may even not get off the ground. The Right needs to find its own way in that area.
One reason the right doesn’t use the blogosphere so much as that it already corners another New Media form: talk radio. Rush Limbaugh played a substantial role in bringing the GOP to power in 1994, and in elected George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Now Limbaugh has dozens of acolytes around the country. Liberals tried and failed to emulate the Limbaugh-style talk radio mode. The Right uses talk radio the same way the Left uses the blogosphere. It promotes a "scandal" or some other buzz, sends it to friendly big media sources (Fox News, NY Post, WSJ) and then it finds its way onto MSNBC, CNN and the rest of the big media. Liberal blogs do the same thing. Some "scandal" will find its way into Frank Rich’s column or Keith Olbermann’s show, or Jon Stewart. Then the major media picks it up and runs with it.
The Right really doesn’t "need" the blogosphere at this point the way the Left does.
This reminds me of a hefty study I once read that proved with scientific looking equations , charts and graphs that people who like their jobs tend to be happy at work. Good effort though. Must say, however, the format of the site makes reading a bit difficult.
"Look, traditionally the sixth year of an administration, its party gets hammered, usually even worse than the Repubs got."
This point is, at best, a stretch. While it’s by and large true in most cases, the fact is that it isn’t some magically quirk of history: it happens for good reasons, and often reasons particular to that time and election situation.
In THIS situation, we were dealing with an extremely gerrymandered bunch of seats, to the point where the vast majority were simply not competitive based on partyID alone. The Democrats faced a much tougher hill to climb than any party in previous elections, and yet still:
1) their House majority is BIGGER now than the majority the Republicans just had. 2) As a result of the effectiveness of the gerrymandering, much of the south has NO majority representation in the new House. That’s BAD for the South, particularly for states like Delay’s Texas, that made a mint off of having a huge and powerful Congressional caucus to fight for their interests in the majority. Now Texas is basically out of the game entirely.
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Meanwhile, Jon is working for a Senate candidate who does press release on dirty scenes in an adult novel on the Vietnam War.
john, I think your analysis has some merit, but I think the main take-away of the 2006 elections is being missed. In this election, the big difference was made by the MSM — they showed that they still can deliver the 5% that makes the difference. While I am a fan of blogs, I think their impact on this election was negligible.
Consider. From the beginning of this election cycle, the MSM set the tone (anything Republican, conservative or Bush is negative), defined the agenda (daily reporting to stress the negatives, and problems to be blown out of proportion), determined the memes that would get air/print play (Bush & the R congress is a failure, Iraq is a failure, economy is a failure, etc), and then put it all into action by using every MSM outlet to continually push "the message". Many bloggers attempted to show the falseness and outright disingenuousness of the "Bush Lied", "Saddam was no threat", "Iraq is a horrible mess", and "middle-class America is going under" memes. All to no avail, because the MSM had already determined the agenda, memes and story lines and was not going to give air to anything apostate.
Therefore, the GREAT MAJORITY of voters WHO DO NOT get their news and reading material from the internet were presented with a coordinated, one-sided picture, day in and day out. In an evenly divided electorate with a swing center, their ability to steer the discussion and thinking on every channel, every news cast, every Sunday show, every newspaper and every editorial page for 60 days prior to the election delivered the promised 5%. And that 5% swung things exactly where they wanted. Remember, a shift of just 5000 votes in 2 states would have kept the senate in R hands, and a swing of less than 25,000 votes nationwide would have kept the house there also.
So, the story going unreported on the blogs is that The MSM did it, and blogs of whatever leanings had little effect on the outcome, with 1 caveat. The conservative blogs hurt republicans by, over the course of the prior year, screaming loudly every time something in the R party didn’t go their way. In that, they discouraged R leaning turnout. But that was about the extent of their influence. The REAL story of the 2006 election is the return of the MSM and its ability to skew electoral results in the direction it wants.