NDN Blog

San Francisco Bay Area Money Behind Obama, as Northern Donors Challenge Southern California

Follow the money. That’s the mantra that can go a long way towards explaining a lot in life, and often much in politics. Starting last fall there was a palpable sense in the San Francisco Bay Area and its Silicon Valley that people were moving their money to Obama. Only now are the analyses coming in that definitively show the shift – that the political money center of gravity for Obama is the north and not the south of the state. The San Francisco Chronicle has a terrific original research project that lays it out, complete with some great graphics. Some highlights:

California contributions to presidential candidates have surged so much
during the current campaign that if it were a state, the area would
rank fourth in the nation.

The rise is a reflection of the influence of Silicon Valley and a flood of donations to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who has raised a great deal of his campaign money through Internet fundraising and social networking.


Six of the top 10 ZIP codes for fundraising in California are in the northern half of the state. That includes three in San Francisco and one each in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Burlingame.

"It's not that Southern California is giving less, it's that Northern California is giving more" said Anthony Corridor Jr., a professor of government at Colby College in Maine, who specializes in campaign finance. "Silicon Valley has become much more engaged, and the new technologies of social networking and Internet-giving have made Northern California much more involved."


Obama raised $18 million in Northern California - $1.5 million more than he raised in the southern half of the state. He collected $1 in Northern California for every 17 cents raised by McCain and for every 62 cents raised by his primary contender Sen. Hilary Clinton, who did most of her fundraising in the southern part of the state. In Southern California, Obama raised $1 for every 41 cents raised by McCain and every 97 cents raised by Clinton.


This story gives grist to the argument that Josh Green laid on in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about the critical function the fundraising machine from Silicon Valley played in Obama’s rise. It also comes packaged with a database where readers can easily do searches about who gave what, and from what neighborhoods. Definitely worth checking out.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

Obama Now Takes California in a Landslide over Clinton

Ever since the Feb 5th Super Tuesday primary, I have spent a lot of time explaining why Clinton won California by 9 points when many other indicators at the time seemed to be pointing towards an Obama victory. One simple factor was time.

California has the size and complexity to be a nation into itself. Its economy alone consistently rates in the top half dozen or so in the world. So big sea-changes in public opinion take longer to get carried out than in a small state like Iowa or New Hampshire or almost any other state, for that matter.

To the average voter, Obama appeared on the national scene in the blink of an eye compared to the institutional name-brand Clinton. His national prominence after his Iowa caucus win in early January left about a month for the 36 million Californians to figure him out. In that month the trends lines between Clinton and Obama support kept converging, hers sinking and his rising, but on the day of the election, a gap remained. He lost by 9 points. The nation turned to other state contests.

But those support trend lines did not stop their trajectory. Now, four months later, Californian Democrats overwhelmingly support Obama over Clinton by a landslide margin of 51 percent to 38 percent, according to the non-partisan Field Poll, the gold standard of California polls. Here are some other findings from the San Fransico Chronicle report:

In a head-to-head contest with presumed GOP nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama does as well as Clinton, both of them beating the Republican by 17 points among a cross section of voters likely to cast ballots in November. Obama also leads McCain 59 to 24 percent among critical decline-to-state or independent voters, who make up 20 percent of the California electorate, the poll showed….

The poll shows that while Clinton still leads Obama among three categories of voters - those over 65, those with a high school education or less and those earning less than $40,000 a year - Obama now bests the former first lady in all other age, educational groups and income levels…

In breakdowns among voters by ethnicity, Clinton leads only among Latinos - by more than 2-1 - though Obama is ahead among white non-Hispanics by a whopping 56-34 percent, among African Americans by a huge 76-13 percent and favored by Asians by 56-33.

Even women, who formed a critical base for Clinton in this state, now back Obama 49 to 41 percent, the poll shows.

It looks like California, like the nation as a whole, has had time to absorb this newcomer Obama and adjust to the new politics around him. The result does not bode well for Clinton, and certainly not for McCain.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute
From my outpost in San Francisco

Connecting the Dots of the Obama Phenomenon

No offense intended, but I do not normally look to Roger Cohen, the older New York Times/ Herald Tribune columnist in Paris, to give insights about the power of social networks and connectivity. Yet his recent column on “The Obama Connection” did just that. In fact, it starts:

It’s the networks, stupid.

More than any other factor, it has been Barack Obama’s grasp of the central place of Internet-driven social networking that has propelled his campaign for the Democratic nomination into a seemingly unassailable lead over Hillary Clinton. Her campaign has been so 20th-century. His has been of the century we’re in.

Cohen goes on to make more analytical points based on the flow of history, and how the world is shifting from the paradigm of the divisive Cold War that defined the last century to the new paradigm of hyper-connectivity and sociability. His own insights stay on that historical geo-political plane, rather than at any tactical, or certainly technical level.

Along the way he cites the work of others who have helped him understand this meta-shift going on – starting with Joshua Green in the most recent Atlantic Monthly. Josh did do a fantastic job in explaining the fundraising phenom behind Obama, by going to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area in general and reporting on that untold story. I helped Josh with that story and highly recommend it to anyone. Check it out here.

Cohen also references a new book by David Singh Grewal called, “Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization” that describes the core tension in the world as: “Everything is being globalized except politics.” I have not read the book yet, but I have been talking about similar themes for awhile. In the tech, business, private sector world where I came from before getting involved with the New Politics Institute three years ago, the globalization of everything is the key phenomenon reworking everything. Yet from what I can see, our politics is only barely beginning to adapt to this. Perhaps, as Cohen says, Obama can help change that in a big way.

There is one other book that I would also highly recommend to anyone trying to come to terms with the new world of social networks: Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations.” Clay does a terrific job of explaining in plain language the power of social networking in its broadest sense. Too many people think “social networking’ simply means Facebook and MySpace. That is an extremely narrow way to understand what’s happening – one that Clay will help correct. The better way to think about all this is as a wide range of social tools or social media that acts very differently than media as we have known it. It’s about communications and content and media and all things that get passed around and are collectively worked on and commented on and recommended or just viewed from afar.

I’ve been telling journalist friends of mine to read Chapter 3, “Everyone is a Media Outlet” to really understand what is happening around them in the big picture. Clay makes the best explanation about what is happening to the journalism and news business that I have ever seen. For that and many other reasons, check it out.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

All the Insights of the New Tools, New Audiences Forum Live On

We now have video of almost all the talks and breakout sessions from the all-day event on May 9th that the New Politics Institute and NDN put on. It’s all housed in an easily accessible form on the NPI website at www.newpolitics.net. There are several ways into the material:

The front page features an anchor area for the ongoing New Tools Campaign, and the blurb there has links to four series of video. You can also see the Technology Panel right off the front page as the featured video of the whole site.

The dedicated video page also has those four series laid out: The Framing of the Forum, The Technology Panel, The Demography Panel, and The Breakout Sessions. Each of the breakout sessions has their own video module which also can be seen on the individual pages for each tool: Go Mobile, Reimagine Video, Target Your Marketing, Leverage Social Networks, Buy Cable, Speak in Spanish, and Advertise Online.

So now we have hours of new video explaining these new tools and new audiences in addition to all the memos and previous video from events already housed there. This really is becoming a node of great information for those in organizations or campaigns who want to get up to speed on how to use these new tools in advocacy and politics. Please send around the links to those who might find them useful. Thanks.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

The Blossoming Field of Data Visualization

Now for a brief break from hardcore politics, to something tangentially related. Take a moment this weekend to play around at the website FlowingData. It’s a very nice nexus that points out many great examples of data visualization that are appearing these days. Most of them do not have to do with politics or advocacy, but I expect we soon will start seeing more visualization examples in that space.

I have been tracking data visualization techniques for years now, well before I became involved as director of the New Politics Institute. The field is important, and increasingly so, because of the mushrooming of data and information that our modern society is getting filled with due to the proliferation of computers and all things digital. Fortunately, the same technology that is helping cause the proliferation is also creating new ways for humans to process the information in efficient and powerful ways.

The Flowing Data site is one way into this increasingly fascinating world. (Kudos to Carlos Bakota who just pointed it out to me.) You can just start at the homepage and start clicking on the graphics that run down the middle of the page. They all lead to blog posts that explain and show some visual effort to make better sense of information. Today’s lead post shows a great example of how the Boston Globe figured out a way to chart each of Manny Ramirez's career homers on the path to his hitting 500. I mean they showed exactly where each ball was hit, in each stadium, off which pitcher, etc., etc. Yet they do this is a fun, simple, and very visual way. Check it out.

Another way into the material is through their archives, which break down examples by various categories. Here would be several that I would check out, here, here, and here. They also spotlight one of the great creators in this space, Jonathan Harris, a young innovator who is more like an artist. Early on, I connected with him and have been following him for years. To give you a sense of his work, check out this We Feel Fine website on tracking feelings around the world. It’s very hard to explain in mere words, which is the point of the whole field. Sometimes, you just have to see it to believe it.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

The Phenomenal Numbers Behind Young Voter Turnout

Rock the Vote just came out with a nice two-page fact sheet that lays out the essential numbers behind the surge in turnout for young people in the 2008 campaign. We’ve been talking a lot about this phenomenon, and we had a Rock the Vote person speak at our day-long event last Friday, but sometimes it’s nice to look at the cold, hard facts.

  • Young people from age 18 to 29 have doubled their numbers in the presidential primaries this year. This is the combined number of all youth in both parties and is measured against the last competitive primary (2004 for Dems and 2000 for Republicans).
  • If you look at individual state numbers, some of the states tripled the turnout of young people, and no state with valid numbers showed less than a 40 percent increase.

So you may say that, sure, youth turned out, but so did all kinds of groups. However, youth increased their turnout by much more than any age group. This is measured by the all-important percentage “share” of the electorate. If you consider all ages taking a slice of the pie of the electorate, the Millennial Generation’s slice grew by taking more of the pie from the slices of the other age groups.

  • In the average of all Democratic primaries, youth went from 10 percent of the 2004 primaries to 14 percent of the 2008 ones.
  • In every single state that held a Democratic primary so far, the youth “share” of the electorate went up. In Iowa, they went as high as 22 percent of the electorate.  Almost a quarter of all voters were Millennials there, in the state that started Obama’s rise.

The Republican numbers for increases in share of the youth vote are less dramatic, and in a few states they did not increase, but nevertheless, the general trend is playing out there too. Youth of all ideological stripes are more engaged in politics than we have seen in a long time, though that is particularly true on the Democratic and progressive side.

We at the New Politics Institute have been promoting this important constituency for years and it is incredibly gratifying to see this playing out so dramatically on the ground and so graphically in the numbers.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

MoveOn Learns to Herd the Cats of User-Generated Content

Much has been made about the wonders of user-generated video and other content that average people just spontaneously create for a candidate or a cause. But people in organizations and campaigns mostly think of these outbursts as random and impossible to initiate or influence. That’s why MoveOn’s “Obama in 30 Seconds” project is so important to watch. Once again MoveOn points the way towards how to effectively herd the cats of the viral world.

On Tuesday, MoveOn announces the finalists of the contest on the project’s dedicated website. The basic story, in case you have not heard, is that they asked average people to put together positive ads for Obama in the classic 30 second formula -- only via the web. In short order they had more than 1,000 submissions, which they then set up on a website that served up each of them one at a time for viewers to watch and rate. Each time you went to the site, you would be served up a different ad, or as many as you wanted served to you. Some were ok, as you would expect from any open contest (ever watch the early rounds of American Idol?), but some were terrific. Here is my favorite from my random troll.

The finalists in the voting will then be considered by an all-start panel of Hollywood types and other progressive heroes from Matt Damon to Moby and from Lawrence Lessig to Markos. The very top ad will be put on mainstream TV with MoveOn money. Already they have drawn 4.7 million votes, and they have not even begun the push that will come from having the top dozen examples or so.

The whole process is a deliberate attempt to solicit bottom-up media, structure a method to get to the ones with the most viral potential, and get everyone thinking about positive messages about Obama – and then sending them around the Web for their friends and family to see.

Other progressive organizations and campaigns should take note of this basic formula. It’s building on the truly innovative breakthrough that MoveOn did in the 2004 cycle with its “Bush in 30 Seconds” contest. That was a similar bottom-up video contest but done before YouTube even existed. It was truly visionary at the time.

This Obama in 30 Seconds does not have the breakthrough innovation, but it does refine and improve the process. And thankfully, they are encouraging not a negative spot on them, but a positive spot on us. It’s a much better direction to move towards. Congrats to MoveOn once again.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

The Age Factor in the Race

With the Pennsylvania results looming, I thought I would point out a terrific story and graphic on the generation gap between followers of Obama and Clinton that might help explain results tonight.

In a campaign where demographics seem to be destiny, one of the most striking factors is the segregation of voters by age. In state after state, older voters have formed a core constituency for Mrs. Clinton, who is 60, while younger voters have coalesced around Mr. Obama, who is 46. Age has been one of the most consistent indicators of how someone might vote — more than sex, more than income, more than education. Only race is a stronger predictor of voting than age, and then only if a voter is black, not if he or she is white.

The graphic below gives the data to visually back up the claim. It’s striking how lopsided the Millennial Generation (the term we use for those voters under age 30) go for Obama, while older folks go for Clinton. Note that the numbers refer to the percentage point difference between what each candidate received. So young people went 75 percent to 25 percent for Obama in Virginia, while people over age 60 went 60 percent to 40 percent for Clinton in Ohio.

What does that mean for Pennsylvania? It turns out Pennsylvania is the state with the second highest proportion of people over 65 – behind only the perennial leader, Florida:

Age is likely to play a particularly strong role in the Democratic primary Tuesday in Pennsylvania. The outmigration of young people has left the state with the second-highest proportion of people over 65 in the country, after Florida. Fifty-eight percent of registered Democrats are older than 45, a consistent dividing line in the race.

Regardless of the result tonight, the generational lens continues to be a fascinating one to put to this election, as we consistently do at the New Politics Institute. Just think about what happens when the other candidate is the oldest one who has ever run for office...

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

The ABC Debates and the Death Throes of Old Media and Old Politics

As a former journalist, schooled in the great traditions of journalism of the 20th century, I have to add my voice to the chorus and say that I was deeply disappointed in the performance of the profession in the debate last night. Deeply disappointed, if not angry, and yes, maybe a bit bitter.

At a moment when America needs our journalists and commentators on politics to help the country move beyond the petty, bickering, red-herring politics of the past 25 years, the moderators of the debate went back for one long immersion. George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson spent the entire debate at this momentous time in American history trying to parse out the clauses of off-hand remarks, point out the support of people with seven degrees of separation from Obama, and trap the candidates in these gotcha moments that would put a ripple in another 24 hours news cycle. It was deeply disappointing.

I must say, in my opinion, Clinton did not do much to resist the flow back to those past norms. She cut her teeth in that kind of political environment, learned to play well at that game, won a lot, and lost some. She seemed perfectly at home going back to the gotcha, parsing, split-hair politics that defined the Bush Clinton Bush years.

Obama truly did try to do something different, tried to break into a new kind of politics, a new kind of framework, a new kind of discussion. He needed to show he could battle head-to-head, and not appear wimpish, but he genuinely tried to shift the conversation to a higher plain. He did ok in that – certainly better than anyone else on that stage.

It’s so disappointing because our country is at a moment in history in which we face a series of deep structural changes to the American economy and society, to the whole world order, and we are up against a series of 21st century challenges that are unprecedented and extremely complex. If anything we need to call upon the best in the American people, the best in American political leaders, and the best in American journalists, to rise to the occasion, face up to the challenges, and help figure this out for the country and the world.

At a moment when we need that, the last thing we need is to get completely mired in this old politics, in which we’re worried about who wears a lapel pin, or whose supporter was a radical Weatherman 40 years ago. At a moment when our country needs to fundamentally rethink how we run the economy, how we distribute wealth, reinvest in our infrastructure, shift to new energy sources, rebuild our schools, provide healthcare in a 21st century setting of biotech and genetics, Stephanopoulos is trying his best to get the candidates to say: read-my-lips-no-new-taxes. He’s trying to fiscally hamstring the country for the next four years, or catch the Dems in a way that will allow McCain, a throwback not just to Bush but to Reagan, to hammer them about raising taxes this fall. (Folks, how many more times can we retread tax cuts as the center of our economic policy? The deficit is in the trillions, our infrastructure is collapsing, etc, etc. Why are we still back in that old Reagan frame?)

It’s difficult to watch and not get angry, and maybe even bitter.

One thing that makes me hopeful that is a basic confidence in the American people, the bedrock of our democracy. It looks like people are not buying this. In the bigger context of the race, Obama, who is bucking this old framework and forging a new one, maintains a lead and momentum. In the smaller context of the upcoming primaries, these distractions do not seem to be pushing the poll numbers around much.

You have to hope that there is a core wisdom in this complex mix of classes and ethnic groups and races that makes up this amazingly diverse democracy. You have to hope that a collective wisdom will come out of this process that moves away from the old politics, built on that old media and old journalism, and moves towards a new politics, which is increasingly built on new media.

It’s worth remembering the YouTube debates. They were not perfect by any means, but they were far better than the debate driven by the best of ABC News. At least CNN and YouTube blended together and tried to pose questions from average people with real concerns, balanced by journalistic analysis. The candidates were able to mostly talk about real issues and not this gotcha stuff.

It’s good that politics now has a more open new media environment to turn to when the one-way broadcast media proves wanting. Now people can see Obama expound upon a gotcha race moment at great length via a 45 minute video of his speech. They can just go to the web and instantaneously see it. The environment of new media is allowing for a new politics, a new conversation, a higher plane of discussion that is woefully missing from the politics of the last 25 years.

Some people lament the collapse of broadcast TV ratings, the freefall of newspaper circulation and ad revenue, and there is a place in my heart that laments the undermining of the great journalistic tradition of Edward Murrow and the Watergate reporters. But when I see performances like those of Stephanopoulos and Gibson, it makes me think: bring it on.

Peter Leyden

Bridging the Gap between Web Video and Traditional TV

A lot going on in the reimaging video front these days, the frontier where the new world of web video and the old world of traditional TV are butting up against each other, and even melding. A few stories and developments are worth pointing out:

The New York Times has a front page story today bringing the uninitiated up-to-speed on two trends we have been long talking about at the New Politics Institute: the viral nature of online media and the new media habits of the young Millennial Generation. Not a lot new there, but a nice overview with some nice numbers (Young people have tripled their voting numbers from 2004 to 2008 in the 22 states will exit polls so far.)

But there are some other nice stories elsewhere that go deeper. Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej have a very nice column in politico.com that analyzes the shift from soundbite to what they call "sound blast." and they lay out the numbers for web video that are starting to add up to serious impact. An example:

So far, Obama’s videos have been viewed more than 33 million times on YouTube.com — and that's not counting partial views, since YouTube only reports a full viewing as a “view.” His campaign has uploaded more than 800 video clips, and adds several more a day.

If you just look at his ten most viewed videos, here are some astonishing facts:

  • The average number of views for these top ten is currently more than 1.1 million (nearly double the average from a month ago!)
  • The average length of these ten videos is 13.3 minutes.
  • There have been nearly 3.9 million views of the longest of Obama's most popular videos, his “A More Perfect Union” speech on race in America.

By contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s YouTube numbers are nowhere as impressive as Obama's — a sign of her failure to understand and embrace the new medium than anything else. She’s garnered about 10.5 million views, but the average length of her top ten most viewed clips is only two minutes. Several of her top ten videos are actually 30-second TV ads, in fact.

There is a legitimate argument that traditional television still reaches far more people than video online. That is true, but a development that is just happening today may start to bridge that gap.

A new website called votervoter.com is just launching that will make it very easy for average individuals to create 30-second spots and get them placed on broadcast and cable television, starting with a $1,000 buy. The site is run by an advertising company with deep experience in placing TV ads, called Wide Orbit, in San Francisco.

This could be a very interesting development because you could image people banding together outside the campaigns to raise money to place popular online videos on mainstream TV. Given the looser campaign spending limits for backing ads like this, you could see a lot of money getting channeled this way. We’ll soon see.

And soon enough we will be taking a deeper look at some of these developments at our upcoming Reimaging Video event, It’s in DC on April 24th. Hope to see you there.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

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