New Tools



The New Era of Distributed Politics

Another whirlwind week, and I want to point out three new examples that appeared to illustrate the new kind of distributed politics that we are lurching towards. That new brand of decentralized, bottom-up, broad-based politics was brilliantly summed up by Joe Trippi at this week’s event on Capitol Hill put on by NDN and the New Politics Institute.

Trippi, the chief strategist behind the 2004 Dean campaign and this cycle’s Edwards’ campaign (as well as a founding fellow of NPI), squeezed down the essence of what is happening in the Democratic race for the nomination. The Clinton campaign, the absolute best, most powerful example of the old model of top-down politics on the Democratic side, is getting beaten by only the second-ever example of the bottom-up new politics model, that of Obama. Watch Joe’s 10 minute exposition of this idea, where he talks about Dean’s campaign being the Wright Brothers, and now, only four years later, Obama is landing on the moon.

And so this week there were three new examples of how that new kind of distributed politics works. One comes from the supporters of Clinton. It’s a fantastic example of how ordinary citizens, without any control or even knowledge of the official campaign (or at least from what it seems), can come together to create moving media with the power to persuade. Check out Hillary Speaks for Me, which is reminiscent of 2004’s “Bush In 30 Seconds” by MoveOn, and creates an infrastructure where anyone can upload 30-second videos about why they support Hillary. It is extremely well done, and given that I have been pointing out many user-generated examples on the Obama side in recent weeks, I want to highlight this first. Bottom-up politics can benefit anyone who tunes into it.

Second is the Superdelegate Transparency Project, created partly by Jennifer Nix, a New Politics Institute Fellow. Jen herself posts about the project elsewhere on this blog so I won’t elaborate on it, but point out a couple things. This is a distributed project among what could be called citizen journalists, or bloggers, to just fill out the details of who the delegates are, who they are currently endorsing, and how the district or state they represent voted in the primaries or caucuses. Simply doing the legwork and shining sunlight in these murky corners both does a journalistic service that the understaffed mainstream media outlets can’t do, but the very fact they are doing the project at all may help change the behavior of the delegates themselves. There won’t be any backroom deals here. It’s all out in the open and out there early. Check it out.

Finally, the mainstream press, starting with the New York Times, “broke “ the McCain and Vicki Iseman story, about his uncomfortably cozy relationship to a lobbyist. I put “broke” in quotes because the blogs had been chewing on this beforehand, but it did take a respectable institution to force it onto the national agenda. However, once that crack in the dike appeared, the distributed forces started the next wave of stories. Check out the Brave New Films effort to broaden the notion of McCain’s friends, with a takeoff of the old television comedy series “Friends.” With the help of some other blogs they help fill out the famous couch with friends beyond Iseman. And they set up a petition process that people can join and virally send around.

And that was just this week. This is a mushrooming process that will continue in the weeks and months ahead. By the time November comes around, the  electorate will be churning with so many new efforts we won’t be able to track them all. Democracy, you gotta love it.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

Yes It Can: The Mash-Up Viral Video Takes Off

The “Yes We Can” viral videos pinging around the internet in the last couple weeks have taken “mash-ups” to a whole new level in politics.

Video mash-ups are when you take video produced for one purpose and repurpose it in another context to make a different point. The first big example of this in politics came a year ago with the repurposing of Apple’s classic 1984 Super Bowl ad into a political statement about Hillary Clinton’s national conversation, and a warning about the rise of Obama. We’ve been talking a lot about mash-ups and viral video at the New Politics Institute in the last year, including an event with the creator of that “Vote Different” video.

But the “Yes We Can” by and other stars raised the bar dramatically. This took a lot of creative work to blend a new song around the words of Obama from a primary speech. Their efforts have been rewarded with more than 4 million hits on YouTube and countless references on mainstream TV.

Now come the knock-offs and some of them are terrific. If you have not seen them, check out the video that takes key passages from McCain’s speeches and has what looks like characters similar to the “Yes We Can” video trying to reinforce his words, but coming out puzzled and angry about McCain’s lines like “bomb, bomb Iran.”

Then there’s the “No You Can’t” video that has rich Americans singing off the Obama speech about how you can’t disrupt their status quo. It ends with the word “Vote” morphing into “GOP.” Very funny.

It’s true that these viral videos may only hit numbers in the 1 to 4 million range rather than the 10s of millions who might see traditional 30-second television ads. But many of these people viewing the viral videos are the activists and opinion leaders and journalists who can leverage it far beyond the numbers. They then send them out to their influential circles of friends and families too.

There are other factors that make these videos more powerful than they may appear on the surface. They can blast far beyond the boundaries of 30 seconds - for example, the “Yes We Can” video is a full four minutes. And it bears reminding, that the cost for distribution is zero. Nothing, compared to millions of dollars to try and force a quick message at TV couch potatoes who don’t’ want to see it, and increasingly, can zip past the ads with their digital video recorders.

And then there is the coolness factor. This is the indefinable quality that, as they say, is priceless. To have a guy from the Black Eyed Peas and his Hollywood friends volunteer to create a video for Obama is cool. To have creative young people all over the internet follow up with their versions is even cooler. Remember, this is America. To be cool is valuable. That translates into politics.

Then again, not all web videos are created equal. Some can really backfire on a candidate too, even if they are devised to help. Witness the “Hillary for You and Me” video which seems like it was created in the 1970s. But then, the 1970s are now hot. Or was that last year?

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute.


Txting in 2008

A while back I signed up to receive text messages from the campaigns to see how they were utilizing this new tool. I didn't know what to expect really, but figured if they had the service they were going to use it somehow. Well, as it stands, I've received six text messages in the past 48 hours or so. One from the Clinton campaign and five from the Obama campaign. I've typed them out below:

From the Clinton campaign:

Feb 12, 2008 2:25:41 PM ET - Election Day - don't forget to vote! Every vote counts in the race for the nomination. Thank you so much for your support. -- Hillary

From the Obama campaign:

Feb 12, 2008 6:14:11 PM ET - Fired up? Our moment is now. Tell all your friends to vote for Barack NOW! If you are in line by 7pm, they must count your vote. Info call: 866-675-2008 (ext 4)

Feb 12, 2008 2:02:41 PM ET - People who love their country can change it. Make sure all your friends vote tonight for Barack! Polls open in VA until 7pm. For info: 866-675-2008 Fwd this msg

Feb 12, 2008 11:43:13 AM ET - One voice can make a difference. Make sure that voice is yours! Fwd this msg and make sure all your friends vote today for Barack. Questions, call 866-675-2008 (no.4)

Feb 11, 2008 6:54:42 PM ET - Vote for Barack tomorrow! Polls are open in VA from 6am to 7pm. For location info visit: or call 866-675-2008 (press 4) Please fwd this msg.

Feb 10, 2008 7:25:17 PM ET - Breaking: Obama wins Maine! You are next up on Tuesday -- remind all your friends to vote and to text JOIN to 62262. Please fwd this msg.

Update: I received another text from the Obama campaign last night that you can see below.

Feb 13, 2008 10:00:32 PM - CNN calls DC, MD & VA for Barack! We are growing momentum in red states and blue states. Fired up? Ask friends to join our movement by texting HOPE to 62262.

“this business isn’t about G.R.P.’s anymore"

This quote comes from yet another Times piece taking a look at the how the important tool of modern advocacy, television, is being reinvented.

In our work at NPI we've written a great deal about how the hegemony of broadcast television is being challenged by the rise of cable and satellite, digitial video recording devices and other new powerful tools like mobile phones, google search ads and youtube. This article takes a look at how the very economic model of what we have known as "TV" is changing.

Learning about how this very important advocacy tool - TV - is changing needs to be high priority for all of us in the progressive movement, for TV has been the primary tool of political advocacy for the last 40 plus years. The big picture here is that video itself is in the process of being liberated from the monopoly distribution of broadcast, and is increasingly being distributed through satellite, cable, mobile phones and the internet, and thus is becoming much more ubiquitous, accessable and commonplace. There is perhaps no more important and more radical change in modern advocacy than what is happening to what we know as "TV" - and there is much more to come.

Super Tuesday Aftermath: Handicapping the Campaigns according to Four Key Drivers of the New Politics

There are four key drivers of the New Politics that Simon and I elaborated on in our recent magazine piece “The 50 Year Strategy.” These are four disrupters of the old politics that are restructuring how politics is carried out and will continue to be played in the coming decade. The ones we focused on are the new tools, the young Millennial Generation, the rise of Hispanics, and the emergence of a new 21st century agenda. What’s been incredible about this primary season is how fully realized and important they all have become.

One way to look at the success of the Obama and Clinton campaigns, and their relative strengths and weaknesses, is through the lens of their use of this New Politics. This perspective helps explain the results of Super Tuesday, including what happened in California. The boiled down essence is that Obama is ahead in the tools and Millennial categories, but Clinton is way ahead on Hispanics. As for the agenda, Obama is talking more transformation, while Clinton is talking change, through both are close to each other in specific policies, and they are not yet keeping up to their rhetoric with truly 21st century policy shifts. Let me explain a bit more:

Tools: Obama has done a phenomenal job in the new tools category, while Clinton has been solid and at least kept up. The most dramatic measure is in the online money category. Obama raised an unprecedented $32 million in January, $28 million of it online, and most of it based on 275,000 people who had given $100 or less. Clinton only raised $13.5 million in January, though she has raised $7.5 million since Feb. 1st , mostly online. However, Obama has raised another $7 million in just the 36 hours since Super Tuesday.

The other side of the tools is the online organizing and coordinating. Again, Obama has come out ahead, as I have talked about in other posts. He has an extremely active and virally growing network of people actively campaigning for him. This has been boosted in the last week with the endorsement of the 3.2 million member online organization MoveOn. Then there’s new media, such as the use of video. Obama had been masterful in reworking his campaign speeches via video, something again we have posted on. And his user-generated Yes We Can YouTube video is in a league by itself, now with close to 2.5 million views.

One of the best analyses comparing the two campaigns on this front is Micah Sifry’s recent post at techPresident. He frames Obama as the first in a long line of reform candidates like Ted Kennedy and Bill Bradley to have the staying power precisely because of the new tools. It changed the game.

Millennials: Much has been said about the Millennials in other posts, but it’s worth pointing out that turnout of young people under age 30 has been much bigger than in the past years. For example, of the eight states that were also part of Super Tuesday in 2000, seven saw increases in youth turnout, and in some of these states, youth turnout tripled or quadrupled, according to the numbers at CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. (The reason they use comparisons with 2000 and not 2004 is because they are non-partisan and the uncontested Republican race in 2004 led to few exit polls and poor data on the Republican side.)

The Millennials share of all primary voters in 2008 was in the teens, and even high teens, in all but three states. This category of young voters under age 30 as a share of all voters was up by 4 to 6 percentage points in all eight states that had the data for 2000. For example, in California youth went from 10 percent of those voting in 2000 to 14 percent in 2008. In Massachusetts, from 8 percent to 14 percent.

Obama took the youth vote in 10 of the states, with margins in the high 50s, 60s, and even 75 percent. Two of the states where Clinton took the youth vote were because of the high numbers of Hispanics in those states: Arizona and California. Clinton also nudged out Obama by one percent in Massachusetts. A good overview of all these numbers can be found in this PDF at CIRCLE.

Hispanics: This is the category that Clinton dominates and her campaign has to be credited with foresight on seeing how important this constituency is. The Obama campaign, meanwhile, seems to have grossly underestimated their importance and is playing desperate catch-up, though making good strides, particularly among young Latinos.

The Hispanic vote almost alone can explain what happened in California. As discussed elsewhere, Clinton overwhelmingly took the Hispanic vote in California, 69 to 29. In normal states, that margin could be offset by other factors, but in California, Hispanics made up a full 29 percent of the turnout, compared to 16 percent in 2004. In some calculations we made at NPI based on CNN exit polls, we found that if you took out the Latino and "Other" vote (which includes Asians) in California, Clinton and Obama would have been in a dead heat. When you put them back in, Clinton takes almost every age group, including young people. One thing we all learned here: Hispanics really matter.

Agenda: Change has become the mantra of the race, and implied is not just a change in leadership but a change in agenda. My sense is that craving for a new national agenda is more a part of the equation than the media or the campaigns even recognize. Because if you look closely at the specific policy agendas of Obama and Clinton, they are not representing as dramatic a change as their rhetoric suggests. Nor, in my opinion, are they transformational enough for what the country and the world needs to see. That may well be a function of the primary season. Perhaps we will see more ambitious plans once the nominee is settled and the campaign against the Republicans takes place. Or maybe it will have to wait til after the election.

This final piece of the New Politics equation is the least developed right now. It’s the agenda that boldly takes on the array of 21st century challenges and helps transform America and the world. With that in mind, NDN and the New Politics Institute are putting on a special one-day free event on March 12th in DC to explore whether we might be in a transformational moment. We have a great lineup of people who will be taking about the need for change on that plain. Anyone who is interested is invited to come.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute


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