Internet campaigning has a ton of misconceptions behind it, especially as we enter into the third major cycle (2004 and 2006 being the first two) of it.
Ben Adler in the Politico (complete with really stupid composite image of McCain and Obama) writes about whether or not McCain’s online operation can compete with Obama’s:
Obama has also built a formidable network of online supporters and activists. As of Tuesday, his my.barackobama.com social networking site had 926,000 members, and he had 946,568 Facebook supporters.
McCain, by contrast, had 141,183 Facebook supporters, and his McCain Space online sign-up contains the dispiriting sentence fragment: “Benefits of joining Team McCain include:” — with nothing following. McCain spokesman Joseph Pounder said only that they have “tens of thousands of members,” on McCain Space.
The same dynamic held true on YouTube. James Rainey noted last month in the Los Angeles Times that McCain “is taking a serious drubbing on YouTube,” and pointed out that six of the top 10 search results for John McCain were to videos critical of the candidate, and the only entirely favorable clip was produced by the campaign. The results are even less favorable now. Obama, on the other hand, has a front page of almost entirely favorable clips, many of them user-created.
The problem with the article is that it looks at the volume of online supporters as a measure in and of itself, as if a commitment to internet campaigning necessarily results in greater and greater numbers of supporters.
Internet campaigning is not just a reflection of the candidates’ personalities (McCain is less familiar with computers than Obama, etc.), but instead a reflection of the overall campaign’s success as it relates to internet-savvy voters. It involves communications, fundraising and field, the three major legs of any campaign, but it generally reflects the overall message of the campaign. There are specific ways that internet campaigning can innovate and promote…but again, without the candidate and organization behind it, there’s nothing to work with, nothing to have people latch on to.
McCain will catch up to Obama online when the rest of his campaign catches up to Obama in terms of organization and supporter interest – when the skeleton of the campaign is strong enough to put some muscle and flesh onto. At this rate, it should be sometime around the fifth of never.