A few months ago when my friends, the punditry and the Obama campaign itself would talk about how the Obama 08 campaign was somehow different from past campaigns. I was skeptical. “Yes We Can” sounds great, but all politicians want to sound like they’re populists. Sure Obama’s a former community organizer and is inspiring people to get involved in politics, but what was his campaign really doing anything to be that different?
I now have a radically different view of the Obama campaign: I’m a believer.
Allow me to explain, I know it can sound like fluff (a lot of people get caught up in the cult of personality). Nevertheless, what the Obama campaign is doing with Neighbor to Neighbor is truly revolutionary. What Neighbor to Neighbor and my.barackobama allow you to do is call voters in swing states from computer. In many ways, I would argue that this technology enables an open source campaign.
Ok. The word “open source” gets thrown around a lot, but I really think its use is justifiable in this case. By calling voters from your home, dorm or apartment, thousands of people are shaping the campaign’s message in their own way. You can say what you want on the phone; in fact, the campaign encourages you to tell your own story. The campaign is in the hands of these volunteers: it is decentralized and open in an unprecedented way. My hunch is that this phenomenon is under-reported by the media and may have a lot to do with Obama’s surge in the polls (not to discount the economy and Palin). A recent NYT article seems to agree with this idea:
As far as translating online supporters into votes, both candidates have built online tools designed to help volunteers easily identify supporters who can call or canvass voters to help drum up votes, including Obama’s “Neighbor to Neighbor” tool and McCain’s “Voter to Voter” software.
Micah Sifry, a blogger at TechPresident, noted that it is impossible to know which tool is used more. However, he did note that the Obama tool is more “deeply embedded in the ecology of the Internet.”
Sifry also said that a search for the words “Obama” and “neighbor to neighbor” on Google returns 479,000 hits, while a search for “McCain” and “voter to voter” brings back 325 hits. “In both cases, the link to the actual tool is the top hit, which is good, but these search results indicate a great deal more conversation about the Obama tool–and presumably usage,” he added.
So there you have it. Sure correlation is not always causation, but the release of Neighbor to Neighbor does more or less correspond with Obama’s surge in the polls. As I said before, the tanking economy and Palin are important factors, but I think these calls had a lot to do with it as well. This bodes really well for the future of the election and the future of elections more generally: Neighbor to Neighbor is growing, and us tech-savvy progressives clearly have a leg up in this area over our Republican friends.
Finally, on a more personally note, I had the privilege of being featured on a conference call for prospective volunteers for Neighbor to Neighbor tonight because I am one of the most active callers for Obama in Vermont. It is pretty cool that I have been given the power to make an impact and take ownership of the campaign through my laptop and my cellphone.
Rock on, Web 2.0.