Last night, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois won the U.S. presidency in a landslide victory against Republican opponent, Senator John McCain. In addition to carrying the same “Blue” states as John Kerry in 2004, Obama carried battleground states – like Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – whose record Democratic support tipped the election in Obama’s favor.
Addressing the nation from Chicago last night in a dogged victory speech, President-elect Barack Obama called for steadfast cooperation among Americans as our nation embarks on a new era, and cited his unlikely victory as evidence of the power Americans have to enact awe-inspiring change.
Why this campaign was different
The 2008 U.S. presidential election commemorates several noteworthy firsts, the two most obvious being the inclusion of a woman (Hilary Clinton) and an African-American (Barack Obama) in the race for the White House. While the socio-cultural significance of such inclusions is clear, it wasn’t only America’s notion of “President” that changed dramatically. The ways of political campaigning themselves were too revolutionized, by the Obama campaign’s strategic (and wildly successful) use of the Internet to raise funds, mobilize supporters, and get out the vote.
How Obama used the Internet to win
From the beginning, Obama’s status as an underdog required he make bold moves for attention, many of them online. With the intent to reach a massive number of people in a short period of time, Obama’s campaign had a comprehensive website up and running before beginning the push for support, including web pages solely devoted to fighting smear campaigns and giving voters concrete facts regarding controversial issues. Likewise, the Obama campaign established a strong presence on youth-oriented social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to galvanize support online, and made use of technology like SMS messages and iPhone apps to spread his message of hope and change.
Finally, after opting-out of the publicly funded campaign financing system, Obama used email aggressively to recruit small donations from supporters throughout the length of the campaign. The result? Over 600 million dollars raised privately, more than Bush and Kerry raised in 2004, combined.
With the launch of MyBarackObama.com, Obama supporters now had a place to network with other voters looking to get out the vote for Obama in their neighborhoods. From the site, users could enter their zip code to find and sign-up for volunteer opportunities. Hosting a fund raising or phone banking event was as easy as clicking the ‘Host an event” link and following prompts, and all user activities were organized and tracked easily via the Action Center on the site.
What Obama did right
The Obama campaign gave supporters everything they needed to mobilize. By providing voters with a clear message and the online tools needed to get out the vote, Obama made it easy for people all over the country to join his campaign, volunteer, and recruit others, setting new precedents for how to win a presidential race…from the bottom up.