Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Technology Helps Grassroots Efforts

Matt Stoller has an article up on the Nation magazine website about how new technology is helping improve the effectiveness of grassroots campaigning. This is a quote from the article about why television is losing influence as a campaign medium:

Since the 1960s, television has been the primary conduit for political information, with campaigns spending about 80 percent of their budget on media. But while broadcast television can reach millions of voters, it is, as Podhorzer notes, a dying medium. "The main thing that has changed is the heading to collapse of broadcast TV and heading to dominance of systematic, organized word of mouth and more targeted communication," he says. What's most promising about the shift from broadcast campaigns to those centered on "systematic, organized word of mouth" is the possibility of activating new voters, something TV has never been capable of doing. Political scientists Alan Gerber and Donald Green, experts on election turnout, conducted an experiment in 1998 with voters in New Haven, Connecticut, showing that person-to-person canvassing when the canvassers are ethnically and demographically matched to voters can increase turnout by 10 percent with a single contact and a nonpartisan message.

The article goes on to talk about the new database system that the DNC has put together under Howard Dean. This effort by Dean is being matched by an effort of the Ohio Democratic Party under Chair Chris Redfern called Votebuilder. Votebuilder is designed to compete with the Republican database program called Voter Vault. Both rely on using databases with a lot of information about potential voters so that when volunteers go out to canvass voters, they can be more effective in their presentation.

Of course, all of this technology depends on having volunteers and paid canvassers and a party leadership dedicated to making the technology work. It is up to local Democratic Party leaders, particularly county chairs, to make sure that their local parties are using the technology being provided by the DNC and the ODP.

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