Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Candidates Dis MySpace/MTV’s Viewers at Their Peril

On Saturday, MySpace, MTV and the Associated Press sponsored a live broadcast of candidate interviews with questions coming from young voters in the audience. Barack Obama was there on time, “fired up and ready to go.” But the two leading Republican candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, failed even to appear. Hillary Clinton was late, forcing MTV to adlib through fifteen minutes of otherwise empty airtime. These are hardly major blunders in the middle of a hectic Super Tuesday campaign schedule, but the actions of the candidates illustrated once more, why Obama is surging among an emerging generation of young voters.

This is not the first time Republicans have had a hard time generating much enthusiasm for campaigning for the votes of Millennials-- those 25 and under—who get much of their campaign information from social networks. It took two tries and the anguished cries of that party’s leading bloggers before they agreed to a rescheduled YouTube debate. Even then, the GOP candidates insisted on seeing the questions in advance before answering them on live television. With authenticity and transparency key traits that Millennials seek in candidates, this unwillingness to put it all out there continues to drive young voters into the hands of the Democratic Party.

In a January 2008 national online survey conducted by the Millennial Strategy Program of media research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, 48% of Millennials say they expect to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee this November, while only half as many (24%) plan to vote for the Republican. By a similar 2:1 margin, Millennials also say that they're likely to vote for the Democratic over the Republican congressional candidate in their district (46% vs. 23%).

The question remains, heading into Super Tuesday and probably beyond, whether Senator Obama or Senator Clinton will be the Democratic Party's nominee. Obama has done a superior job of organizing his supporters on the Net by adopting Facebook’s more open platform for his website. Clinton’s approach has been much more traditional and top down. As a result, Obama raised two and a half times as much money as Clinton in January. And having the nimble infrastructure of the Net ready to absorb his surging support, enabled Obama to take in about a half million dollars AN HOUR immediately after his South Carolina victory.

While the campaign for delegates on Super Tuesday continues to be covered by traditional media in terms of television ad buys and the nuances of debate performances, the untold story of the 2008 campaign remains the ever-increasing power of the Netroots to shape the final outcome. Pundits unaware of the influence in American politics of the new media and a new generation so comfortable in its use will, like the candidates, find themselves surprised once again by the results on Feb. 5.

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