Understatement of the Day: Internet Changing Politics
The Pew Internet and American Life project has released a hugely important new study called The Internet and the 2008 Election (pdf), indicating that political participation online is up about three-fold since 2004, when Howard Dean (read: Joe Trippi and Zephyr Teachout) revolutionized campaigning online.
Here are the key findings:
A record-breaking 46% of Americans have used the internet, email or cell phone text messaging to get news about the campaign, share their views and mobilize other
35% of Americans say they have watched online political videos–a figure that nearly triples the reading the Pew Internet Project got in the 2004 race.
10% say they have used social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace to gather information or become involved. This is particularly popular with younger voters: Two-thirds of internet users under the age of 30 have a social networking profile, and half of these use social networking sites to get or share information about politics or the campaigns.
6% of Americans have made political contributions online, compared with 2% who did that during the entire 2004 campaign.
American politics, from outreach and GOTV to fundraising and volunteer recruitment, will never be the same. Of particular interest in the context of this blog is the impact this will have on nonprofits and foundations, who use many of the same techniques as campaigns for recruiting and reaching supporters. On this note, I found huge increase in % of Americans giving money to campaigns to be quite encouraging. An aging donor base is a common problem for nonprofits and foundations in the 21st century. Many of their biggest supporters have grown accustomed to making contributions with written checks, via snail mail. The fact that so many Americans are engaged in the electoral process online means that all of these people are now comfortable with, and hopefully prepared to, begin giving to nonprofits on the Internet as well.
The task of converting from a top-down, message-controlled model to a bottom-up people-powered movement in the digital space will fall to individual organizations. The new data provided by Pew should be encouraging though, as it indicates that the environment is ripe for innovation in the non-profit and foundation worlds.