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Political Physics: The New Campaign Formula


A blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

It Wasn’t Just Because Obama is the Man

Last Tuesday night at 11 pm EST I sat awestruck as I watched CNN declare Barack Obama President Elect of the United States.  I voted for Obama, I had faith, I watched the returns and still I was not prepared when that announcement was made.  My mother called shouting and crying, but I sat still and quiet…..tempted to wake up my son (even though he is only 6 ½ months old and would not understand what was going on).  A week later, the awe has given way to jubilation.  And I could write about that jubilation and how wonderful Barack Obama is, but I want to take time to acknowledge some folks who truly deserve a round of applause.  A group of people whose names we will never hear chanted – the hardworking men and women behind the Obama Campaign.

I suspect that over the next couple of years, PhD students at several of the nation’s colleges and universities will write dissertations on how the Elect Obama effort changed the face of campaigning in this country.  It was simply one of the best – if not the best – election campaigns of all time and did indeed set a standard for future presidential campaigns.

There are some who would argue that although the campaign was good, it was not what put Obama over the top.  The Weekly Standard argued that it was the media’s biased coverage of the candidates, “there was the breathtaking media bias – liberal bias – in favor of Obama and against McCain.”  And they argued that the economic crisis was a strong environmental factor and even though neither McCain nor Obama was responsible for the collapse, McCain and the Republican Party became likely scapegoats.  However, the fact of the matter is, those two issues taken together or alone were not more powerful then the momentum of the Obama Campaign.

In his victory speech on Tuesday night in Chicago, Obama called his staff the “best political campaign, I think, in the history of the United States of America.”  And he was right.

There were several factors that made this campaign historic, but I would argue that the most significant was the community organizer or bottom-up campaign approach that truly set this campaign apart and played a key role in Obama’s victory.

Obama said it himself in an article in Time, “What I didn’t anticipate was how effectively we could use the internet to harness that grassroots base, both on the financial side and the organizing side,” he said. “That, I think, was probably one of the biggest surprises of the campaign, just how powerfully our message merged with the social networking and the power of the Internet.”

The Obama Campaign email distribution list has an estimated 8–10 million addresses and approximately 3.04 million people joined his group on Facebook.  This does not include the hundreds of thousands of people on MySpace, Twitter, etc.  Obama’s true running mate was technology.

I think fundraising is a tremendous example of the power of the “Obama Network.”  In September, the Obama Campaign raised more than $150 million, pushing the total campaign fundraising amount to $605 million – the most ever raised by any presidential candidate in history.   According to the Huffington Post, campaign manager David Plouffe, in an email to supporters Sunday morning, said “the campaign had added 632,000 new donors in September, for a total of 3.1 million contributors to the campaign. He said the average donation was $86. “  $86 a person is a lot of small contributions from people like you and me.

The Obama Campaign used these lists as powerful organizing tools to fundraise, spread the word about upcoming events, distribute platform information, control the campaign messaging, counter public relation attacks by the opposition, etc.  This was a true grass roots campaign that was victorious, which before Obama would have seemed impossible in a national election.  Like Time said, Obama has changed the way politics is practiced in America – and he is poised to keep doing so.  If he runs his White House as effectively as his campaign, we are in for an amazing eight years!


Graphic Design Photo Credit: Chris Murphy
Internet Photo Credit: Will Lion