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Unexpected Transformations: The Internet’s Effect on Political Associations in America Dave Karpf, Ph.D Assistant Professor, Rutgers University

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Presentation on theme: "Unexpected Transformations: The Internet’s Effect on Political Associations in America Dave Karpf, Ph.D Assistant Professor, Rutgers University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Unexpected Transformations: The Internet’s Effect on Political Associations in America Dave Karpf, Ph.D Assistant Professor, Rutgers University Twitter: @Davekarpf

2 The Internet is transforming our media and political institutions Enables novel types of communication (asynchronous, many-to- many, unbounded by geography) New communication tools (blogs, twitter, etc) are promoting the “social web.” Particularly good for communities-of-interest. We still have political elites (Hindman 2008), but they are different political elites. We are experiencing a structural transformation of the political advocacy community. Membership and fundraising regimes have shifted, leading to the rise of a new generation of advocacy groups and networked advocacy leaders.

3 Newspapers: What Just Happened?

4 Media Disruption New medium --> emerging markets --> disruption of revenue streams --> decline of old institutions

5 A New Generation of Political Advocacy Organizations

6 Founded in 1998 Emerged in 2002-3 as a vocal force in the anti-war movement 5 million members $90 million+ donated in 2008 election 933,800 volunteers in ‘08, 20 million+ volunteer-hours 200+ locally-based “MoveOn Councils 32 staffpeople Zero Offices Let’s take a closer look at MoveOn

7 Not Just “Clickstream” Activism

8 MoveOn Isn’t an Isolated Example Founded in January ‘09 400,000+ members $1,350,000 raised in ‘09 Built their list around Norm Coleman/Al Franken and around the public option 14 staff (only 3 in ‘09) Zero Office Space Combined expertise in technology, issue campaigns, and electoral campaigns

9 Large Audience, Cutting-Edge Tactics Consider the recent Arkansas Senate Primary… Blanche Lincoln was the least-popular Dem among progressive activists Polls showed her likely to lose in the general election Unions and the “netroots” combined to draft and support a challenger Over $3.5 million donated through DailyKos, DFA, PCCC, MoveOn Halter’s campaign hired PCCC staffers at-cost to run their field program National community-of-interest sent a clear signal to other elected Democrats

10 Membership regimes: This has all happened before Skocpol (2003) describes the displacement of cross-class membership federations by professionally-managed advocacy groups. Membership went from attending/participating to supporting/check-writing This was a technologically- mediated transition. And we’re experiencing another one (Bimber 2003)

11 EraFirst Generation (1800s-1960s) Second Generation (1970s-early 2000s) Third Generation (2000-present) Membership Type Community- Based Issue-BasedOnline-Based Typical Activities Attending Meetings, Holding Elective Office, Participating in Civic Activities Mailing Checks, Writing Letters, Signing Petitions (Armchair Activism) Attending local meetups, Voting online, submitting user- generated content Funding Source Membership Dues Prospect Direct Mail, Patron Donors, Grants Online Appeals, Patron Donors, Grants Dominant Org-Type Cross-Class Membership Federation Single-Issue Professional Advocacy Org Internet- mediated Issue Generalist

12 3 Elements of MoveOn’s/PCCC’s Fundraising Success 1.Zero-cost scaling. 100 e-mails cost the same as 10,000 e-mails. 2.“A/B Testing.” A form of passive democratic input 3.“Headline Chasing.” Targeted Appeals, Timely Issues.

13 Meanwhile, Old Revenue Streams are Collapsing Prospect Direct Mail is in industry-wide freefall. Targeted fundraising appeals yield “restricted money” which cannot be used for organizational overhead expenses.

14 National Wildlife Federation AFL-CIO Existing Advocacy Organizations have high overhead costs

15 Not just a new fundraising medium - a new fundraising model. “We have less than 48 hours to reach our goal of raising $10,000 by 11:59PM on December 31 – and we’re not there yet There are lots of reasons why you should give to right now: First, because we’re counting on you. [...] Second, because the year is coming to a close. [...] And third, because there is no time like the present. The time for excuses is over: America needs strong environmental policies that support a sustainable green economy today. Help us make it happen.” “Dear MoveOn member, You’ve probably heard about how Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff scammed investors out of at least $50 billion. But you may not have heard that his victims included the foundations that support some really important progressive organizations. Groups that fight for human rights, fair elections and racial justice are getting hit hard - just in time for the holidays. We’ve worked side-by-side with many of them. If these groups can’t replace the funding that came from investment accounts that Madoff stole, they may be forced to start cutting important projects or, in some cases, even lay off staff. Can you pitch in $25 or $50 for each of the four organizations we’re highlighting below?…Click here to contribute.” SaveOurEnvironment.orgMoveOn.Org

16 MoveOn and the PCCC points us toward a “disruptive innovation” in the political ecology of advocacy groups Changing definitions of membership Dramatic shifts in revenue streams New tactical repertoires Resultant shift in how collective action is structured in America. Lowered Transaction Costs --> Mobilization of Bias in a wider variety of issue areas

17 Which old organizations will be displaced? The costs of direct mail fundraising will continue to rise, and it will soon be an unsustainable revenue stream. Some large orgs rely on a few patron donors, government or corporate grants, etc. They face little threat. Vast majority of “public interest” political associations rely on Direct Mail. Expect to see major restructuring and/or closures in the next few years

18 Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and YouTube are just that: Tools The real impact on politics comes from a new set of political elites who utilize these tools to construct nimble, large-scale political associations. These organizations have begun displacing the legacy groups that have typified American politics for a generation. Through the lowering of online transaction costs, we are seeing the emergence of communities-of- interest (political and non) all across the Web. Those communities are where the unexpected transformations are occurring.

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