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Democracy 2.0

The Internet is fast becoming a key tool for candidates and voters; ThinkProgress is launching a database to track '08 election activity online.

The media landscape in the United States is undergoing a tectonic shift on par with the introduction of broadcast television in the 1950s. And when the media world changes in fundamental ways, “politics is forced to fundamentally change too.” Today, roughly a third of American adults–more than 60 million people–go online to get political news and discuss electoral campaigns. As the 2008 race begins, presidential campaigns will be on the leading edge of the intersection of new media and politics. Today, ThinkProgress is launching Presidential Progress: NetTrends08, a comprehensive database of presidential candidates’ activity online. From now through the end of the 2008 election, NetTrends08 will be tracking how the candidates and their supporters are using the Internet to participate in our democracy. Check out the database here, and don’t forget to share sites and resources that you think are particularly useful, innovative, or just plain cool.

  • Progressives are dominating the new online media sphere. Conservatives have long dominated the traditional media battlegrounds of radio, television, and direct-mail, but progressives are dominating the new playing field of online media. “Nielson ratings reported that the biggest political blog, DailyKos, is visited by 4.8 million people a month,” Jerome Armstrong writes. “The Liberal Ad Network, which comprises nearly 100 of the biggest blogs that are aligned with the progressive cause, pegged readership at over 90 million page-views a month.” This change is critical, since Americans are using the web to get informed. More than 50 percent say they search for information about a candidate’s voting records, and 41 percent went online to double-check the accuracy of something a candidate claimed. This is especially true for the millennial generation: among people under 36, 35 percent said the Internet is their primary source for campaign information.

  • Candidates in 2008 will place online communications squarely in the center of their strategic outreach. If 2006 was the “YouTube Election,” defined by rogue videographers, “the already-underway 2008 presidential campaign is likely to be remembered as the point where web video became central to the communications strategy of every serious presidential candidate.” At least four candidates–Sam Brownback, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama–announced their candidacies in web videos, and Clinton has since hosted of a series of extended, interactive video chats. One of the most effective uses of video among 2008 candidates thus far was by former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), whose campaign came under fire from right-wing activists after video clips from a 1994 debate with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) were posted showing Romney voicing support for reproductive rights and gay rights. “Less than eight hours” after those clips appeared, Romney’s campaign had produced a new video showing Romney discussing his current, more conservative positions on those issues. That video was posted widely on conservative blogs, successfully minimizing the negative fallout of the 1994 tapes. Social networking tools like MySpace and Facebook are also being integrated into presidential campaigns. After grassroots supporters of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) mobilized hundreds of thousands of young people into MySpace and Facebook groups, Obama integrated the technology into his own campaign with a feature called My.BarackObama.com.

  • Online tools are engaging citizens and opening up the process of government to the public. The goal of NetTrends08 is to highlight innovative ideas and organizing techniques that are getting people directly involved in politics. But much of that work is already underway. Hundreds of progressive campaigns, projects, and organizations–many of them founded and funded by ordinary citizens–have launched online in recent years. This month, a large bipartisan coalition of web activists including Bush/Cheney 2004 eCampaign Director Mike Turk teamed up to create the Open House Project, an effort endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to make Congress more open and accountable. Online activists are bringing new focus and accountability to local and regional politics, with groups like the Progressive States Network. New business models for progressive politics are emerging. Last year, legal analyst and blogger Glenn Greenwald published the book How Would a Patriot Act? through an independent progressive publishing unit. Thanks almost entirely to word-of-mouth promotion on the web, Greenwald’s book shot to the number one slot on Amazon.com’s top sellers list–up from “somewhere in the 50,000 range”–all in “less than 24 hours, and without the benefit of any high-profile radio and television publicity campaign.” Strong bipartisan activism has turned opposition to net neutrality into a kind of political third rail.