Staying Connected

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The Pew Internet & American Life Project released results yesterday from a survey on voter engagement post-election. During the primaries, some skeptical observers questioned whether the excitement about Obama’s candidacy would translate into turnout. And during the general election, they wondered whether Obama supporters could sustain their engagement after the long, closely-contested primary season. Now, of course, the question is whether the new Obama administration can keep their supporters and other voters engaged as they switch from campaigning to governing.

So far, the answer appears to be yes. 62% of Obama voters told Pew researchers that they expect to lobby others to support Obama administration policies over the next year. Almost half (46%) expect ongoing communication from Obama, whether via email, text message, or social networking sites. And that communication has continued, with Obama releasing weekly addresses on YouTube and the campaign sending a pre-Christmas message from Michelle Obama urging supporters to donate to local food banks or send care packages to soldiers over the holidays.

But Obama supporters are also continuing to use the networks they set up during the campaign to organize themselves and stay connected. Local Obama groups continue to meet in local libraries coffee shops, they’re setting up service events for the National Day of Service on January 19. During the campaign, Obama organizers held this up as their goal–give volunteers responsibility, they said, and the networks will survive beyond the campaign. No one yet knows, though, what the impact of these networks will be.

The Obama networks do give Democrats an organizing and communications advantage over Republicans. Not surprisingly, the Pew study found that McCain voters have had minimal contact with the GOP via websites, email, etc. Even though some Republicans are invested in a struggle to re-make the GOP, you wouldn’t expect supporters of the losing candidate to be politically engaged in the months immediately following an election.

But Democratic dominance online pre-dates the 2008 campaign and will be significant going forward. For decades, Republicans held a similar advantage as they mastered direct mail techniques to reach supporters and persuade undecided voters. They have been shockingly slow, however, to develop online strategies–the 2008 candidates who did have a strong web presence, like Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee, were initially just trying to figure out how to offset the financial edge their opponents enjoyed. The GOP’s resolution for 2009 might be to figure out this whole internets thing.

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