Drawing on open-ended interviews with more than sixty political staffers, accounts of practitioners, and fieldwork, in this talk I present the previously untold history of the uptake of new media in Democratic electoral campaigning from 2000 to 2012. I follow a group of technically-skilled Internet staffers who came together on the Howard Dean campaign and created a series of innovations in campaign organization, tools, and practice. After the election, these individuals founded an array of consulting firms and training organizations and staffed a number of prominent Democratic campaigns. In the process, they carried their innovations across Democratic politics and contributed to a number of electoral victories, including Barack Obama's historic bid for the presidency, and currently occupy senior leadership positions in the president's re-election campaign. This history provides a lens for understanding the organizations, tools, and practices that are shaping the 2012 electoral cycle.
In detailing this history, I analyze the role of innovation, infrastructure, and organization in electoral politics. I show how the technical and organizational innovations of the Dean and Obama campaigns were the product of the movement of staffers between fields, organizational structures that provided spaces for technical development, and incentives for experimentation. I reveal how Dean's former staffers created an infrastructure for Democratic new media campaigning after the 2004 elections that helped transfer knowledge, practice, and tools across electoral cycles and campaigns. Finally, I detail how organizational contexts shaped the uptake of tools by the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012, analyze the emergence of data systems and managerial practices that coordinate collective action, and show how digital cultural work mobilizes supporters and shapes the meaning of electoral participation.
I conclude by discussing the relationship between technological change and democratic practice, showing how from Howard Dean to Barack Obama, new media have provided campaigns with new ways to find and engage supporters, to run their internal operations, and to translate the energy and enthusiasm generated by candidates and political opportunities into the staple resources of American electioneering. While these tools have facilitated a resurgence in political activity among the electorate, this participation has come in long institutionalized domains: fundraising, volunteer canvassing, and voter mobilization. Meanwhile, participation is premised on sophisticated forms of data profiling, targeted persuasive communications, and computational managerial practices that coordinate collective action. As such, I argue that the uptake of new media in electoral campaigning is a hybrid form of organizing politics that combines both management and empowerment.
Daniel Kreiss is Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Kreiss's research explores the impact of technological change on the public sphere and political practice. In Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama (Oxford University Press, 2012), Kreiss presents the history of new media and Democratic Party political campaigning over the last decade. Kreiss is an affiliated fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School and received a Ph.D. in Communication from Stanford University. Kreiss's work has appeared in New Media and Society, Critical Studies in Media Communication, The Journal of Information Technology and Politics, and The International Journal of Communication, in addition to other academic journals.