He’s So Much Cooler Online

I’ve noticed for a while now that those of us in the new media tend to sometimes over-state the importance of the internet. While I firmly believe that it is the wave of the future, it is also true that in modern-day America, the internet is merely one facet of a well-run political campaign.

This was certainly the case in 2004 when political “insiders” all but coronated Howard Dean. Of course, Dean’s mistake was having his nationwide online base (from places like San Francisco and Massachusetts) send postcards to Iowans. What is more, he had out-of-staters trudging around in the Iowa snow, wearing orange hats (which made them stick out like a sore thumb).

Having lived in North Dakota, I can attest first hand to the fact that Midwesterners have an uncanny ability to easily identify outsiders (in the case of spotting San Franciscans, I’ll call it “Bay-Dar” …)

While Dean’s mistake was in failing to organize on-the-ground in Iowa, the media’s mistake was in over-selling the importance of his internet campaign.

In any event, I was probably a victim of this phenomenon when I picked Ron Paul to finish third in the Iowa Straw Poll. After all, if he has the ability to get his online supporters to do amazing things — such as win the FOX News online poll and the FreedomWorks poll — I reasoned, he might be able to work the same magic in the Straw Poll.

(In fairness, I was not naive enough to predict Paul would win or come in second).

We’re probably all guilty of projecting our experiences on to others, and assuming our experiences are normal. So if you spend eight hours a day on the internet, it is likely you will overestimate a candidate who is running a good online effort.

(Ironically, Paul’s online victories may have actually undermined his Iowa finish, which really wasn’t all that bad, by raising expectations).

Regardless, I would speculate that most reporters and bloggers are probably all a bit biased toward online activism. We should be cognizant of this going forward…