Change We Need - Fabian Society

Change We Need - Fabian Society
The Fabian Society
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The Change We Need
What Britain can learn from
Obama’s victory
Edited by Nick Anstead and Will Straw
“Change will not come if we wait for
some other person or some other time.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
We are the change we seek.”
Barack Obama,
5th February 2008, Chicago
Fabian Society
11 Dartmouth Street
London SW1H 9BN
Editorial Director: Tom Hampson
Editorial Manager: Ed Wallis
A Fabian Special
First published 2009
ISBN 978 0 7163 4107 9
This pamphlet, like all publications of the Fabian Society,
represents not the collective views of the Society but only
the views of the authors. The responsibility of the Society is
limited to approving its publications as worthy of
consideration within the Labour movement.
This book, edited by Nick Anstead and Will
Straw, and published by the Fabian Society, is
licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionShare Alike 3.0 Unported License. Further details
can be found at
British Library Cataloguing in Publication data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the
British Library.
Printed and bound by DG3
We would especially like to thank the Dartmouth Street
Trust for their generous support.
Acknowledgements and Contributors
Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
Nick Anstead and Will Straw
Retrospective on the election: divisiveness
and democracy
Robert Y Shapiro
Gender and the election
Kate Kenski
The power of storytelling
David Lammy MP
A British movement for change
Ben Brandzel
‘Respect, empower and include’: the new
model army
Karin Christiansen and Marcus Roberts
The web 2.0 election
Jennifer Stromer-Galley
Blogging the election
Faiz Shakir
The democratising force of fundraising
Matthew McGregor
10. Data-driven politics
Yair Ghitza and Todd Rogers
11. Campaigning for Congress
Rep. Glenn Nye with Robert Gerber
12. Conclusion
Nick Anstead and Will Straw
Endnotes and Bibliography
Figures and tables
Figure 1: Vote preferences of white women
who were Democrats or Independents
across time (15-day prior moving average)
Figure 2: Vote preferences of white men who
were Democrats or Independents across
time (15-day prior moving average)
Figure 3: “Do you think the United States is
ready to elect a president who is a woman,
or not?” (5-day prior moving average)
Figure 4: Ohio Contacts – 2004 vs. 2008
Figure 5: AFL-CIO Membership Mail Test in
March 2008
Table 1: The presidential vote by race and gender
The editors would like to thank Jessica Asato, David
Boyle, Matt Browne, Andrew Chadwick, Josh Dorner,
Claire Howard, Hannah Jameson, Sadiq Khan, Declan
McHugh, Kirsty McNeill, David Radloff, Phil Riley, Mark
Rusling, Tom Stoate, Jack Straw and Rob Vance who have
all, both directly and indirectly, influenced this pamphlet.
Also, our thanks goes to our many colleagues at the
Center for American Progress, Royal Holloway and the
University of East Anglia, as well as our friends in the
Labour Party and wider progressive movement, who have
all been so important in helping foment the ideas that
drove the development of this volume. Additionally, we
are grateful to Rodrigo Davies for his copy-editing skills
and sharpening up our original text.
We are deeply indebted to Sunder Katwala, Tom
Hampson, Ed Wallis, and Rachael Jolley at the Fabian Society
whose hard work and expertise made this volume possible.
Last, but not least, we are grateful to all the authors of
the chapters in this pamphlet, many of whom produced
their work at very short notice.
Nick Anstead is a lecturer in politics at the University of
East Anglia. His research is focused largely on parties,
new political communication, and civic participation.
He has appeared on national television and radio to
discuss his work and blogs at
Nick can be contacted at [email protected]
Will Straw is Associate Director for Economic Growth at
the Center for American Progress and writes for
ProgressOnline, LabourList and Comment is Free. He
can be contacted at [email protected]
Ben Brandzel is a Founding Advisor for 38 Degrees which
is launching this spring at He
was the North Carolina Online Campaign Director for
Barack Obama, served as the Advocacy Director of, and has worked for many online and
offline organizing efforts around the world.
Gordon Brown has been Prime Minister of the United
Kingdom since 2007. He is MP for Kirkcaldy and
Cowdenbeath and has been a member of the Fabian
Society since 1986.
Karin Christiansen was an Obama volunteer in the primary elections in New York State Headquarters and
the general election in the Virginia Beach Office.
Robert Gerber was an advisor to Glenn Nye during the
2008 congressional election and works as a foreign
affairs professional in Washington.
Yair Ghitza is a PhD student in Political Science at
Columbia University. He previously worked for political analysis firms including Catalist and Copernicus
Kate Kenski is an Assistant Professor at the University of
Arizona where she teaches political communication
and research methods. She is also a research consultant for the National Annenberg Election Survey.
Kenski is a co-author of the book Capturing Campaign
Dynamics: The National Annenberg Election Survey and
has published articles and research notes in a number
of academic journals.
David Lammy is the Labour MP for Tottenham and the
Minister of State for Innovation, Universities and
Skills. During the 2008 American elections he spent
time with the Obama campaign in Chicago and in contested primary states.
Matthew McGregor is the Director of the London Office
of Blue State Digital – the organisation that built
Obama’s social network MyBO. As well as working on
campaigns in the US, France and Sweden, he organised Jon Cruddas’s Deputy Leadership campaign in
2006-7, and worked for Ken Livingstone’s 2008
Mayoral bid. He has also been employed by trade justice advocates War on Want and the TULO, the coalixiv
tion of Labour supporting trade unions.
Glenn Nye is in his first term as Democratic member of
the US House of Representatives for Virginia's 2nd
Congressional District. He won his seat in November
2008 by defeating two-term Republican incumbent
Thelma Drake.
Marcus Roberts was an Obama Volunteer Organiser in
Ohio. Previously he lost the Gore 2000, Carnahan
2002, Kerry 2004 and Madrid 2006 elections. He is now
a happy man.
Todd Rogers is the Executive Director of the Analyst
Institute, which assists progressive organisations to
use randomised controlled experiments and datadriven innovations in politics. He received his PhD
from Harvard Business School and the Harvard
Psychology Department.
Faiz Shakir is the Research Director at the Center for
American Progress and serves as Editor-in-Chief of He holds a BA degree in
Government from Harvard University and a JD
degree from the Georgetown Law Center.
Robert Y Shapiro is the Professor of Political Science and
Acting Director, Institute for Social and Economic
Research and Policy, Columbia University. He is the
author of Politicians Don't Pander: Political
Manipulation and the Loss of Democratic Responsiveness
with Lawrence R Jacobs.
Jennifer Stromer-Galley is an Assistant Professor in the
Department of Communication at the University at
Albany, SUNY. Her research focuses on the political
uses of new communication technology, including
political blogging, presidential campaigning through
The Change We Need
the internet, and citizen's political talk.
Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
e tend to think of the sweep of destiny as
stretching across many months and years – as if
each minute leads inevitably to the next, before
culminating in decisive moments we call history. But
sometimes the defining moments of history appear suddenly and with no warning, and the task of leadership is
to name them, shape them and move forward into the new
world they help to create.
I think we are in one of those moments now. An economic hurricane has spread across the world and lashed
our shores and only progressive values hold the answer to
it. When I travel around Britain I sense a real hunger for
the economic change Labour is fighting for and for the cooperative solutions that can make the fair society real in
our generation.
And so this is a good time to reflect on how our Labour
Party can better serve the interests of Britain. This book
reminds us of what we all know, but sometimes forget to
articulate clearly: that people join progressive parties not
just to help them win elections, but to help them win the
change their countries need.
Contained within these pages are the ideas of tomorrow – the new ways of working that will help Labour
members do even more to change our world. It contains
fascinating accounts from people who have held senior
leadership positions across American professional politics, but what comes through most clearly is that they
The Change We Need
never felt the Obama campaign was primarily about hiring the best full-timers. Rather, this was people-powered
politics, an exercise in harnessing the talents and enthusiasm of so-called ordinary people.
The stunning success of the campaign in recruiting,
retaining and deploying volunteers was not just a model
of political organising, but a profound political ideal in
itself. At the core of it was the idea that every single person is both precious and unique, each born endowed with
a contribution only they can make. At each level and stage
of the campaign the organising principle was the same:
the purpose of politics is to help people bridge the gap
between what they are and what they have it within themselves to become.
It reminded me of that brilliant video that was made for
Live 8. It shows great social movements in history – but it
pans past the people who made the headlines and focuses
in on the people behind them. So in the mass abolitionist
rallies it goes past Wilberforce to focus on a face in the
crowd. Then they show the votes for women campaign
and go past the Pankhursts to those who protested alongside them. And then it shows the march on Washington
but pans past Dr King to focus on all those he had
mobilised to march with him.
The point it makes, of course, is that winning progressive
battles is not just about who leads – but about who commits
and dedicates their lives to the struggle. Great change is
only won and sustained when leaders inspire others to follow – when they stand up for justice and pass its torch
along, person to person, to build a movement, first hundreds, then thousands and then finally millions strong.
The Obama campaign stood in that long and noble tradition of movement-based politics. Our own Labour Party
also has that strain in our inheritance. As a grand coming
together of trade unionists and Fabians and co-operators
and Christian socialists, latterly embracing the tenants’
movement and the campaigners for gay and women’s and
black equality, ours was never intended to be a rigid and
brittle party structure.
So we need to remember that great responsibility rests
on our shoulders not just as a government but as a party.
If we are to continue being the change that Britain needs
we must always remember that we are more than a home
for tribal political loyalties; that our Labour family is a
movement inspired by a calling to which all people of
good conscience can rally.
I have recently returned from America where I met
with politicians, journalists and activists. What was clear
from each was just how enthused people had become
through a campaign once written off as a long-shot insurgency. We should all be inspired by the success of those
whose success is down simply to their courage in willing
The road ahead is a hard one, but we should travel with
confidence, because the momentum of history is not
towards the right. The pendulum is swinging to the centre-left, to the people who believe that while markets
should be free they should never be values-free, and that
doing what is fair matters more than being laissez-faire.
Progressives have never been better placed to win the
battle of ideas. This timely book shows us how we might
adapt some lessons that would enable us to win the battle of
organisation too. Each requires a ruthless focus on effective
collaboration and a celebration of the idea that we achieve
more working with others than we ever could alone.
So let us say to those who have disengaged, to those
once on our side who have given up hope, let us say and
mean what has always been true and which this recent
American election has done so much to illuminate: those
who stand for progress stand together.
1. Introduction
Nick Anstead and Will Straw
he 2008 American election was not just business as
usual and it marked a significant break from the
past. Cynics will argue that Barack Obama's message of 'hope' and 'change' was just rhetoric, and he certainly could not have asked for better circumstances in which to
face the Republicans. But Obama ultimately prevailed
because he embodied the messages he was preaching.
He was, of course, the first African-American to win
either party's nomination. His speech on race in March
2008 did much to address the fears of those who worried
that his campaign might be framed by anger or bitterness.
His eloquent argument that "we perfect our union by
understanding that we may have different stories, but we
hold common hopes," and his own tale – detailed in
Dreams From My Father, – as the son of a black man from
Kenya and a white woman from Kansas underscored his
ideas and forged a new approach to politics.1 He advocated an end to partisan division, the shattering of
Washington's entrenched vested interests, and a pragmatic
style that asked what works, not where the idea came from.
Obama also symbolised generational change, as he was
the first post-Vietnam War presidential candidate. This
was a hugely significant shift as, for more than two
decades, the war and the divisions it had created in the US
provided the background against which elections were
fought. Candidates' service records, accusations of draft
dodging and the intervention of organisations like the
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Swift Boat Veterans proved decisive in election after election. Obama, though, was just three years old when the
Tonkin Bay Incident led to President Johnson escalating
American involvement in Vietnam. Because he was from a
different generation, Obama was able to transcend the culture wars that had dominated American politics since
Nixon's victory in 1968. Unlike Kerry or Gore before him,
he avoided getting bogged down in issues like abortion,
gun control, or gay rights, and instead focused relentlessly
on his judgment over the Iraq War and, later, his plans to
revive the ailing economy.
Just as his race, age, and policies signified change, so too
did his campaign. Elections are frequently defined by specific innovations. The 1960 election, for example, will be
forever remembered for the contrast in the first televised
debate between a youthful and photogenic John F
Kennedy, and a pale and unshaven Richard Nixon (who
was just four years his senior). The 2008 election will be
remembered for Obama's mastery of the internet.
As the chapters in this book detail, Obama's network of
supporters were mobilised in an unparalleled manner
through the most technically sophisticated campaign of all
time. Activists used the social networking feature on his
web site,, to organise voter-registration drives and canvassing operations. Data was used with
ever increasing sophistication to enhance the efficiency of
all aspects of campaigning, and was quickly converted
from the clipboard to mainframe computers in Chicago.
The Obama campaign raised an unprecedented $657 million in donations from supporters, of which more than
$500 million was given online. And in the blogosphere, the
netroots community undertook a relentless rebuttal operation against John McCain, Sarah Palin and President Bush,
providing endless material for the mainstream media.
This book documents this story, asking at every stage
what lessons are applicable to Britain and specifically to
Obama's ideological bed fellows, the Labour Party. With
a British general election due at some point in the next
fifteen months, the timing could not be more apposite.
When it comes, the election campaign will be the most
fiercely competitive in nearly a generation. And with the
global economy in peril, the stakes could not be higher.
To be clear, we do not argue that Obama's campaign
strategies can be imported wholesale from the United
States or simply emulated through replication. To
attempt to do so would be to ignore the considerable
institutional, cultural and circumstantial differences
between American and British politics. We do, however,
believe that for every aspect of the American election –
grassroots mobilisation, volunteer management, the use
of data, blogging, and even fundraising – there are lessons that the Labour Party must absorb. Failure to do so
will give the Conservative Party a strategic advantage
when every vote counts more than at any time since the
nail biter in 1992.
While these lessons and the recommendations that
flow from them form the change we need, it will not be
easy. The Party must adapt its culture in order to capitalise on these innovations. Labour's winning formula
over the last decade of centralised command and control
is at odds with the defining characteristics of the early
21st century. Society is more fragmented, atomised and
diverse than ever before, yet individuals – particularly
the young – use the networks of Facebook and MySpace
to replicate the community spirit of old. Much of what
Obama achieved was only possible because of the openness with which he ran his campaign and the decentralisation of key tasks to his myriad supporters. Such an
approach is alien to the modern Labour Party.
We argue that Obama's victory shows that the Party no
longer has to choose between being, on the one hand, an
electorally successful organisation and, on the other, an
open party that empowers citizens. The change we need is
not merely a means to achieve electoral victory (although,
The Change We Need
as the chapters in this volume show, it is increasingly
important to having a successful political strategy). It is
also an end in itself, playing a critical role in creating a
vibrant space for civic participation and deliberation. To
achieve this, we believe that the Labour Party needs to:
remove all barriers to participation;
enable channels for dissent and debate;
give supporters the tools to self-organise;
keep supporters better informed; and
reward hard work and entrepreneurialism.
Successful political parties are vital to achieving a healthy
civil society, a goal shared by progressives, socialists and
social democrats of all shades. Yet to continue to play this
role in the 21st century, parties must transform the role of
their members and supporters, turning them from clients to
partners through institutions that are both empowering and
relevant to the way people live their lives. The American
election showed the way for genuine movement-based democratic change. It is now Britain and Labour's turn to emulate that extraordinary success.
The book is structured as follows. Each chapter details a
specific aspect of the 2008 election campaign and begins
with a short abstract, written by the editors, which summarises the relevant lessons for the Labour Party. Chapters
2 and 3 offer broad narratives of the election. Robert
Shapiro of Columbia University sets events in the context
of national divisions created by the Bush presidency. Kate
Kenski from the University of Arizona then examines the
historic role played by women in 2008, both as candidates
and voters.
The next three chapters by David Lammy MP, grassroots activist Ben Brandzel, and two Labour Party members who volunteered for Obama – Karin Christiansen and
Marcus Roberts – examine the techniques that Barack
Obama used to mobilise his supporters and volunteers.
Chapters 7 to 10 detail some of the technological developments in the election. Jennifer Stromer-Galley of the
University at Albany, SUNY looks at the impact of web 2.0;
Faiz Shakir of writes about the role of
the blogoshere; Matthew McGregor discusses fundraising;
and Yair Ghitza and Todd Rogers – two progressive political analysts – consider the importance of statistical techniques such as microtargeting and randomised controlled
experiments. In chapter 11, newly elected US
Representative Glenn Nye provides a unique personal
story about his successful congressional race in Virginia
against an incumbent Republican.
The editors then offer a broader conclusion, examining
what the 2008 election means for the future of political
organising in general and for the Labour Party in particular.
The excitement, enthusiasm and hope generated by the 2008
election stands in stark contrast to the previous eight years of
American history. George W Bush’s presidency started under
the cloud created by the ‘hanging chads’ controversy in Florida
in 2000, and then encompassed the tragic events of 9/11, the
divisiveness of two foreign wars, the polarising 2004 election,
Hurricane Katrina and, finally, economic meltdown.
In this chapter, Robert Shapiro examines how the 2008 election relates to the hugely divisive Bush years, and finds that
while certain events – notably the nomination of Sarah Palin
as John McCain’s running mate – did reanimate long-standing
partisan divisions, the ultimate victor in the election cycle was
enthusiasm for the democratic process.
The UK, where our faith in politics seems to be in terminal
decline, could learn much from this. In particular, it seems that
civil society contains the seeds of its own regeneration. Given
the opportunity, and a belief that they can have a meaningful
impact, citizens will re-engage and be re-enthused. The challenge for British politicians is to create an environment where
this can happen.
2. Retrospective on the election:
divisiveness and democracy
Robert Y Shapiro
he 2008 American election campaign that began in
early 2007 was arguably the most exciting and
important one since Franklin D Roosevelt’s victory
in 1932. The United States was engaged, with no end in
sight, in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the country’s economy was stagnant or on the downswing; and the electorate
was dissatisfied with eight years of the Republican presidential administration, as reflected in President George W
Bush’s low and declining approval rating in the polls.
The highly ideological and partisan conflict over economic and social issues that had increased steadily since the 1970s
had heightened over foreign policy and war issues leading
into the 2008 election campaign.1 President Bush continued
to be the ’great divider‘ not ’uniter‘ that he had promised to
be, and both John McCain and Barack Obama, as they
became their parties’ candidates, once again promised to end
partisan conflict. Both could credibly claim that they were
not extremists in their parties, and this kept New York City
Mayor Michael Bloomberg from running as a third-party
candidate to capture any wide open political centre.
The nation waited for the campaigns to unfold – and for
any surprises. It was a good bet that like the 2000 and 2004
elections the outcome would hinge on whether Obama could
win the politically close states of Ohio and Florida. All signs
were that he could, because in close elections the campaign
matters and Obama would take his strong campaign organisation from the primaries and out-campaign McCain in the
The Change We Need
general election, focusing on the nation’s dissatisfaction with
the failures of Bush’s Republican administration.
In addition to the question of continued partisan divisiveness, the 2008 election posed fundamental challenges for
American democracy.2 For one, there were questions about
the right to vote and whether votes would be counted accurately. The 2000 election results had been contested and ultimately decided by the Unites States Supreme Court in a partisan fashion, and in 2004 there were widespread claims of
procedural irregularities, broken or defective voting
machines, eligible voters not permitted to vote, and long lines
that discouraged voters from casting ballots.
There were also other major questions about equality
and democracy: Would racism in America prevent Barack
Obama from being the nation’s first African American president? Would opinion polls prove to be inaccurate in ways
that undermined any positive role that polling can have to
enhance American democracy?2 Would money – campaign
contributions – dominate the electoral process and continue
existing political inequalities?
How, then, did democracy and divisiveness fare in the election? In short, election day 2008 was a good day for American
democracy: Foremost, the US elected its first African American
president, overcoming the seeming rock-solid racial barrier
established at the nation’s founding with its legacy of slavery.
While the election of Republican Sarah Palin as the first women
vice president would have been a major achievement, the racial
breakthrough for the presidency was a monumental result.
Second, despite widspread concerns that led to very careful election monitoring around the country, there were, overall, no significant problems encountered in the voting process
and in tallying votes. There was no evidence of vote fraud, in
the wake of fears and accusations made by Republicans during the campaign. There were long lines in some places on
election day, and also when ‘early voting’ occurred in many
states, but voters waited patiently for the most part.
Extraordinarily telling was that voters waited in very long
Retrospective on the election
queues in places such as New York City, where there was no
doubt that Obama would win their state and where there
were virtually no competitive elections on the ballot. While
voter turnout nationally among all segments of the electorate
was not as large as expected (very likely because the election
was not going to be close in many states), it surpassed the
turnout in the very close 2000 and 2004 elections and was estimated to be 61.6 per cent of the voting eligible population.3
What about the polls? The pre-election polls were extraordinarily accurate nationally and in the key states that enabled
Obama to win the Electoral Vote by a large margin.4 The public itself had followed the many and widely publicised polls
right up to election day. Daily reports on cable television and
on major web sites – especially,, and – proved particularly popular.
This accuracy refuted decisively the great suspicion before the
election that white voters would tell pollsters they would vote
for the black candidate Obama, when in fact they would not.
This polling error might occur through what was called the
‘Bradley Effect,’ named after a black candidate for Governor
of California in the 1980s about whom whites allegedly lied in
opinion polls; or it might happen because many Republican
voters or other McCain supporters did not respond to polls,
and this could not be corrected by ‘weighting’ the data.
A different concern was that the pre-election polling done
by telephone would be inaccurate because it failed to reach
voters who only used a mobile phone. This did not materialise either. The exit polls themselves avoided this difficulty
by requiring weighting to offset a bias toward the
Democratic candidate. The unadjusted exit poll results
which overestimated the Democrat Obama’s support, however, were not leaked early so that the confusion caused by
the exit polls in 2000 and 2004 was avoided.5 The major television networks were cautious in not projecting the winner
in any state until all the polls in that state had closed. In
closely contested states they even waited for enough votes to
be counted to ensure their projections were correct.
The Change We Need
And the influence of money in politics? On this the 2008
election raised more questions than it answered. On the one
hand, the Democrats could claim that Obama raised money
from record numbers of people who gave small amounts, just
as he also attracted large numbers of activists to work on his
campaign, again showing the vibrancy of American democracy in the 2008 election.
At the same time, however, Obama ‘flip flopped’ on his
original promise to take the fixed amount of federal money for
his presidential election campaign and forego other contributions. In contrast, McCain took the federal funds, agreeing not
to raise other cash. Obama’s campaign broke all past fundraising and spending records, which included large number of
donors who gave the maximum $4,600 contribution to the
presidential candidate (not counting the large contributions to
both political parties that were spent on the election).
Thus it is difficult to claim the election, despite the bipartisan efforts at campaign finance reform led by McCain,
produced any positive change from the past with respect to
the potential influence of large donors or of those who
could pool together – or ‘bundle’ – the maximum contributions from many donors.6 While the large number of small
dollar donors was democratizing in that it brought many
more people more fully into the process of political participation, the extent to which this will diminish the influence
of large donors is an open question.
Last, did the campaign end partisan divisiveness and heat?
It did not and if anything, it kept temperature levels high. At
least two things prevented the end of partisan bickering. First,
McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate appealed to the conservative base of the
Republican Party, which increased the visibility of the ideological differences between the parties.
Second, the financial crisis made the economy the dominant issue. The economy suddenly and dramatically overshadowed all of the other election issues combined – the
Iraq war, terrorism, health care, and energy – as the finan10
Retrospective on the election
cial crisis raised the spectre of a recession on the scale of the
Great Depression. The urgent need for the government
action magnified the differences between Democrats and
Republicans regarding government regulation and intervention, in which the Republicans could be portrayed as
falling short during the past eight years.
In the end, the 2008 election was as divisive in partisan
terms as 2004, but there were two differences that not only
affected the election outcome but also have major implications for the future of American politics and partisanship.7
First, the percentage of self-identified Democrat and
Republican voters was evenly divided at 37 per cent in 2004,
whereas Democrats outnumbered Republicans 39 to 32 per
cent in 2008. Americans clearly rejected the Republican brand
name after electing Bush for his second term.
This resulted not only in Obama’s election but also in larger Democratic majorities in Congress. Second, the economic
failure that ensured a decisive victory for the Democrats has
provided an issue for which they are now responsible and
will be judged depending on whether they can lead the
United States to economic recovery. Both whether and how
the Democrats succeed in this mission will have long term
consequences. If they succeed fully, they are likely to regain
the dominance they had from the 1933 to 1968, during which
time Dwight Eisenhower was the only Republican president.
In the process they may also lessen partisan tension.
If, however, Obama and the Democrats succeed only by
governing through sheer force of party numbers in Congress
(which would have been easier if they had a majority caucus
of 60 in the Senate), then it will take a decisive result in dealing with a dire national problem to lower the temperature
level of partisan conflict. But if President Obama’s economic
policies fall short, the parties will remain evenly matched.
In such circumstances, Obama can only hope to be a
‘uniter’ and not a ‘divider’ if he genuinely attempts to take
action through bipartisan efforts and leadership of the sort
that both he and McCain had promised in their campaigns.
While the 2008 US election did not smash the glass ceiling in
the end, it did, as Hillary Clinton memorably said, put eighteen million cracks in it. With that many votes in the primary
season, Clinton came closer than any women candidate to winning the presidential nomination of a major party. Her near
miss was followed by Sarah Palin’s nomination as the
Republican Party’s first ever female candidate for vice president. These two historic events fundamentally altered public
perception of America’s readiness for a female president.
In this chapter Kate Kenski analyses voter and media reaction to these two female candidates and the role of women voters. These observations hold important lessons for the UK too.
While progress towards equality has been made throughout the
West, there are many hurdles still facing women seeking high
office. In particular, there is a tendency by the media to interpret the actions of female candidates through the prism of their
gender, often in a way that harms their chances of winning.
On the other hand, female voters can play a decisive role
in the outcome of an election. Obama’s positive message
appealed to women who preferred him to McCain by 13 percentage points. This contrasts with recent British history.
According to British Election Study data, the Conservatives
have performed disproportionately well among female voters
in every election since 1964, bar one. Labour must consider
this in building its coalition for the next election and beyond.
3. Gender and the election
Kate Kenski
omen have been seeking the presidency since
Victoria Woodhull ran in 1872. However, they
have often not been treated by the press as
viable candidates in comparison to their male opponents.
The ‘first woman’ narrative and observations about
appearance are often emphasised at the expense of the
candidate’s issue platform. When women candidates are
criticised, their detractors proclaim that it was not the
gender of the candidate that was the problem in supporting her; they just did not like that particular woman.
There is a long history of that particular woman not being
deemed suitable for the presidency in the court of
American public opinion.
With the candidacies of Senator Hillary Clinton for
Democratic nominee and Governor Sarah Palin for vice
president, the 2008 election campaign helped crack the
glass ceiling to some extent. Clinton’s candidacy came
closest to date to achieving a major party nomination for a
woman, but although being a woman helped her with certain demographic groups, it hurt with others as gender
stereotypes remained.
The 2008 Democratic primaries and caucuses
Senator Hillary Clinton of New York was positioned as the
front-runner for the Democratic nomination before the
first Democratic caucuses and primaries had taken place.
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Several polls had her leading Senator Barack Obama by
margins of two to one. “The new AP-Yahoo! poll shows
Clinton snaring 47 per cent of support nationwide, with
Sen. Barack Obama a distant second,” wrote Maggie
Haberman of the New York Post.1 To be sure, as former First
Lady, Clinton initially had much higher name recognition
than the Junior Senator from Illinois.
The Clinton campaign had not spent as much time in
the small caucus states as did the Obama campaign.
Iowa, the first state on the nomination calendar, is the
thirtieth most populated state in the Union, and had
only 57 delegates to the Democratic National
Convention, including twelve super delegates. Given
that 2,118 of 4,234 delegates were needed to secure the
nomination, concentrating on states with larger delegate
counts was central to the Clinton campaign strategy.
Ultimately, this proved to be a cataclysmic mistake.
When Clinton came in third in Iowa, having garnered 29
per cent of the vote, compared to Obama’s 38 per cent
and John Edward’s 30 per cent, the media called into
question Clinton’s viability, contending that she was no
longer ahead in the horse race.2
Obama’s rise in the polls was likely influenced in part
by the news media that framed stories about him positively during the most critical part of the primary season
when people were just beginning to pay attention to the
campaigns. A content analysis of media coverage between
January 1 and March 9 conducted by the Pew Research
Center revealed that the narratives of the media stories
about Obama and Clinton were comparably positive in
tone.3 The Pew study notes, “The year 2008 started off
extremely well for Obama. Positive assertions commanded 77 per cent of the narrative studied about him from
January 1 – 13. By March 9, the figure had dropped to 53
per cent.”4 However, while the positive tone for Obama
decreased over time, the damage had already been done in
unseating Clinton as the front runner.
Gender and the election
In the next contest, the New Hampshire primary campaign, Clinton had a press conference where she discussed
the importance of the campaign to her personally. In
response to an undecided voter who asked “How did you
get out the door every day? I mean, as a woman, I know
how hard it is to get out of the house and get ready. Who
does your hair?” Clinton joked and then responded in a
tone that was more emotive than her usual, direct, matterof-fact style. “I just don’t want to see us fall backward as a
nation,” she said. “I mean, this is very personal for me.
Not just political. I see what’s happening. We have to
reverse it.”5
More significant than the event itself was the media’s
interpretation of the event, which evoked gender stereotypes about women being ‘too’ emotional and weak to
serve as leaders.6 The media spin and amount of coverage
given to the event underscored the double-bind that
women running for public office often face. If women look
too tough and detached, they are criticised for not being
female or human enough. If they show emotion, their
credibility as potential leaders is called into question.
Afterwards, reporters were quick to attribute Clinton’s
win in New Hampshire not to her experience or the
strength of her candidacy but to the ‘near-tear’ effect.
“Analysts also will long debate the effect of Clinton’s show
of emotion here Monday, where she choked up and held
back tears as she described the rigors of a presidential
race. Female candidates aren’t supposed to cry because it’s
thought to make them look soft or weak,” wrote Newsday’s
Craig Gordon the day after the primary. “But it’s just possible that a near-tear or two might have helped melt
Clinton’s Ice Queen image or gained her a little sympathy
at least.”7
Although the media frequently characterise women as
a swing vote, it is interesting to note that white women
were a much more dependable voting bloc for Clinton
than were white men for either candidate. In the 38 states
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that had exit poll data broken down by party and gender,
the results showed that white women voted for Clinton in
higher proportions than they did Obama. Women were
more inclined to vote for Obama over Clinton in only four
states: Illinois, New Mexico, Vermont, and Oregon. Utah
was a draw with both candidates receiving 49 per cent of
the white female vote each. White men, however, varied
greatly from state to state. In 22 of the states where exit
poll data was available, white men supported Clinton over
Obama. In 14 states, white men supported Obama over
Clinton. In two states, white men evenly split for Clinton
and Obama: Delaware and Texas.
During the campaign, the National Annenberg Election
Survey (NAES), a survey of adults in the US, asked people,
“If you voted today in the Democratic presidential primary election or caucus in your state, which candidate
would you vote for?” Figures 1 and 2 show the trends in
support for Clinton and Obama among white women and
white males respectively. These figures suggest that there
was slightly less stability among the vote preferences of
white males than white females. If gender and race both
played a part in one’s vote decision, then white males were
a cross-pressured group.
Unlike white voters, black voters were consistent in
their vote preferences and favoured Obama by a factor of
2:1 or greater in every state except Clinton’s own New
York.8 Disaggregated by gender, the data suggests that
black females did not feel as cross-pressured as did white
males. Nonetheless, most voters said that neither gender
nor race were important factors in their vote decisions.
Among those who reported that either gender or race
was an important factor in their vote decisions, the declaration did not necessarily mean that it was used negatively against the candidates. In some instances, being
female appeared to have helped Clinton, and being black
appeared to have helped Obama. For example, in
Alabama, of those voters who said that race was an
Gender and the election
8 January
NH primary
5 February
Super Tues
Jan 08
Feb 08
4 March
OH, RI, TX & VT primaries
Mar 08
22 April
PA primary
Apr 08
May 08
Figure 1 Vote preferences of white women who were Democrats or
Independents across time (15-day prior moving average)9
8 January
NH primary
5 February
Super Tues
Jan 08
Feb 08
4 March
OH, RI, TX & VT primaries
Mar 08
22 April
PA primary
Apr 08
May 08
Figure 2 Vote preferences of white men who were Democrats or
Independents across time (15-day prior moving average)10
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important factor in deciding their vote, 62 per cent supported Obama and 35 per cent voted for Clinton; among
those who said it was not important, 53 per cent voted for
Obama and 45 per cent voted for Clinton. In
Massachusetts, of the 20 per cent who said that gender
was important in deciding their vote, 76 per cent voted
for Clinton and 19 per cent voted for Obama; of those
who said it was not important, 51 per cent voted for
Clinton and 47 per cent voted for Obama. Yet, in some
places, these factors may have worked against the candidates. In Kentucky, of those who said that race was an
important factor, 81 per cent voted for Clinton and 16 per
cent voted for Obama; of those who said it was not
important, 61 per cent voted for Clinton and 35 per cent
voted for Obama.11
The 2008 presidential general election
Questions about gender and its role in the outcome of the
general election were brought to the fore on August 29
with the selection of Governor Sarah Palin as Senator
John McCain’s running mate. She was the first woman to
run on a Republican presidential ticket. People wondered whether women who supported Hillary Clinton
would break from their party to put a woman near the
White House if not directly in it. Ultimately, Clinton voters returned to their home party by the end of the election. Exit poll voters (including Republicans and
Independents) were asked “Who did you want to win the
Democratic nomination?” Of the 14 per cent who said
Clinton, 83 per cent ended up voting for Obama to 16 per
cent for McCain.12
When it came to gender and the presidential vote, there
was a gender gap with women preferring Obama to
McCain by 13 per cent. Men gave a one per cent edge to
McCain. Demonstrating the importance of disaggregating
the data by race and gender, Table 1 shows that there was
Gender and the election
a sizeable gap in support between McCain and Obama
among white men – a gap of 16 per cent. While not as large
as that of white men, white women gave more support to
McCain than Obama (53 per cent to 46 per cent). Blacks,
both male and female, gave overwhelming support to
Obama at a rate of 19 to one.
In previous elections, it has been assumed that the vice
presidential picks did not make much of a difference in
election outcomes. A presidential campaign usually hopes
that the VP nominee will contribute to winning the electoral votes in his or her home state. The Palin selection,
however, influenced campaign dynamics by Palin receiving an unusual amount of news coverage for a vice presidential candidate. In a content analysis of media stories
aired or printed between September 8 through October 16,
2008, the Pew Research Center found that “stories that
focused in one way or another on Governor Palin’s impact
on the race made up the No. 3 campaign topic during
% of Total
Total vote
White men
White women
Black men
Black women
Table 1 The presidential vote by race and gender (%)13
Answer (%)
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these weeks, from explorations of her record, voter reaction to her, to her various interviews. Together, these
Palin-related topics accounted for 14 per cent” of the
media coverage analysed.14
Palin was a major component in half as many stories
as Obama and McCain. She “was a significant factor” in
“28 per cent of all of the election stories. That, however,
is about three times that of Democratic vice presidential
nominee Joe Biden (9 per cent).”15 Perhaps most problematic for the Republican ticket was that 39 per cent of stories about Palin were negative in tone. About a third (33
per cent) of stories had a neutral or mixed tone, and 28
per cent were positive. In comparison, 33 per cent of stories about Senator Biden were positive; 53 per cent were
neutral and 15 per cent were negative in the week of
September 29 to October 5, which was the week in which
Biden received the most coverage and was the week of
the vice presidential debate.16 In other weeks, Biden was
given very little coverage, but the coverage he did receive
29 August:
Palin selection
Jun 08
Jul 08
Aug 08
Sep 08
Oct 08
Figure 3 “Do you think the United States is ready to elect a president
who is a woman, or not?” (5-day prior moving average)17
Gender and the election
was 48 per cent negative, 35 per cent mixed, and 17 per
cent positive.18
It is probable that the extensive negative coverage had
an impact on perceptions about the little known governor
from Alaska. Exit poll participants were asked if Biden
and Palin were qualified to be president if necessary.
While 66 per cent said that Biden was qualified, only 38
per cent said that Palin was qualified.19 When asked if
McCain’s choice of Palin was a factor in their vote, 60 per
cent said yes, 33 per cent said no. Of those who said yes,
however, 56 per cent voted for McCain and 43 per cent
voted for Obama. Of those who said no, 65 per cent voted
for Obama and 33 per cent voted for McCain.20
Despite the 2008 presidential election ending without a
woman president or a woman within a heartbeat of the
presidency, the candidacies of Clinton for her party’s
nomination and Palin as the GOP vice presidential candidate changed American’s perceptions of whether the
country was ready for a woman president. As Clinton
came within reach of receiving the Democratic nomination, perceptions on the ‘woman president’ question
changed. Even with the negative news coverage that
Palin received, her nomination helped facilitate changes
in Republicans’ perceptions that the US was ready for a
woman president (see Figure 3). This was an important
contribution to cracking the glass ceiling as Republicans
and conservatives have generally been less likely to
report that they would be likely to vote for a woman candidate if their party nominated one in comparison to
Democrats and liberals.21 Consequently, the 2008 presidential election deeply fractured, although did not break,
the veneer of stereotypes about gender and leadership
and was thus a transformative one.
In this chapter, David Lammy examines how Barack Obama
built and disseminated his message. While his campaign offers
a great example of successful micro-level political organisation,
it also used messages that drew heavily on big ideas and
themes, which were understandable and attractive to tens of
millions of Americans.
Lammy draws three lessons. First, Obama’s message of ‘hope’
and ‘change’ was positive and purposeful. Second, Obama’s own
story became synonymous with the kind of change he sought. He
outlined how far the Bush administration and Republicans had
drifted from the founding principles of the constitution but reassured voters that just as he was a personal embodiment of the
American Dream, so too could he return the country to a rightful
path. Third, Obama’s message had both consistency and clarity,
unlike that of either Hillary Clinton or John McCain.
In the UK, a positive message and vision of the good society,
drawing both on past Labour achievements and hopes for the
future, must now be wedded to the Party’s administrative competence and technocratic skills. Here, Labour has a powerful story to
tell. From its foundation as a movement fighting for workers’ representation, to the Party that created the NHS and bought equality into the political mainstream, the Party needs to find and articulate its place in the broader progressive tradition. Crucially, this
must define what Labour is for rather than what it is against and
use the past as inspiration to construct a movement for the future.
4. The power of storytelling
David Lammy MP
f Barack Obama’s campaign proves anything, it is that
people can still be inspired by politics and the possibility of change for the better. The Illinois Senator managed to remind millions of Americans of what Martin
Luther King called “the fierce urgency of now”, and
turned their passion into a valuable tool for his campaign.
Given that we live in a time when cynicism is assumed
and disengagement the dominant theme of many elections, this was no small achievement.
We need to be careful, however, in the lessons we draw
from this. Even for those following the US election closely,
it might have seemed that the incredible sequence of
events leading up to November 2008 was the product of
the interrelationship between a number of conditional circumstances – the unpopularity of the Bush administration, the growing problems in the American economy, the
history-making nature of Obama’s candidature, the
Senator’s particular gifts as an orator, and the rising potency of internet campaigning being chief among them. All
these factors were certainly important. But to treat them in
isolation is to misunderstand one of the major skills in
modern political communication.
An important element of Obama’s success came from
the ability of his campaign to interweave these various elemental factors into a bigger, much broader message.
Politicians and journalists frequently understand this skill
as the construction of ‘narrative’. Perhaps this term is
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slightly tarnished, seeming like a piece of ‘newspeak’
employed by the professional political classes. In the UK,
it is certainly an expression used very frequently, often
pejoratively and rather glibly. But, as Obama proved, big
themes and messages are an important part of engaging
people and proving that politics can be connected with
their lives – and is the glue that can hold a movement
together. But this leaves one big question, vital for anyone
trying to establish what happened in 2008 and understand
the lessons that progressives in other countries can learn:
just how was this achieved?
Generation change
If the Obama team had one important message for
Americans, it was that what they were doing was not
about politics as usual. When she launched her campaign,
Hillary Clinton forcefully said that she was “in it to win
it”. Compare this with Obama’s opening salvo of the campaign, when he declared that “I want to win the next battle... for justice and opportunity... for better schools, and
better jobs, and health care for all… I'm in this race – not
just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform
a nation.”1 This difference of emphasis highlights something very fundamental about the Obama message and
what they were trying to achieve. They were not just in the
business of winning, but winning for the purpose of
changing the world.
This fits with the themes that most people associate with
the Obama campaign, the twin mantras of hope and change.
These ideas certainly were important, but a few observations need to be made about exactly how they were used.
Obama’s claim to represent change was partly about age,
and partly about politics. Although they might not admit it
today, senior figures in the Obama campaign knew there
was a generational divide in the US. For many younger
Americans, there was a huge desire to move beyond con24
The power of storytelling
flicts that had defined the country for the past four decades,
from the Johnson and Nixon administrations to the ‘culture
wars’ over abortion, gay rights and gun control during the
Bush years. By 2008, millions of citizens were uninterested in
fighting yesterday’s battles and frustrated by partisanship
bickering in Washington. Instead they were looking for a
candidate who could lead them into the future. Obama’s
attempt to speak to these voters was long in gestation. As
early as his convention speech in 2004, he was arguing that
"There's not a liberal America and a conservative America –
there's the United States of America.”2
The power of this message was accentuated because
Obama’s main Democratic opponent in the primary season was Hillary Clinton, one of the defining figures of the
boomer generation. Clinton had another significant drawback for an electorate disappointed with recent American
history. She was an insider, an expert at playing the old
Washington game. This allowed the Obama team to portray her as part of the problem, while he could be the solution. This was a powerful political message.
Inheriting the progressive legacy
This rejection of ‘old-style’ politics and the focus on change
might suggest that the Obama campaign message fetishised
the new. But the point should not be oversimplified.
Obama’s young team had a genuine reverence for the history and achievements of reformist politics in the United
States. From the moment he declared his candidacy, Obama
drew on his own story as a mixed heritage American, who
had earned his Senate seat through hard work on the difficult Southside of Chicago. In doing this, he came to embody
the history of the American progressive struggle, and the
American dream. As such, in Obama’s own words, his campaign was ‘the next great chapter in the American story’.
But this wasn’t just about having a candidate with a good
story. His speeches explicitly linked his supporters to the
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abolitionists and slaves, immigrants and the Suffragist
movement. His focus on his supporters and the movement
he was building also rekindled the old progressive tradition
of activist-focused politics and the rejection of political
elites. By implication, of course, this also tied him to
Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt, the Kennedys and King.
Obama was also able to tap into the broader heritage of
the United States and effectively link his campaign to the
founding principles of the Republic. The day after Obama’s
election as President, the Washington Post declared that the
USA had produced “inspiring and overdue proof that the
American dream was still alive."3 The New York Times
thought that Obama had reaffirmed “that America is the
land of extraordinary opportunity. ”4 The importance of
such sentiments should not be underestimated. In recent
decades, after all, progressives have frequently been
branded as unpatriotic or somehow ‘less American’ than
conservatives. Obama managed to reclaim the progressive
element of the American tradition, which had long been
defined by the Democrat’s opponents, and link it to the
future aspirations of millions of American families. This
achievement was a vital element in the creation of a movement which inspired and mobilised millions of Americans.
The mechanics of message
The Obama message was therefore a hybrid of the old
and the new. Dissemination, however, was as important
as content. Three things can be said about this. First,
Obama moved away from dry, technocratic and policyheavy explanations of ‘what works’ (of the sort that have
become fashionable among social democrats around the
world in recent decades), and instead offered a far
broader discussion of values and ideals – in other words,
the candidate spent a lot of his time talking about ‘what
matters, and why’. This didn’t mean that the mechanics
of achieving this vision were neglected, but instead it
The power of storytelling
flowed very naturally from a wider idea of the good
society. This is why Obama’s rhetoric was so engaging –
and authentic.
Second, the message was highly focused and consistent
over the length of the campaign. The themes Obama talked
about remained very similar from the announcement of his
candidature until his victory. During the primaries, this
compared favourably with Clinton’s frequent shifts and
relaunches, from an original focus on experience, to trying
to claim the ‘change’ mantle, and finally attempting to
become the voice of blue collar Democrats. During the
presidential election, the Obama team kept the same
themes but turned their message on the Republicans – successfully making the point that only a Democratic victory
could offer a decisive break with the Bush era. This was a
significant accomplishment, given the ‘maverick’ reputation of John McCain. Furthermore, the Obama team never
allowed itself to be deflected by increasingly desperate
attacks by the right over the course of the campaign.
Third, the message was expressed with clarity, sometimes being reduced to single words or slogans (such as
hope, change and ‘yes we can’). This approach to communication has a number of advantages: as well as making it
easier to retain focus over the length of the campaign, it
provided very effective branding. It gave supporters simple ideas to latch onto and use on the doorstep, and fitted
neatly into the desire of the rolling news channels to play
succinct clips in their reports. There are dangers though.
This kind of politics can lead to accusations that a campaign is somehow intellectually lightweight and contentfree. It is hard to level this accusation at Obama, however.
Although key messages were kept short, these were distillations of much more complex ideas and beliefs, which
were available on his web site, in his books and in speeches, such as the More Perfect Union address on race. As a
result, there was a direct link between short slogans and
big ideas.
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We should not write off the achievements of the centre-left
in the 1990s, on either side of the Atlantic. At the time, the
left urgently needed to start to redress the great injustices
and inequalities created by right wing governments in the
eighties, as well as rehabilitate its own reputation after the
end of the Cold War. In doing so, New Labour achieved its
success less by outlining its own vision of the good society and more by defining what it was against: the poor
quality of public services and inequality created by the
Conservative government on the one hand and hard-left
intransigence on the other. This strategy was both successful and necessary, but ultimately it was very defensive.
The 2008 American election indicates that this period in
the history of the left is coming to an end. The Obama
campaign did not exist in the intellectual space created by
its opponents, and instead was fundamentally about
changing America. Furthermore, because it was not so
defensive, the Obama campaign was able to fight much
harder to link the broader progressive tradition to long
held American values. Since the seventies, American conservatives had been hugely successful at portraying
reformist ideas as being the antithesis of the interests and
principles of ordinary Americans. Obama’s narrative of
American history contested this argument in the most vigorous way for a generation.
This is not just a matter of electoral expediency though.
The political environment which created both the New
Democrats and New Labour is rapidly dissipating, as the
financial crisis dismantles longstanding certainties. On
both sides of the Atlantic then, now is a time for political
vision and a discussion of what the world should look like
in the future. As Obama did, politicians need to shift their
focus from the immediate and short-term, and instead ask
what kind of institutions and systems we want to
bequeath our children. At this time it is vitally important
The power of storytelling
that progressives and social democrats all over the world
clearly articulate their values, as only parties that believe
in collectivism are in a position to recognise and act on the
limits of the market. And only collectivism gives us the
opportunity to put society first, whether that means
reforming financial markets and the banking sector, preventing young people from being targeted by advertising,
allowing families to spend more time with each other, or
stopping new betting shops being set up in communities
already well-served by bookmakers. The state is there to
help society govern the market – not to stand back and
hope for the best, as the right would like to do. These were
the values embedded in Obama’s campaign – and are at
the heart of the modern Labour Party, too.
In this chapter, Ben Brandzel explains how Barack Obama did
not create the movement that elected him. Rather, it created
him. The mobilisation of progressives online – begun by
MoveOn in the late 1990s and then employed by Howard
Dean during his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in 2004 – was perfected rather than produced by the
Obama campaign.
In several important respects, Britain is even better placed
than American to foster genuine movement-based politics,
argues Brandzel. However, while there is an appetite for
change, and although our parliamentary system has the advantage that power sits with parties rather than individual politicians, British political culture and our parties, with their feepaying models of membership, remain behind the curve.
Brandzel explains that online mass movements provide a
new form of discourse where organisations are pulled towards
the common sense centre. He urges Britons dissatisfied with
their democracy to stop vicariously following developments
across the pond and start their own movement.
5. A British movement for change
Ben Brandzel
n January 21st 2009, almost every major newspaper in the world dedicated their front page to
pictures of Barack Obama’s inauguration as the
44th President of the United States. This was the culmination of an improbable and exhilarating story that captivated the world for the better part of two years.
Why was the world so enraptured with this
American election in which they could play no direct
role? In part, it was because consequences of the Bush
Presidency, which were a painful reality to so many
around the world, including in the United Kingdom,
had clearly illuminated the direct relationship between
American decisions and global impact. In part too, it
was because Obama’s stirring rhetoric and luminous
vision touched the hearts of all who heard it, as would
any work of inspirational theatre or prose. But there
was also something more, which holds the real lesson
of the US election for the UK.
Obama’s victory was improbable not just because of
America’s legacy of racism or because he had started a
long way behind the Clinton juggernaut. It was
improbable because his campaign relied so famously
on the contributions, energy, creativity, and participation of millions to overcome his disadvantages. His
victory, then, was the victory of passion over
‘inevitability’, of collective effort over collective inertia. It was a victory people everywhere could feel a
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part of, because people everywhere who long for
change have a stake in that sort of struggle.
I spent several months in the UK in 2008 before I
shipped back to North Carolina to work on Obama’s
campaign. I was struck how at some point the British
press stopped bothering to contextualise US election
stories as being about another country. The candidates
were named and discussed in shorthand just as if they
were running for Parliament – and usually given much
more coverage than the latest row in Westminster. It’s
probably fair to say that given the ’special relationship’
between our nations, no other country on earth was
more hooked into this fabulous story than the UK.
Yet at the same time, I kept hearing the rueful opinion that none of this would be possible over here. The
British people, I was told, were far too apathetic, far too
disengaged, far too convinced that their voice – no matter how loud – would fall on the deaf ears of politicians
who couldn’t be bothered. Plus, as I was frequently
reminded, “there is no British Obama”. All of this casts
a rather sad tinge to the cathartic obsession with the
America election – it’s as if many Brits gave up looking
for vibrant democracy in their own lives and resolved
to experience it vicariously in ours.
Well, in response to all of this self-depreciating civic
gloom I have only one of my favourite British aphorisms: rubbish. Why? Because the ‘there is no British
Obama’ claim fundamentally misunderstands what just
happened in America – and is in fact fatally counterproductive to replicating it here.
Building a movement for change
It’s obviously true that Obama’s sensational talent as a
campaigner and the outstanding accomplishments of
his campaign cannot be underestimated. But they were
able to succeed in a particular context, and that context
A British movement for change
was a long fought, hard won victory in and of itself.
Here’s the first point to remember: only a few short
years before last months’ triumphant inauguration,
George W Bush had stolen an election and was peddling grave falsehoods to the American people, yet was
basking in the highest approval ratings of any sitting
president in American history. Instead of “yes we can”
we had “you’re either with us or against us” and “bring
it on.” Critiquing the administration’s foreign policy
was loudly called treason. Civic duty was reduced to
shopping. Global warming was officially denied. And
those of us who felt differently about any of it were
quite fearful that either we, or everyone else around us,
had gone stark raving mad. And you know who
changed all of this? It was not an obscure state legislator from Illinois. It was the people ourselves.
I was lucky enough to have a front row seat for this
transformation through my work with
MoveOn began as a simple plea for sanity when a modest California couple put up an online petition to
oppose the impeachment of President Clinton and sent
it to 60 of their friends. In a few months, half a million
people had signed. It grew bigger when a young nonprofit worker and his roommate put out a simple
request that America and her allies treat 9/11 as a crime
and punish the guilty – not seize it as a pretext for war.
He sent their petition to his friends, and within days
several hundred thousand people from every state and
dozens of nations had added their name. Of course,
President Clinton was impeached and Iraq was invaded. But people who knew it was wrong were linked
together – and so the seeds of change were sewn.
Over the next seven years, MoveOn grew to more
than five million members and its volunteers organised over 130,000 local events in every corner of the
country. A teacher in Boise, Idaho gathered friends
from church to protest the nomination of an extreme
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conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice, and minds
were changed. An accountant from Albany, New York
went with his wife and brother to hand their
Congressman letters from constituents defending the
food stamp program – and a vote was switched. A
librarian from Atlanta, Georgia got on the local news
for her efforts to defend social security from privatisation, and a generation was saved.
What are the characteristics of this type of politics?
The groups that practice it have a different organisational model to more traditional institutions. They are
driven by the grassroots, and energised by the collective action of regular people. They do have a leadership, but these people are ‘stewards’. As a result, those
managing the organisation act on behalf of the membership, not the other way around. Crucially, while
such movements exist to articulate a deeply held political worldview, they remain independent of political
parties, and are willing to express the views of their
members to both friends and opponents.
The power of this model of organizing was illustrated by the electoral potency of our movement. The Bush
era did not end in 2008. It ended in 2006, when voters
delivered his party in Congress the greatest rout in a
generation. There was no single Barack Obama to
anchor or inspire that campaign, but MoveOn members used online tools to make seven million phone
calls to swing congressional districts driving key voters to the polls.
Of course, MoveOn and all its work is in fact just one
very small piece in a very large puzzle. During this
same time span the Howard Dean campaign in 2004
revolutionised presidential politics when ordinary people funded and rallied around a cry for change – even
when that cry came from a less gifted but thoroughly
sincere politician who I don’t think ever really imagined himself president. There have been several other
A British movement for change
major online movement organisations very like
MoveOn, and countless other organisations of every
shape and size operating at a local, state and national
level whose members played a vital role in moving the
country towards that moment we all witnessed on
January 20th.
And to be clear, none of this background in any way
diminishes the obvious skill and magnetic power of
Obama as a candidate, or the stupendous organizing
feat of the Obama campaign. But Obama himself is
quite aware of his context. I was sitting in the stadium
that starry night in Denver when Obama looked up and
told 75,000 people, “this campaign has never been
about me. It’s about you.” That oft repeated line wasn’t
just rhetoric, and he wasn’t only talking about his election supporters. He was talking about everything a
nation of stubborn believers did to pave the way.
So if you want to find the next Obama movement,
don’t wait for the next Obama – start the next movement. And the good news is, there’s reason to believe
that here in UK the next movement is already well
Exporting movement politics? Yes we can.
No matter how complacent, disengaged or conservative you think the British population may look today, I
promise it doesn’t look any more so than the nation of
shopping, war-mongering cowboys America was made
out to be just a short while ago. I believe the hunger for
people-powered-change is quite evident across your
nation. But tapping into it may require challenging a
lot of assumptions about the way things are done.
Last May, I was talking with a Labour Party official
involved in the London Mayoral campaign about how
they might make the most of Obama’s online tools. They
had one tool, for example, that allowed volunteers to
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host house meetings, make the case for Ken, self-organise volunteer squads, and decentralise the entire campaign in an exciting new way. But they essentially
weren’t using it. I asked why not, and was told it was
because British people, unlike Americans, just wouldn’t
feel comfortable meeting in their living rooms with
friends and strangers to talk about their lives and politics. “Really? “I asked. “Even in London?” “Yes.” He
assured me, “It’s just not British.”
That same evening, I went to an ’accountability session’ organised by a local community organizing outfit
called London Citizens. All the mayoral candidates
were there, but there were no stump speeches or standard pleas for support. Rather, the meeting revolved
around the group’s five-point agenda for improving
life in London. All the candidates had to give clear yes
or no answers about whether they would implement it.
I had never seen such a raw display of people power in
an electoral setting. And where did the agenda come
from? It was synthesised from 1,200 house meetings
organised over several months by London Citizens. At
each party, Londoners gathered in their living rooms
with friends and strangers to discuss their lives and
politics – precisely what I had just been told couldn’t
be done.
The British people, it seems to me, are already a bit
ahead of the curve. It’s no accident that Obama’s 2008
campaign strategy emerged from his background as a
community organiser. And Britain’s political apparatus
would do well to look to Britain’s organisers to discover what British citizens are ready to do – and do very
well – when given the chance.
Further, for the political parties to accommodate true
movement-driven change, they simply have to be more
open to robust, grassroots involvement. In the internet
era, the old model of dues-paying membership has
become a barrier to entry and is now a bulwark against
A British movement for change
mass participation and strength. I know the Labour
Party in particular has been scarred before by outside
invasion – I can’t go a day without hearing some horror
story about the ’Bennites’ or the ‘Trots’ – but this is a
different world.
In fact, by keeping the Party apparatus closed and
small, you ensure your own vulnerability. Decisions
made in cramped backrooms can always be overwhelmed by a few persistent malcontents who speak
louder and longer than everyone else – or powerful
special interests who can buy or coerce their way to the
top. Mass movements open to anyone who can log on
or get together when they have a spare moment will
always be pulled towards the common sense centre. It’s
why Wikipedia can self-police for accuracy, why
Obama’s open forums never seriously embarrassed the
candidate and why the London Citizens’ agenda called
for things like ensuring the Olympic Village creates
public housing – not erecting statues to Che.
What’s more, if the parties did open up, I truly
believe the British system is naturally better positioned to foster movement-based change than the
American one. Despite three decades where British
elections have become increasingly ’presidentalised’,
you still vote for a party and its platform, and not for
an individual whose personal life must embody all
your hopes and dreams. Movements form around values, issues, ways of seeing the world and longing for a
better way of life. Individuals can certainly lead them,
but for movements to be strong, single individuals
cannot truly embody them. Your parliamentary
democracy gives each party the chance to be about so
much more than its spokespeople or officials. And
your electorate is used to voting for parties whose values they believe in. Structurally, it’s a system ripe for
movement politics – if only the institutions dominating that system would stop getting in the way. To
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adapt another Obama aphorism, it could also be
argued that change doesn’t come from Westminster,
change comes to Westminster. British civil society is
replete with NGOs campaigning for a better way of
life, and new ones are popping up all the time.
One particularly promising group I’ve helped get
going is called 38 Degrees (, set
to launch this spring. It’s inspired by MoveOn and its
sister group, GetUp, in Australia. Using the full power
of online and offline organizing techniques, their aim is
to harness the rising tide of progressive frustration and
aspiration to unite a large, nimble, grassroots force for
change on a whole range of pressing issues. In nature,
38 degrees is the tipping point angle at which an avalanche begins. This new effort, and the many other
related initiatives emerging throughout British society,
should provide hope to even the deepest cynic that an
avalanche of change may not be far away.
I know this vision of anonymous, issue driven leadership seems quite counter-intuitive when our picture
of movement politics is so dominated by its recent culmination in the very personality driven Obama campaign. But that’s why the movement history that paved
the way is so vital to understand – and why seeking the
‘British Obama’ in the form of a singular, charismatic
equivalent is not only unnecessary, but fatally counterproductive to what must happen here if the UK is to
successfully follow suit.
A little competitive give-and-take in the race towards
progress is nothing new for our societies. The British
brought democracy into the modern world. Then our
Founding Fathers fought a revolution because those
rights didn’t extend far enough across the Atlantic.
Then you abolished slavery and the slave trade. Then
A British movement for change
we enfranchised American women on equal terms to
men. Then you established universal health care. Now
we’ve spawned a movement that elected Barack
Obama. I believe the British answer is not nearly as far
off as you might think. And when it comes, it’s going to
be great. Watch out for the avalanche!
Obama’s campaign adopted the motto ‘respect, empower, and
include’ to describe their volunteer operation. Far from being a
set of buzzwords, Karin Christiansen and Marcus Roberts
argue that this slogan summed up the values of the entire
movement. Using a combination of trust and technology, the
Obama campaign ensured that volunteers were valued, authorised to manage their own time and make their own local decisions, and judged on their merits and overall contribution.
Obama mixed the old with the new. The campaign’s effort to
recruit, train and motivate its activists was unlike anything seen
in previous election cycles, as was the autonomy enjoyed by supporters. But the vertical organisational structure and the tasks
that volunteers were asked to undertake – door-knocking, phone
banking, and leafleting – was identical to other campaigns.
Christiansen and Roberts argue that although the Labour
Party will not emulate Obama’s army of supporters any time
soon, they can learn from the way he treated them. Ideas such as
recruiting volunteers beyond the Party’s membership and spending more time training and motivating are recommended.
Nonetheless, these reforms will fall flat if Labour does not undergo a more fundamental cultural change away from managing
meetings and towards delivering campaigns.
6. ‘Respect, empower and include’:
the new model army
Karin Christiansen and Marcus Roberts
he Obama campaign represented a revolution in
political volunteering, and proved just how potent
direct-contact politics – long regarded as the poor
relation to ‘air-war’ style, media-based campaigning –
could be. The sheer scale of what was achieved was staggering. In early September, for example, Obama supporters
were able to call as many voters in Ohio in a single night as
the Republicans had planned to contact during the entire
month. These achievements were replicated across all the
battleground states and throughout the election.
It would be easy to misunderstand what was achieved.
This was not just about numbers, and nor was the volunteer
organisation constructed only around the candidate, formidable though Barack Obama proved to be. More important
was the organisational ideology that created the largest
grassroots political action in American history.
At the heart of all of this was the campaign’s slogan of
‘Respect, empower and include’. Respect was the idea that
a positive and professional culture was the most important
component in building real trust between staff and volunteers. This empowered volunteers to make local decisions
about the use of time and resources without constantly consulting up the chain of command. Technological innovations helped achieve this goal, by allowing individuals to
organise canvassing or phone-banking on their own
timetable through This open
approach meant the campaign was able to include both
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longstanding veterans and political first timers, improving
both the scale and efficiency of the operation, and, as
importantly, creating a positive collective feeling of professional commitment and personal ownership.
As survivors of both Labour and Democratic Party campaigns, we were struck by the extent to which respecting,
empowering and including people was more than just a slogan for chatter with reporters or pretty posters on office
walls. These words were also core values of the campaign.
At a minimum they helped mitigate the usual tensions and
frictions of campaign life while at best they inspired volunteers to do that extra canvass round, ask friends and families to join them, and even make those small donations that
funded the campaign juggernaut. ‘Respect, empower and
include’ manifested itself in five specific elements of volunteer management which we discuss in turn below: recruitment, structure, training, motivation, and monitoring.
‘Respect, empower, and include’ in practice
Volunteers were recruited through party, union and political action committee lists; at set piece events, ranging
from massive rallies to small-scale house parties; and
using both traditional and new media advertising. was central to this, enabling volunteers to self-organise, and allowing campaign staff to coordinate groups and make connections based on a volunteer’s locality or interests. They could also use online tools
to contact their personal networks of friends, family and
neighbours, and tell them about what they were doing
and ask if they wanted to be involved. The range of different approaches meant that half the volunteers were participating in their first political campaign. As a result, a large
recruitment structure grew organically from the ground
up but was directed and fed from the top down. Indeed,
this combination of grassroots control, and the centre's
ability to exercise meaningful command where necessary,
‘Respect, empower and include’
was a key condition of Obama’s success. It meant, for
example, that the prioritisation of volunteer recruitment
and training during the summer months could be sustained when many activists were desperate to move on to
voter contact. This is not to say that the level of devolution
was tension-free or that the balance was always correct,
but the decentralisation of operational control meant that
the campaign got it right more often than not.
Once volunteers were recruited, the campaign went out
of its way to create a wide array of opportunities for different forms of activism. While the essence of the campaign
volunteer operation lay in the hard-nosed business of
knocks and calls (canvassing and phone banking), volunteers could also be slotted into other positions. Runners got
canvassing packs from headquarters to those in the field,
‘visibility events’ involved volunteers waving signs at
important intersections on election days, and ‘comfort captains’ provided the troops with everything from home
made lasagne to tray after tray of Dunkin' Donuts for those
returning from the front line. Volunteers smoothly slotted
into the organisation in line with their talents and desire to
be involved.
But within the array of activities lay a traditional
organogram with a vertical power structure. Regional Field
Directors (roughly 30 in number in a state the size of Ohio)
managed scores of Field Organisers, who in turn managed
roughly ten Neighbourhood Team Leaders, each responsible for coordinators of various tasks such as canvassing and
phone banking, and veteran and faith groups. The primary
elections taught the campaign that the most effective ratio
from one tier to the next was no more than one to ten.
Key to the effectiveness of this structure was the successful training of volunteers and identification of people suitable for management positions. The amount of time that
was spent training was greater than had ever previously
been practiced in a political campaign. The theory was simple: volunteers with sufficient training and testing would
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more efficiently execute campaign field operations, and
recruit and train new activists. Thus there was a cascade
approach to the dissemination of skills and knowledge.
‘Camp Obama’ weekends were one of the most high profile approaches to training. On these courses high performing volunteers were steeped in the ethos of the campaign
and given technical training in voter contact software and
leadership training on volunteer management. More generally, up and down the country, people – often new to the
campaign themselves – were spending time with fresh
recruits until they were comfortable with the processes and
tasks that they were to carry out. In making decisions about
management positions, campaign staff generally used
observations of good performance at more junior levels or
information about previous campaign experience provided
by a volunteer on their MyBO profile. This meant that, on
signing up to volunteer, you could quickly rise to a staff
position as a Field Organiser, managing ten
Neighbourhood Team leaders, each responsible for four or
five co-ordinators and 40-60 volunteers.
Once volunteers had been recruited and trained, significant efforts were made to keep them motivated. This was
achieved through all manner of traditional methods such as
regular encouragement and thanks, clear explanations of
how their efforts were contributing to the bigger picture,
and ensuring that the basic equipment and tools they needed (for example, good maps and directions, spare phones to
make calls) were readily available. Motivation was clearly
helped by the general sense of the importance of the volunteer effort, which was aided by the willingness of the candidate and the senior staff to communicate directly with volunteers through a creative mix of fundraising and media
events, conference calls, and web videos. Two days before
the election, for example, the candidate himself took part in
a conference call with volunteers and encouraged them by
saying, “let’s see how this baby runs.” The election itself
was, of course, the most motivating force with volunteers
‘Respect, empower and include’
driven on by a potent brew of both enthusiasm for their
candidate and antipathy for the status quo. This will be
hard for Labour to replicate in the UK given that it is the
incumbent party but what can be emulated is the sense that
the volunteer system is important, that it is worth investing
in, and that it will deliver.
Monitoring campaign performance
Striking the balance between trusting and checking the
work of volunteers lay at the heart of the campaign’s monitoring efforts. This was necessary because the Obama
team’s approach to success and failure was to create a balance between trusting their volunteers to use the available
technology without supervision, but also stripping them of
their portfolio if they did not prove themselves. The campaign allowed volunteers to access their own call lists and
canvass sheets, complete them to their own timetable, and,
vitally, enter their own response information. Campaigns
have traditionally resisted such openness because they
were fearful that it exposes the core of field operations (in
particular, the metrics of response rates) to the opposition,
and risks undermining the integrity of the dataset.
These were considered acceptable risks so long as there
was a sufficient volume of data entered. Spot checks were
important to ensure that volunteers who were entering fabricated information or exaggerating their returns were
caught. It has not yet been publicly stated how much spotchecking of returns was undertaken, but it appears that particularly high-performing volunteers had their numbers
verified, while low-performing assistants were left largely
unchecked. So, if a Neighbourhood Team Leader came back
from a 20-person canvassing operation and reported a particularly high number of doors knocked, the Field
Organiser would ring a couple of numbers and begin the
call by saying, “I’m from the Obama campaign. Have you
been called already this evening?” If it turned out they had
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not, the volunteer was confronted and potentially restricted
from accessing the database. It should be noted, however,
that such instances were extremely rare.
Monitoring was also important in deciding whether to
promote an individual to a position of greater responsibility. Field Organisers tested impressive volunteers for
Neighbourhood Team Leader status by challenging them
first to prove that they could organise a local event, then to
run a canvass or phone-banking operation, and finally to
demonstrate their willingness and aptitude at specific training sessions of new volunteers. Similar monitoring of fresh
blood was employed at every level up the chain to campaign headquarters in Chicago.
Labour’s challenge
Key to the campaign’s ability to deliver on the 'respect,
empower, and include' mantra was the introduction of effective technology and then trusting people to use it well. There
were, of course, glitches along the way such as Votebuilder,
the online database of citizens’ voting intentions, grinding to
a halt in many areas two nights before the election. But the
resilience of the system was such that these stumbles
became mere irritations as the teams on the ground found
creative solutions to deal with the matter at hand.
Although it is highly unlikely that the Labour Party will
have the number of volunteers that the Obama campaign
recruited any time soon, there are key aspects of the
approach we can learn from:
remembering to ask and invite people to join us –
whether as friends, volunteers or members;
looking beyond the membership for volunteers;
developing stronger relationships between CLPs and
other organisations and activist groups that can pro-
‘Respect, empower and include’
vide pools of volunteers for specific campaign operations;
spending much more time making sure both new
volunteers and old members are comfortable with
what they are being asked to do, especially if it
involves technology that they have not used regularly;
ensuring that those who come canvassing or take
part in a phone bank are thanked personally and sincerely for their time, and are given a sense of where
their efforts fit in and what they have achieved;
trusting volunteers, and making much greater efforts
to be friendly and respectful, and inspiring people
towards further and deeper engagement;
keeping our voter file open – as has recently been
announced – even when things go wrong, which
they will. Training and performance assessment
process of volunteers to use the systems and enter
their own data need to be rolled out systematically to
reduce the chances of the system being corrupted.
All that said, the potential efficiencies and gains that can
be learned from Obama’s campaign will only be fully
realised if Labour changes its culture. That means shifting
the approach of many CLPs from managing meetings to
delivering campaigns – fundraising, door knocking and
making calls. The CLP structure has clear potential to
emulate the vertical but decentralised network that underlay the Obama campaign machine. But a major change of
approach is also required. For Labour to succeed in 2010
and beyond we need to embrace ‘respect, empower and
include’, not just as buzzwords but as values. If we do, we
have the potential to build a machine in the UK as formidable as the one that even senior Republican strategists
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recognised as unstoppable.
Barack Obama did not gain the presidency because of the internet, but it is questionable whether he could have defeated the
crowded Democratic primary field without it. In this election,
new technology proved itself on the biggest political stage, acting
as a tool for communication, mobilisation and organisation.
In this chapter Jennifer Stromer-Galley examines the impact
of the internet on the election campaign and, in particular, the
new raft of interactive and multimedia technologies commonly
referred to as ‘web 2.0’. She charts how YouTube and viral video,
social networking sites, text messaging, and microblogging sites
such as Twitter all played their part in extending the various
candidates’ messages in new ways to new audiences.
This account holds three lessons for British progressives.
First, centrally managed political spin is a far less effective
weapon than it was a decade ago because the internet has democratised the range of news sources that people use. Second, we
need to experiment with new technologies, and not expect to get
it right first time. In the digital era, it is hard to predict exactly
which niche site or social networking service will become ‘the
next big thing.’ Instead, progressive groups must be present in a
broad collection of online settings. Finally, online campaigning
must not be viewed in isolation, but instead consciously linked
to the offline world. This is what differentiated Obama’s campaign from the innovative but flawed Dean campaign in 2004.
7. The web 2.0 election
Jennifer Stromer-Galley
n August 31st, 2006 Virginia Governor Mark
Warner stepped foot into virtual reality, participating in an interview with a journalist via
avatar in the virtual ‘game’ environment of Second Life.
Warner, who entertained prospects of running in the
Democratic presidential primaries, was exploring new
ways of reaching possible voters.
This novel, early move in the 2008 presidential campaign season marked the start of many innovations with
web 2.0 – the next generation of worldwide web applications that allows for greater user participation in generating content and in interaction with others than web
1.0. These innovations seem to have produced the kinds
of effects that e-campaigners have been hoping for since
1996, when the first presidential campaign web sites
were created.
Back then, I interviewed campaign staff who worked
on the web sites of Republican presidential candidate
Bob Dole and Democratic candidate Bill Clinton. In
those interviews, it became clear that the worldwide
web was viewed as brochureware. What they could not do
was harness the internet’s interactive capabilities, such
as chat, message boards, or even e-mail. Campaign managers were deeply worried about the loss of control of
the message that such increased interactivity with supporters and critics would entail, and they opted out of
those capabilities.1
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In 2008, we saw a markedly different landscape for
presidential campaigns. web 2.0 was used to engage
prospective voters through viral videos, social network
sites, blogging and microblogging, and text messaging,
and to let supporters engage in the campaigns by generating the content. In doing so, campaigns surrendered
some of the control of their message they have historically held in a tight grip. The result for campaigns is a
delicate balancing act between guiding the message and
surrendering to the message constructed about them.
When done effectively, it can lead to increased fundraising, name recognition and, most importantly, votes.
In this chapter a few of the innovations in web 2.0
technology are described, and the pros and cons for
campaigns are considered.
YouTube and viral video
YouTube transformed the way campaigns think about
video. No longer were they solely thinking about television advertising; now, they also had to think about
videos for YouTube and for their own campaign web
sites. Campaigns hired staff whose job was primarily to
travel with the campaign shooting video of candid,
behind-the-scenes footage of the candidate and staff,
and to shoot videos of the supporters, their testimonies,
and their excitement about the campaign. Yet, those
videos generally were not what went ‘viral’, the hot new
word of this presidential campaign. As a marketing
term, ‘viral’ connotes an idea that is spread – often
through word-of-mouth rather than mass-mediated
campaigns – and that has some benefit for the company,
product or person at the core of the idea. For presidential campaigns in 2008, one of the primary goals was to
create or to be the beneficiary of viral marketing.
There were several noteworthy viral videos worth
examining in some detail.
The web 2.0 election
In March of 2007, the first viral video of the primary campaign appeared on YouTube. The ‘Vote
Different’ video was a parody of an ad aired in
1984 that introduced the Macintosh PC. The original ad – itself a parody of George Orwell’s dark
totalitarian tale 1984 – depicted featureless and
same-dressed men marching and then sitting in
militaristic rows as a man on a massive video
monitor heralds the anniversary of the dawn of
pure ideology. A short, blonde woman wearing
bright orange running shorts dashes into the theatre and throws a sledgehammer at the screen,
freeing the masses from their indoctrination. In
the 2007 ad, the video monitor footage is replaced
with a video of Hillary Clinton in which she
invites her viewers to start a conversation with
her. The same runner wears an Obama t-shirt over
her orange running shorts and throws the sledgehammer at the monitor. Text appears on the
screen proclaiming that the 2008 election won’t be
like 1984, and to ‘vote different’.
Another viral video that rocketed quickly into the
American public’s consciousness was the ‘Yes We
Can’ video created by the hip-hop group Black Eye
Peas’ lead singer He posted the four-anda-half minute video on 2nd February 2008, featuring a star-studded cast singing along to Barack
Obama’s New Hampshire primary speech.
And, who can forget Obama Girl? The video featured a sexy, buxom, long haired brunet, Amber
Lee Ettinger, in a music video mooning over
Obama in “I got a crush ... on Obama”. The sexually provocative video received more than 12 million views on YouTube.
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These viral videos can have positive effects for campaigns. Especially during the primary season, establishing name recognition is essential in raising money and
gaining votes. Viral videos help promote such name
recognition. They can also speak to particular demographics in ways that the candidates and campaigns
themselves sometimes cannot. Although Obama was
able to cross demographic barriers and speak to
younger voters, many candidates find it a challenge to
speak to young people. Viral videos can let young
celebrities or wannabes speak to youth and raise a candidate’s appeal in their eyes.
Such recognition and appeal also comes at a price.
Viral videos are beyond the control of the campaign.
Rarely are true viral videos generated from within.
They’re created by people with their own motives and
messages, which may work at cross-purposes with the
campaign. The ObamaGirl video contributed to the perception that Obama was a celebrity, on which he was
attacked by his opponent John McCain in the general
election.2 The ‘Vote Different’ video caused controversy
for the Obama campaign, posing a public relations challenge. In both instances they opted to provide little
comment, which was the prudent approach to handling
the videos while benefiting from their popularity and
thereby contributing to Obama’s growing fame.
Social networking sites
Another noteworthy innovation in the 2008 election was
the widespread use of social networking sites, such as
Facebook and MySpace, by campaigns and supporters.
All of the major campaigns in the Democratic and
Republican primaries created profiles of the candidates
on these, and other, social networking sites.
Content on the social networking sites focused primarily on providing notes, similar to announcements,
The web 2.0 election
with updates about the campaign, links to videos and to
photos, as well as brief biographical sketches, along
with personal information such as birthdays, marital
status, and favourite books and music.
One additional component of these social networking
sites are the ‘wall’ or ‘comment’ feature wherein visitors
to the profile leave a comment to the campaign or
engage in a conversation with other visitors. This function is quite distinct from blog comments in that social
networking site comments have no article or opinion to
focus a conversation or comment. Instead, as Zube
found, comments left on MySpace candidate profiles
tended to be messages of support for the candidate,
questions about how to further help the candidate,
spam, or gratitude that the campaign ‘friended’ the visitor – allowing them to comment on the profile in the
first place.3
Social networking profiles, on the face of it, do not
seem to provide much benefit to campaigns, especially
since they cannot mine information about visitors, as
that information is owned by the social networking site,
and interested people cannot become active on the profile by providing comments until a staff member or volunteer accepts their ‘friend’ request.
Yet, they did it. Why? Campaigns reported that they
set up profiles because it provided another opportunity to connect with voters ‘where they live.’ Mike
Soohoo, Deputy E-campaign Manager for the McCain
team during the primary and general election, said in
an interview that the primary objective of their social
networking sites was to generate buzz, and to create
the kind of viral media on the site, such as games that
visitors could play, that would generate further traffic
to the profile and subsequent support. These motives
highlight the increased importance presidential campaigns placed on word-of-mouth testimony among
friends to help generate interest in the campaign, in
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contrast with the more mass-mediated focused campaigns of past years.
Indeed, substantial buzz was generated about the
candidates’ social networking sites. Print and broadcast
news stories featured the novel application of social
networking in political campaigning. Such articles
translated into free media for the campaign, in which
enthusiastic supporters as well as the trendiness of the
campaign were profiled. Along with viral marketing,
these positive, free mass-mediated messages are a desirable secondary benefit for campaigns.
Not only did campaigns benefit from the free media,
they also picked up new supporters – especially among
young voters. Much noise was made about the role of
the youth vote in the 2008 election, given that the candidates seemed to be communicating heavily where
young people spend their mediated time. Obama, in
particular, seemed to have mastered first, and most
effectively, the online media environment. During the
primaries and caucuses, 60 per cent of youth voters cast
their vote for Obama, making youth voters an important part of his winning coalition.4 Political elites are
generally not aggressive in seeking the youth vote, primarily because they have little money and they are less
likely to actually come to the polls on election day than
older voters. Yet in the 2008 election, their presence was
Other innovations
Two other innovations are worth mentioning, as they
contributed to the overall technological landscape in the
2008 presidential campaign. The first was text messaging to cell phones. The second was microblogging.
SMS text messaging was used by campaigns for the
first time in the 2008 election. Democratic primary candidate, and former vice presidential nominee, John
The web 2.0 election
Edwards, used SMS to communicate with supporters.
One of the difficulties with text messaging is acquiring
phone numbers. During campaign rallies Edwards
would hold up his cell phone and then ask his audience
to do the same and then to text the campaign with the
short code “HOPE”. In this clever way, the campaign
could collect telephone numbers.5 Other campaigns
soon followed the strategy.
The text messaging strategy that produced the most
buzz, however, was Barack Obama’s announcement that
he would text message his vice presidential running
mate pick. This produced heavy news coverage, and positive free media, as well as the desired cell phone numbers from interested followers of the Obama campaign.
The benefit of SMS is that recipients of texts are significantly more likely to open such messages and read
them, especially as compared with email.6 Thus, if campaigns really want supporters to pay attention to a message – a critical plea for money, a major campaign
announcement – using SMS is a way to guarantee that
the recipient will see it.
Microblogging is best known by the name of the
company that created it, Twitter allows
users to send short 140 character messages into the
ether for anyone who is ‘following’ them, called tweets.
The campaign teams used Twitter throughout the race
to make announcements about campaign events, locations of the candidate, and to provide URLs for giving
contributions or reading articles or announcements. Of
note, John Edwards, the first candidate to utilise
Twitter, made policy positions and clarifications
through it in dialogue with followers. Twitter was also
popular with campaign staff who created personal
Twitter accounts. Their use, however, at times bordered on the political, and with consequences. A
McCain staffer used his personal Twitter account to
send a message alerting followers to a video on
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YouTube that edited footage from Reverend Wright’s
controversial sermons with speeches of Barack
Obama’s in an effort to publicise the video and attack
the candidate. He was fired from the campaign for his
message, as it violated the campaign’s policy of banning attacks on Obama’s former pastor. 7 Thus, even a
relatively unknown and cutting edge technology was
harnessed by campaigns in the 2008 election. This is
remarkable given that blogging, for example, had been
utilised as early as 1999 but campaigns did not adopt
it until 2004, and then only after they saw the maverick candidate, Howard Dean, use it to great success.
What Americans saw in the 2008 presidential election
was a remarkable amount of innovation and experimentation by presidential campaigns. Generally, they are
prone to conservatism with new media, gingerly adapting to a new medium only after it has been proven effective. Of particular concern is the fear of losing control of
the message.8 On the other hand, experimentation that
generates contributions and supporters is worth the
risk. Campaigns in 2008 seemed to calculate the
cost/benefit ratio differently, viewing that the loss of
control was not as big of a concern as losing the opportunity to generate cash and votes.
Yet, having said that, none of the gadgets and tools
matter if the enthusiasm and support generated online
fails to translate into effective ‘boots on the ground’ political organizing, as the Howard Dean’s 2004 primary campaign failure suggests. One example of this mobilisation
is Students for Obama, which started as a Facebook
group, and became a Political Action Committee, with all
of the formal structures of a PAC, and over 60,000 members and chapters at 80 colleges.9 These supporters not
only used digital media to promote the candidate but
The web 2.0 election
also to organise. They used the technology to coordinate
on-the-ground events, such as rallies, fundraisers, and
get-out-the-vote efforts.10 It is this move from online to
offline, from candidate-centred message to citizen-supported campaigning, that makes new media an effective,
integrated component of the campaign, and not simply a
risky gimmick.
In this chapter, Faiz Shakir writes a short history of US political blogging and its role in the election. There are three lessons
for progressive groups in the UK. First, blogging is more effective as a campaigning tool when it is used for ‘rapid response
research’ – reacting quickly to statements, speeches and policies
by conservatives, and publicising moments of hypocrisy, especially where the mainstream media reaction has been poor.
Second, bloggers can usefully exist outside the mainstream
structures of a political party or campaign, giving them free
license to go on the attack in a way that might diminish the
reputation of politicians. This approach also gives the 'blogosphere' free reign to attack conservative positions by otherwise
progressive politicians, as Obama himself found out in relation
to intelligence surveillance legislation.
Finally, blogging provides a powerful communications tool
through which politicians can connect with the public. The
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, provides a daily update of committee hearings, and congressional
reports which would otherwise get lost by the media. Following
the success of Barack Obama's social networking tool,, which connected supporters and became
a source for local organisation, it is widely hoped he will be
even more innovative in government. This could include providing bloggers with access to key personnel and information.
8. Blogging the election
Faiz Shakir
hile a few weblogs began popping up at the
turn of the 21st century, popularised blogging
began as a political force in the 2004 election
cycle. It was during the Bush vs. Kerry contest that bloggers first consistently created news that received widespread attention, began building large audiences, and –
most importantly – started to organise and link to similarly-minded sites and stories.
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of the Daily Kos,
was an early blogging pioneer. He provided a voice of
anti-war progressivism at a time when that perspective
was rarely heard in the mainstream political debate. As a
veteran, Moulitsas started his blog for, in his words, "personal therapy" to get his frustrations with the Bush administration off his chest.
The success of The Daily Kos is due to the site's unique,
innovative model which empowered individuals to create
their own diaries within the Daily Kos site. Cumulatively,
these separate and independent bloggers formed a community around a common ideology and shared interests,
and in turn, have generated a huge amount of traffic to the
site. Visitors are drawn not only to the front page postings
but also to ‘recommended diarists’ that are given mass
approval by the site's community members. Other popular sites during this time were authored by journalists,
such as Talking Points Memo by Joshua Micah Marshall
and Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish.
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During the 2004 election, I was involved in the Kerry
campaign as a researcher at the Democratic National
Committee. After Kerry lost, I was looking to build new
skills and moved to the Center for American Progress, a
think tank founded in 2003 by Bill Clinton’s former chief of
staff John Podesta. I joined the team which ran Think
Progress, a start-up blog that was operating in its third
month with approximately 200,000 visitors a month.
In contrast to the Daily Kos or Talking Points Memo
model, we shied away from opinion pieces and established ourselves as the first ‘rapid response research blog.’
We saw an opportunity to use our think tank resources
and research skills to carry out analysis in areas where the
media was failing, publicising moments of hypocrisy and
fact-checking misstatements by conservatives.
Over time, our traffic grew tremendously, receiving
over six million visits in November 2008. With greater
power came greater responsibility, and we began to
enlarge the scope of our blogging activities. We evolved
into a progressive news outlet. In addition to oppositional
research, we began to inform a progressive audience
about the stories they should care about on any given day.
Among our many key issues from 2004 to 2008, we
focused on Iraq, torture, corruption in Congress, and
media failures.
The 2008 election
The 2008 election demonstrated the power that progressive
bloggers have attained. By breaking stories of national
prominence, bloggers began to drive the political narrative
on a daily basis. Also, during this election cycle, traditional
journalistic outlets began operating their own blogs, while
prominent bloggers began doing original reporting.
Innovators like Jed Lewinson, a former marketing executive
at the leading internet media firm RealNetworks, utilised
his skills to become particularly effective in demonstrating
Blogging the election
the utility of enhanced multimedia, slicing and dicing television footage to highlight contradictions or hypocrisy. The
collective efforts of these bloggers provided new, interesting content that you could not find anywhere else.
The Huffington Post broke new ground by enlisting
readers to become roving reporters. It is not yet clear
whether this was an effective use of resources, but it did
result in one of the most prominent stories of the campaign
when a blogger recorded Barack Obama making a speech at
a private fundraising event in San Francisco. Speaking
about people from small towns in Pennsylvania and the
Midwest, Obama said, “It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people
who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or antitrade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”1
Indeed, nothing is private in the age of blogging. Hillary
Clinton's campaign used the audio from this quote in political ads, helping propel her to victories in Pennsylvania and
other predominantly white, blue-collar areas.
Because the pace of activity was so ferocious during the
campaign, bloggers were better positioned than print journalists to be the first to report stories. The campaign teams
were forced to read and react to blogs in order to stay in
the loop and avoid missing all the key breaking stories
that might cause them joy or pain.
Bloggers were able to drive a political debate when they
joined together in linking to certain stories, quickly transforming them into common public knowledge. Network
TV outlets would quote these blog posts, and campaigns
were forced to respond directly to the postings. By the
time the evening news aired each night, there were many
more iterations of a story than in previous campaigns. TV
shows like Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC
or leading publications like Politico got many story ideas
from the progressive blogosphere.
Consider the case of John McCain forgetting how many
houses he owned. In previous campaigns, that would
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have been a one day print media story. But the blogosphere kept finding new angles to discuss the story, for
instance, debating how many homes McCain really
owned and why his wealth was an important policy story.
Similarly, bloggers gleefully reminded readers of John
McCain's candid admissions that US troops could be in
Iraq for 100 years and the economy was not something he
understood well. And bloggers propelled figures like
McCain adviser Phil Gramm (who famously said the US
was locked in a “mental recession”) and phrases like “terrorist fist jab” (a comment by Fox News anchor ED Hill) to
national prominence.
There is, however, an occasional downside to the blogosphere's role in amplifying certain news stories –
namely, when they turn out to be untrue. One of the
most prominent examples came after the election when
Fox News reporter Carl Cameron reported that Sarah
Palin was not aware that Africa was a continent. This
story turned out to be a hoax, but the blogosphere had
already clipped the video and disseminated it widely.
Once the genie was out of the bottle, it was hard to correct readers' incorrect impressions.
But the blogosphere necessarily has lower standards of
sourcing than traditional media outlets. Blogging is the art
form of raw emotion, first reaction, and gut instinct. Using
a literary metaphor, it is a rough draft, not the final hard
cover copy. And the blogosphere is a true free market of
information; it is up to individual bloggers to decide
whether they give a particular story any credibility.
Readers will reward sites that are reliable and consistent.
The relationship between the blogosphere and the
Obama campaign was not as strong as people perceived
from the outside. The common perception seems to be that
the Obama campaign was aggressively enlisting bloggers to
promote its cause. In reality, much of the progressive blogosphere registered its early support of the John Edwards
campaign. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign focused its
Blogging the election
efforts on building its own progressive infrastructure
through and did not prioritise blogger outreach. Perhaps the campaign realised that these
bloggers would provide a helpful function regardless.
Nonetheless, the blogosphere creatively used for its own purposes. Mike Stark, an eclectic
figure who had made his name in the blogosphere by
phoning right-wing radio shows and challenging them
with liberal views, was the architect of one of the most
famous grassroots actions of the campaign. He opposed
Obama’s position of providing legal immunity for telecom
companies that had participated in Bush’s warrantless surveillance program. He set up a profile and
enlisted over 23,000 other members in an appeal for
Obama to “get FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act] right.”1 Although Obama did not change his position
in response to the protest, he was ultimately compelled to
engage in the debate by sending a message to the petitioners outlining why he had made his choice.
A final example of the blogosphere’s power was its ability to spawn new political pundits. Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Silver,
the founder of polling analysis site,
was unknown before the election. He rose to prominence
by blogging his criticisms of mainstream polling organisations, critiquing their methods, and providing alternative
polling analyses. He was proven to be more accurate than
these organisations and predicted, for example, that
Obama would win a landslide victory over Hillary Clinton
in the North Carolina primary. Silver's final forecast accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states (Indiana
being the exception). His forecast of a 6.1 percentage point
margin for Obama in the combined national popular vote
was just 0.9 away from the actual winning margin of 7.0
Similarly, Rachel Maddow, who calls herself a “blogger
on TV,” emerged as a leading MSNBC political commentator and later the anchor of her own show based in part
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on her popularity in the progressive blogosphere.
Throughout the 2008 campaign, bloggers on both the left
(like Ezra Klein) and right (like Michelle Malkin) appeared
as frequent TV analysts. As the popular journalist-blogger
Ben Smith has noted, the once substantial barriers
between the “MSM” (mainstream media) and the blogosphere have become quite porous as a result of the latest
presidential cycle.3
Some lesser-known rising stars of the progressive blogosphere – like anti-coal blogger Kevin Grandia, and Iraq
and Afghanistan war veteran Brandon Friedman – also
gained a foothold in 2008 by covering niche issues.4 In
doing so, they have established themselves as leading
issue advocates.
Going forward
With a popular, progressive, and pragmatic president in
the White House, there are two potentially complementary pathways for the blogosphere to proceed. First, they
may embrace the role of holding President Obama’s feet to
the fire on key issues. The progressive blogosphere cares
deeply about issues such as ending the war in Iraq, ending
torture, addressing climate change, enacting universal
healthcare, and closing Guantanamo Bay. The blogosphere
will undoubtedly hold Obama to his campaign promises
on these and other issues.
If a professional conservative blogosphere emerges, it
may also play an important role in holding Obama to
account. That said, the conservative blogosphere to date
has been largely ineffective in driving political stories and
has instead been marked by opinion-based ranting. With
the exception of the National Review and Malkin's Hot Air,
there are few in the conservative realm undertaking intensive reporting, research, or fact checking. Thus, in this new
progressive era, there is an opportunity for conservative
blogs to emerge as leading voices for the opposition.
Blogging the election
The other possibility is for the Obama administration to
work more closely with the progressive blogosphere than
it did during the campaign, and make it an integral part of
its communications strategy. Speaker Nancy Pelosi
already operates a valuable blog which is used to publish
video and provide citizens with information about
Congress's activities. It is hoped that Barack Obama will
do something similar for the Executive Branch. By giving
bloggers access to key personnel and information, Obama
could use the internet as a powerful tool to drive his agenda and engage in conversations with large audiences on a
daily basis. Nevertheless, there are many within Congress
and Obama’s team who remain sceptical about working
with the blogosphere out of fear of what this unregulated
and ungoverned space might produce. Although the blogosphere’s role as an important electioneering tool is now
secured, it remains to be seen whether 2008 will truly
mark a watershed moment in its relationship with the
levers of power.
In this chapter, Matthew McGregor outlines how campaign
finance in the 2008 election became a democratising rather than a
corrupting force. The sheer number of people who donated, and
the relatively small amounts that they gave, were critical to
Obama’s success in building a multi-million member movement.
Obama’s campaign saw fundraising as an integral part of its
outreach to supporters rather than a separate element of the campaign. For example, requests for donations were interlinked with
information about rallies or canvassing events.
Despite the differences between British and American political culture and the campaign finance environment, there are lessons for those who wish to emulate Obama’s success. First, form
a personal relationship with your supporters, tailoring emails to
their specific needs and interests. Second, do not treat your supporters like a cash register and make sure to involve them in
activities at the same time as asking for money. Finally, adapt
and innovate by, for example, testing different techniques and
designs on your web site to see what works best.
9. The democratising force
of fundraising
Matthew McGregor
he 2008 election was remarkable in many ways, but
one aspect of the contest that will continue to reverberate is the success achieved by presidential candidates as political fundraisers. In total, the candidates
raised more than $1.7 billion during the cycle.1 This staggering figure was driven partly by the money-focused US
political system. But it was also based on extremely skilful
campaigning, which persuaded millions of Americans to
part with their hard-earned cash to support the candidates
in whom they believed.
The Obama campaign proved to be especially adept at
this aspect of electoral politics, raising more than $657
million.2 This was nearly double the amount raised by
John McCain, and allowed Obama to become the first
ever candidate to refuse public funding for the general
election campaign.
Obama’s fundraising broke new ground in two key
ways. First, he was able to recruit a huge army of donors
who tended to give small amounts of money repeatedly
throughout the campaign. In total, of the 6.5 million donations made, more than 90 per cent were less than $100.
Secondly, he was able to tap into the fundraising potential
of the internet. He was not the first candidate to do this –
McCain in 2000 and Dean in 2004 both had good online
fundraising, with Dean raising a then-record of $27 million
online – but the sheer volume raised by Obama was on an
unprecedented scale, totalling more than $500 million.3
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How was this achieved? In order to understand why
Obama was so successful with small donors and online
fundraising, and what lessons these hold for British politics, a good starting point is to examine one specific event
– a moment in time where the course of the election hung
in the balance and fundraising was to play a hugely
important role.
The September 2007 funding deadline
In September 2007, the Illinois Senator’s campaign was
facing a make-or-break moment. Hillary Clinton was
almost 20 points ahead in the national polls, and Obama
was lagging behind in the critical state of Iowa. What is
more, the quarterly filing deadline, when candidates had
to report their latest fundraising figures to the Federal
Election Commission, was approaching. Having good
numbers would prove that a candidate was a real contender, while underperformance could mortally wound a
campaign’s hopes. A few days before the filing deadline,
Michelle Obama forwarded an email from her husband to
the million or so supporters then on the campaign email
list, asking them to donate. Michelle Obama’s email wasn’t
a desperate plea for money, though. It was a short, personal message focused on mobilising the grassroots to change
politics and America. In it, she wrote:
“When Barack and I discussed this campaign and
what it would mean for our family, we agreed it
would only be worth doing if we left the political
process better off than how we found it – not for just
our family, but for the country and for folks around
the world."
This was genuinely people-powered fundraising, an idea
that was reflected in the goal that the Obama team set
themselves. Instead of aiming for a specific amount – say
The democratising force of fundraising
$1 million in a day – they wanted 250,000 individual
donors to give before the deadline. It was about the number of people joining in, and not about the amount that
they gave. The Obama campaign prioritised the movement over the money, but worked in the knowledge that
if a successful movement was built, the money would
surely follow.
The campaign did not rely wholly on the internet in the
run up to the deadline. The message from Michelle Obama
was part of a broader series of campaign events, built
around a rally in Washington Square Park in Manhattan at
the end of the month. This was the result of several weeks
of planning, and allowed supporters to get involved in a
number of ways. Those resident in New York were asked
to invite friends and colleagues to attend, or to organise
transport or accommodation for those visiting for the rally.
In parallel, supporters around the country were encouraged to hold their own events, linked to the main activity.
All this was covered extensively on the campaign blog, the
Obama YouTube channel, and through a constant stream
of emails. On the night itself, the rally was streamed live
using a portable aircard connection on a staffer laptop. In
this one rally, supporters could engage with the campaign
in a range of different ways.
The end result of these efforts turned out to be remarkable. Obama raised $19 million in the third quarter of 2007
and recruited 140,000 completely new donors who had
never given to his campaign before. While this was less
than Hillary Clinton’s $22 million for that quarter, it
showed the Illinois Senator was a serious contender, with
a genuine chance of winning the nomination.4
The Obama fundraising model
Understanding why supporters responded so strongly in
September 2007 is the key to understanding how Obama
for America raised $657 million, and how it propelled
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Obama to the White House. This success had a number
of aspects.
First, campaign finance-related issues were integral to
the overall relationship between the campaign and supporters. They were not seen as a standalone task to be carried out in isolation from the rest of the effort. This was
reflected in the structure of the campaign – there cannot be
one silo for canvass teams, another for media work, and
yet another for raising donations. Such an approach
would create the danger that the various aims of a campaign compete with rather than complement each other.
Instead, an integrated method also meant that every
aspect of an individual supporter’s commitment to the
campaign, financial or otherwise, was seen as important
and is joined into a wider strategy.
Second, the campaign worked hard to construct a genuine relationship with each of its supporters. The seeds of
this relationship could be the tiniest piece of information,
maybe an email address or a mobile phone number. In
order to get these details, the campaign had to offer something in return. Sometimes this was exclusive information,
which the campaign gave to supporters before anyone
else. Most famously, this happened in the case of the vice
presidential nomination announcement, where citizens
could sign up to be the first to know the name of the running mate. By attempting to bypass the media and demonstrating the centrality of supporters, this idea fitted in well
with the campaign’s overall approach. Additionally
though, the campaign was able to secure the email or
mobile details of more than a million people keen to be the
first to hear the news – people not previously in the campaign’s orbit.
Once a citizen has been contacted, they have become
part of the movement, and therefore it becomes critical for
the campaign to engage them as much as possible.
Technology was central to this process. The Obama campaign had a strong foundation here – online tools that are
The democratising force of fundraising
easily adapted as circumstances change, and which didn’t
collapse, even when millions of people were trying to
access them. However, it would be easy to misunderstand
this, and take an overly techno-centric view of Obama’s
success. There was no ‘build it and they will come’ mentality – but a genuine and authentic desire to place in supporters’ hands the tools to make Barack Obama president
– and one of those tools was the ability to donate, and
donate often.
Various techniques were employed to construct the
relationships within the movement. The simplest of these
was email. The Obama campaign used its list to reach out
to people personally, and ask things of them that were
focused on the moment – on that week or month in the
campaign. The email list itself contained over 13.5 million
addresses, but they were heavily segmented to allow the
campaign to hone the message to different groups of people, depending on their location, their level of activism,
the amount they had donated, and dozens of other criteria. As a result of this, over two years, the campaign sent
more than 7000 unique emails.
The content of the emails was also important. As with
the communications sent before the New York rally,
requests for donations were always interlinked with other
important activities – whether that was attending an
event, working at a local campaign office, putting up a
young field organiser living away from home, making
phone calls through the campaign’s online phone bank,
forwarding a video or joining a door knocking session. All
of these activities, without distinction, were investments
in the outcome of the campaign.
In addition to email, the campaign developed and
honed a series of facilities that encouraged supporters to
give. One such tool was a ‘match donations’ feature.
Supporters, especially those who had not yet made their
first donation, were paired with another supporter who
had agreed to match their sum. To make it more personal,
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the two donors were able to exchange notes on why they
were donating and supporting the Obama campaign.
Since supporters in their local communities were the
campaign’s best advocates, they were given the tools to
reach out to their close friends and family, and organise
their own fundraising drives. One of the tools on (‘MyBO‘) allowed supporters to
raise money directly from their friends and family, and to
show how much they had individually brought in to the
campaign. Through their own profile page, supporters
could send emails to their contacts asking for donations,
and people giving in response to these messages had their
donations tagged, so they would appear on the profile
page of the supporter who made the ask.
Another of the MyBO tools allowed supporters to create their own local events easily, whether they were debate
parties, bake sales, or a pre-convention celebration. This
also allowed activists to associate a donation request or
entry fee with the event, streamlining the traditional local
fundraising initiatives and lowering the bar to organising
these events by reducing the work needed.
Putting tools in the hands of supporters so that they can
use their own personal relationships to help the campaign,
and get the credit for their work highlights the underlying
principles of the campaign very clearly: we provide the
tools, you provide the network, everyone wins.
Quoting Martin Luther King during the inaugural celebrations, Obama said “change does not roll in on the wheels
of inevitability.” The same could be said of his campaign.
It would be all too easy to think that Obama’s fundraising
success occurred as if by magic. But such an assumption
would be false. It was in fact the product of a long and
careful process to think of the best ways to empower supporters and construct a relationship with them.
The democratising force of fundraising
Furthermore, this process was ongoing. The design of
the tools on the Obama campaign web site was continuously evolving, modifying every conceivable variable,
including the language used on the page, the use of other
media, such as video, and even the colour and position of
the donate button. Experimentation was not feared, and
the immediacy of online communications and donations
gave the campaign the opportunity to measure and optimise every variable.
The dividends of this approach were huge, and were
certainly much greater than the sheer quantity of money
raised (vital though that was). Donations to political parties and candidates are often associated in the public
imagination with corruption, or the powerful and wealthy
trying to buy influence. Yet this was different. Every giver
to Obama became an integral member in his campaign
team. Giving in this way was not the opposite of traditional activism, but a hugely important part of it. When people gave money, they were forging a relationship with a
movement which led them to do more, not less. That is
genuine people-powered politics.
Yair Ghitza and Todd Rogers explain how the statistical techniques of microtargeting and randomised controlled experiments have improved the effectiveness of campaigns. As a
result of recent innovations, two tasks that are as old as democracy itself – predicting each citizen’s political preferences, and
determining how best to influence them – have become more
accurate and cheaper to do.
Improved and consolidated databases, better political information, more experienced practitioners, and wider use of
experimentation all improved progressives' ability in 2008 to
target and communicate with voters. For example, experiments
have shown that door-to-door contact is more effective at
increasing turnout than telephone canvassing or mail shots.
Experiments have also found that text messaging is especially
effective for increasing yturnout, which was an innovation
widely used by the Obama campaign.
Although legal restrictions in the UK appear to limit the
utility of these techniques, much can be replicated using
existing sources such as granular census data and information gained from canvassing operations. Ultimately, Ghitza
and Rogers argue, these techniques improve both candidates'
relationships with voters and their likelihood of victory.
10. Data-driven politics
Yair Ghitza and Todd Rogers
nyone who has ever been part of a political campaign knows that which voters get targeted
depends on two simple questions. What are each
citizen’s political preferences? And what will change
them? These preferences refer to an individual’s beliefs
about a candidate or issue, and ultimately who they will
support in an election. They can also refer to actions like
donating money, volunteering, turning out to cast a
vote, or attending a rally.
Traditionally, these questions have been answered
with polling, educated guesswork, and on-the-doorstep
experience. While each of these has a place in politics,
they are incomplete. Polling provides excellent snapshots of the beliefs and preferences of the electorate as a
whole, or even, to some extent, subgroups of the electorate. It cannot, however, tell us about the beliefs and
preferences of each specific individual, and it is imprecise in telling us how best to change those beliefs and
preferences. Educated guesswork and experience can
help us avoid many mistakes, but they cannot provide
unambiguous guidance.
Recent advances in data-driven politics offer dramatic improvements in our ability to answer these questions. Two specific innovations enable much greater
efficiency and precision in contacting voters by combining information about individuals’ preferences and
their likelihoods of changing their minds with national
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political strategies. The first innovation is microtargeting; the second is the use of randomised control experiments to determine which type of contact and wording
will most cost-effectively change a voter’s beliefs and
actions. We look at each in turn.
Microtargeting is the statistical analysis of large-scale
databases to help campaigns and organisations determine the beliefs and expected actions of individuals.
This involves the analysis of publicly available data
such as voter registration, demographic and census
information, party registration, whether they voted in
previous elections, and information collected directly
from an individual, for example, from canvassing.
These databases are combined with survey data to create statistical models which predict each citizen’s political beliefs and the likelihood of their taking specific
actions. Although all predictions are constrained by the
limits of statistical inference, these techniques significantly increase an analysts’ ability to predict a citizen’s
political preferences.
While microtargeting was used by some progressive
organisations prior to 2004, major advances in sophistication and in its adoption were made in the 2006
midterm elections and in the 2008 presidential election. The improvements can be traced to three changes.
First, the data infrastructure has been improved and
consolidated. Today, there are two main voter file
databases in progressive politics – one at the
Democratic National Committee, and one at Catalist, a
private vendor. In contrast to earlier years when voter
file collection was handled on a campaign-by-campaign basis, and required significant and repeated
start up costs, this centralised infrastructure allows
campaigns to develop microtargeting models using
Data-driven politics
data of better quality and broader scope than in the
past with much less difficulty.
Second, developing a centralised data infrastructure
has allowed organisations to collect and track meaningful political information about voters. This includes the
preferences, beliefs, and actions of individuals as collected over the phone, at voters’ doors, and however
else possible. Since microtargeting models can only
incorporate the data that is available, early microtargeting relied heavily on information like voter history and
demographic information provided by commercial vendors and the US Census. By accumulating and centralising useful political information, more recent microtargeting models have had even greater predictive power.
Importantly, the collection of political information
builds on campaigns’ natural strengths, especially those
with strong grassroots organizing capabilities. In the
past, campaigns could learn about individual voters
and use the information accordingly, but after the election they would often lose track of the data. Today, all of
this information is saved for the use of future progressive campaigns.
Third, increased experience with the analysis of large
datasets by members of the progressive community has
improved the quality and adoption of microtargeting.
The statistical procedures used in microtargeting have
long been used in academia, business, and other realms.
But translating these tools to the new domain of politics
took time because of three problems: using polls and
voter files together is complex because bias exists in
both data sources; the steady accumulation of talented
data analysts took time; and there was a need to communicate to end-users how to effectively use microtargeting to achieve their goals.
In the 2008 election there was an explosion in the use
of microtargeting to more efficiently contact voters. For
example, people who were predicted to be highly likely
The Change We Need
Kerry and allies
Obama and allies
Figure 4: Ohio Contacts – 2004 vs. 2008. This figure shows how
Kerry only targeted Democrats, while Obama targeted both low
turnout Democrats and high turnout independents.4
Data-driven politics
to vote but only moderately likely to support the
Democrats (‘high-turnout, swing voters’) were contacted for purposes of persuasion. And citizens who were
only moderately likely to vote but highly likely to support Democrats (‘moderate turnout, Dem voters’) were
targeted to ensure that they actually voted. Figure 4
illustrates that these two groups were much more precisely targeted by Obama and allies than by Kerry and
allies in 2004. This data is based on Catalist’s recorded
voter contacts in Ohio during these two elections. While
contact by the Kerry campaign was intense among highturnout Democrats – who are probably good targets for
activism, volunteer-recruitment and fundraising purposes – Obama’s campaign focused considerably more
on the two groups described above.
In addition to the top-level targeting displayed in
Figure 4, microtargeting helps campaigns identify the
specific issues which individuals care about. For example,
an environmental or pro-choice group can use microtargeting to help identify voters favourable to their issues.
Randomised control experiments
While microtargeting helps determine current political
preferences, randomised control experiments (RCE)
provide guidance on how best to change voter’s minds.
RCEs are widely used by pharmaceutical companies to
evaluate the true causal impact of new drugs and
increasingly by businesses to determine what maximises profit and what does not. Recent business press
books like Competing on Analytics and Supercrunchers
have discussed how companies like and
Capital One have built RCEs into their core business
models. Capital One, for example, conducted more than
25,000 RCEs in 2005 alone.
To make an RCE work, each individual must be randomly assigned to either a treatment group or a control
The Change We Need
group. Because each individual has an equal probability
of being assigned to any one group, the population of
people assigned to each of the conditions can be
assumed to be identical in all ways measurable (such as
age or gender, for example) and all ways that are not so
easily measured (maybe their favourite news source, or
the number of hours spent on the internet). At this point,
one can expose each group to a different treatment (or
none at all for the control group). One then collects
whatever measurement one is interested in from the
individuals within each group. Any difference in this
measure can be attributed to the treatment, since that
was the only aspect that differed between conditions.
RCEs were first used in politics to understand the
causal impact of different modes of voter contact a
decade ago by two professors at Yale University, Alan
Gerber and Don Green.1 They were interested in what
type of get-out-the-vote contact generated the greatest
increase in turnout. Subsequent research has confirmed
their initial finding that face-to-face contact has a greater
impact on turnout than either phone calls or mail. Since
that initial research, new studies have been conducted
by academics and practitioners alike. One recent experiment found that get-out-the-vote messages sent via text
message can be surprisingly powerful in increasing
turnout, while emails have essentially no impact.2
In light of this research, it was not surprising that the
Obama campaign focused so intensively throughout
their campaign on collecting cell phone numbers and
using them to communicate with their supporters. For
example, in the lead-up to the announcement of their
pick for vice president, the Obama campaign let its
supporters know that the announcement would be
made over text message. They used the opportunity to
collect the cell phone numbers of supporters, and subsequently integrated text messaging as a valuable part
of their get-out-the-vote plan. Understanding why text
Data-driven politics
messages work but emails, for example, do not is not
well understood. In the meantime, the practical implications are clear – and the Obama campaign seemed to
act on them.
Once an organisation has chosen a mode of contact, it
is still left to determine what to say and to whom. RCEs
are a powerful tool for identifying which specific messages can change political preferences. The most widely
discussed example was conducted by the AFL-CIO, a
large labour union. They were interested in which mail
shot would have the greatest impact in reducing support for McCain among their members. They developed
three different pieces of literature and sent each one to
a randomly selected group of 20,000 members in Ohio.
Another randomly selected group of 20,000 Ohio members received no mail (the control group). The AFL-CIO
then conducted a survey of the political preferences of
the members in all four conditions. Figure 5 shows that
Control group
Figure 5: AFL-CIO Membership Mail Test in March 2008
(Percentage of each group intending to vote for McCain)5
The Change We Need
two of the three pieces of mail had no meaningful
impact on vote choice relative to the control group. At
the same time, the third leaflet (the ‘testimonial’ piece)
showed a statistically significant and meaningful
decrease in McCain support. This was surprising given
that all three designs were developed using the best
information and methods available at the time. The
AFL-CIO was then able to mail the testimonial piece to
the rest of its Ohio universe knowing that it worked,
and was potent.
As well as being effective stand alone tools, microtargeting and RCEs can also be used effectively together.
For example, a recent ‘meta-analysis’ of more than a
dozen get-out-the-vote RCEs conducted by Professors
David Nickerson (Notre Dame University) and Kevin
Arceneaux (Temple University) found that individuals,
whom microtargeting models suggest have a moderate
to low likelihood of voting in a given election, show the
greatest boost in turnout as a result of face-to-face contact.3 This finding was used to inform the get-out-thevote targeting of many data-driven progressive organisations in this election cycle.
Microtargeting and RCEs for the Labour Party?
In applying these lessons to the UK, the most striking
difference is the greater level of legal restriction on the
use of personal data in the UK. In the US, much more
individual-level information is available either freely or
for purchase, including party registration and in which
specific elections each citizen voted. But despite these
limitations there are two other types of data that can
still be of substantial value. First, granular census data
at the local-level has been a potent (though imperfect)
input for predicting individual-level demographic
attributes in the US, and would probably have similar
value in the UK. Second, as the Labour Party is already
Data-driven politics
doing, individual political information such as candidate and issue preferences can be collected directly
through grassroots activity, and is therefore ripe for
microtargeting and RCEs.
On top of the legal hurdles, there are obvious ethical
considerations about the collection and maintenance of
such a large-scale database of personal information. The
danger of improper use, both intentional and unintentional, is real. In the progressive community in the US,
we are especially attuned to these concerns, and safeguarding against any type of violation has been a top
priority. These safeguards, of course, should also be a
top priority for any system built in the UK.
In the end, data-driven politics improves a campaign’s ability to communicate effectively by anticipating and addressing what voters care about. Far from
depersonalising politics, data-driven campaigning can
actually improve a campaign’s relationship with voters
by helping them speak directly to the preferences and
concerns of each individual citizen. If a campaign has a
compelling vision and set of values, a long-term investment in data infrastructure can enable more efficient
communication between a campaign and the electorate,
and ultimately help win elections.
While most of the public were focused on the presidential contest, the Democrats also did well in both the House of
Representatives and the Senate. Building on successes in the
2006 midterm elections, they won a number of districts and
states that had been Republican strongholds. One such success
was Glenn Nye’s victory in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional
District. In this chapter Representative Nye, with Robert Gerber,
offers a deeply personal account of his campaign for Congress.
These insights are important because a congressional district is the environment that most closely resembles a British
parliamentary seat, much more so than the electoral college
system used in the race for the White House. Of course there
are differences. For example, the Nye campaign raised $1.2
million, largely to fund television advertising. But what is
most striking is that the bread and butter of constituency campaigning in both Britain and America remains shoe leather politics, knocking on doors and talking to voters.
As his chapter reveals, one of the great successes of the Nye
campaign was integrating this traditional form of politics with
more modern techniques. Email, for example, was used to create a network of highly active supporters and to rapidly rebut
false accusations made by his opponent. At the local level, new
communication technology need not be alienating to activists
or used at the expense of older forms of campaigning. Instead,
it can and must complement what already happens.
11. Campaigning for Congress
Rep. Glenn Nye with Robert Gerber
n late 2007, I was one of many foreign development
professionals working in Iraq. One day I found
myself crouched in a bunker with some soldiers as
the alarms for incoming mortars rang out through the
dusty Baghdad air. As we waited for the ‘all clear’ to
sound, the soldiers shared their concerns about what
their families faced at home – the struggle to make ends
meet, and partisan bickering in Washington that gave
little hope for real solutions. I was struck by the fact that
the soldiers worried more about America than they did
about their physical safety in Iraq.
Service has always been a major part of my life. As a
student, I used my vacations to help my physician
father on medical missions overseas. After college, I
passed the US State Department’s Foreign Service exam
and was stationed as a diplomat in the Balkans and
Singapore. After the bunker discussion, I began to think
about embarking on a new kind of public service.
Having returned home to Norfolk, Virginia for
Christmas 2007, I began to explore what many advised
was a crazy idea: running for the US House of
Representatives. As a political novice with no name
recognition and no money, it was not clear whether I
had any chance of winning my home district. In every
contest from 1998 to 2004, 98 per cent of incumbents in
the House of Representatives won their election.1 But
although I was not known to be particularly political or
The Change We Need
partisan, I hoped that my ideas about bringing change
to Washington would resonate with voters.
Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District consists of three
landmasses separated by water, and connected by
bridges, covering the area commonly known as
‘Hampton Roads’. The population of 640,000 includes
the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Hampton, and
stretches from the Chesapeake Bay to the border of
North Carolina. (The Jamestown settlement, the oldest
in today’s United States, is just a few miles north of the
2nd District.) Aside from a vast peninsula that forms
Virginia’s remote and rural Eastern Shore, the area is
primarily urban and suburban, with the kind of sprawl
to which Americans are accustomed. VA-2 is the East
Coast home of the US Navy, hosting shipyards, nuclearpowered carriers, and the Oceana Naval Air Station –
where the Navy until recently flew the F-14 Tomcats
seen in the movie ‘Top Gun.’ Over 50 per cent of the 2nd
District’s residents have served in the US military. The
district’s population is diverse, with 20 per cent AfricanAmerican population, and features opulent waterfront
homes as well as pawn shops and trailer parks. Virginia
Beach is also a vacation destination, with vast beaches,
boardwalks, and fresh seafood.
After consulting some professional consultants on
the viability of running for Congress, I set up an
exploratory committee and began to raise money, one
call at a time. The central task of any challenger in US
politics is raising cash and building a fundraising base.
Congressional races normally cost over $1 million. The
money allows a candidate to hire a small team (in my
case five full timers) and run TV advertisements.
Given the size of the district, it becomes impossible to
meet every resident. TV ads are the primary method of
connecting with voters and establishing ‘name ID’.
Advertisements cost over $10,000 per week in a media
market such as Norfolk’s. The EMILY principal applies
Campaiging for Congress
to campaigns in America – Early Money is Like Yeast.
The early money is hard to raise, but the more you
raise, the more people take you seriously and donate.
Quarterly fundraising reports are public information
so there is also a public relations aspect to the challenge. Ultimately, the majority of any candidate’s time
is set aside for fundraising calls – first to friends, then
to individuals with a history of supporting like-minded candidates.
Late in 2007, my campaign commissioned a poll to
help paint a picture of the issues that mattered most to
local voters. The results showed that my professional
record as an independent problem-solver, who had
served in Iraq and understood foreign and defence policy, would resonate. Polling also showed that the
incumbent, Republican Representative Thelma Drake,
was vulnerable.
After declaring my candidacy in January 2008, my
first task was to win the Democratic Party’s nomination.
I became a full-time candidate for Congress, and spent
the next 10 months working 12 hour days, seven days
per week. In the first few months of the campaign, I
established some momentum by raising $200,000. By
June, the filing deadline for potential candidates, no
other Democrat had joined the race so the nomination
was mine. At this stage I recruited a media consultant, a
finance director to lead the fundraising drive, and my
personal staff.
Part of the difficulty in beating incumbents is name
recognition. In March, polls showed that Thelma Drake
was known by 90 per cent of the district’s residents
while just 10 per cent knew my name. We didn’t run TV
ads until the fall, so name recognition was earned early
on by grassroots outreach and positive press stories
(known as ‘earned media’).
I knew I could take no voters for granted, so I pursued a geographically and demographically diverse
The Change We Need
outreach strategy. I was invited to speak at civic
leagues, neighbourhood association picnics, veterans’
association halls, and churches. I ate hot peppers at the
Ethiopian-American New Year ’s Celebration in
September and visited the local gun club (I prefer the
9mm Beretta). Meeting voters is easily the best part of
the campaign and everyone I met had advice: ”You
need to put up more yard signs” or “You need to come
to my school and speak.“ At big events, such as the local
harbour festival, my loyal volunteers handed out flyers
while I shook hands. The flyers featured key details
from my biography and my campaign narrative. I
emphasised my record of service in hotspots like Iraq
and Afghanistan and my unyielding belief that bi-partisan solutions are the only way to solve problems in
Washington. The campaign’s strategy for success relied
on ‘staying on message’, which meant incorporating
these themes into debates, TV ads, and speeches.
During the course of the campaign, my opponent
launched two unsubstantiated and inaccurate personal
attacks against me, which attempted to portray me as
untrustworthy. This required some rapid work to highlight the lies and reassure voters. My campaign web site
had allowed supporters to sign up to an email service
detailing campaign events and messages. My brother –
who also served in Iraq as a civilian aid worker – sent
out a message to recipients dismissing the allegations
and outlining that it was another example of the same
old divisive Washington politics that I sought to end.
We also used that message to ask whether supporters
would, “help us stand up against our opponent’s empty
attacks by donating $25, $50, $100 or $250 today”. The
appeal worked.
By contrast to Drake’s adverts, mine focused on my
biography, and the only criticism of my opponent
focused on her voting record which included opposition to a crucial Act which supported education benefits
Campaiging for Congress
for our district’s servicemen and women. Through a
combination of media coverage, voter outreach, and TV
ads, my name recognition climbed steadily. By July, the
local newspaper was calling our race “one of the
region’s most competitive ” .2
A third round of polling showed the race tightening.
At this point I began to receive the endorsement of
many leading Democrats in Virginia including Mark
Warner who was running in the US Senate race.
Meanwhile, Senator Obama’s campaign was moving at
full speed to register new voters and set up a grassroots network. Virginia was a battleground state for
Obama – which he went onto win – and so he made
three visits to the district during the final month of the
campaign. I was invited to speak before the presidential
candidate at his rallies on these occasions. It was a complete thrill to address a cheering crowd of 20,000 who so
clearly wanted to hear a message of change.
To win the district, I needed to win over independent
voters and some Republicans. I have always been politically moderate and have no time for partisan bickering.
I favour low taxes, support for small business, and a
strong defence capability. My experience in Iraq and
Afghanistan also helped convince military voters and
folks who were concerned about the challenges America
faces in an uncertain world. I also think my message of
bipartisan solutions contrasted with the partisanship
most voters saw in Washington. Meanwhile, Thelma
Drake’s association with President Bush – she was in the
top 10 per cent of conservative representatives – came to
haunt her as the nationwide financial and housing
crises escalated.3
The election for the House of Representatives was
third on the ballot, below the presidential election
between Obama and McCain, and the Senatorial race
between two former Governors, the Democrat Mark
Warner and the Republican Jim Gilmore. But I simply
The Change We Need
could not take for granted that an Obama voter or a
Warner voter would automatically vote for me, and so
we organised our own field operation. This involved
asking volunteers to host ‘house parties’ where I would
discuss issues with a group of 20-30 undecided voters
(occasionally while enjoying some home-cooked treats).
We used these occasions to recruit new volunteers and
collect donations as well. The second aspect of field
operations was voter contact in key ‘swing’ precincts
via phone, mail, and door-to-door canvassing every
weekend during the final month. My campaign staff
assembled a team of volunteers to execute the voter
contact operation.
Modern campaigning tools had a more modest
impact for my local campaign than for the presidential
election but we still had to ensure that we were up to
date. Supporters could donate online and databases
owned by the state-wide Democratic Party were used to
identify potential supporters using sophisticated logarithms. Nonetheless, in local politics you cannot beat
the old techniques of TV, radio, and direct voter contact
to build support.
Once the race had tightened considerably, the national party recorded and ran TV ads supporting me.
Campaign finance rules, however, prevented my team
from knowing the content of the ads before they aired.
The Democratic National Committee’s expenditures in
the 2nd District for me exceeded $500,000. In addition,
we had raised (and spent) over $1.2 million by election
day. Thelma Drake had raised just over $2 million.4
The local press began following the race in earnest
during the final two months of the campaign. I held a
series of press conferences to highlight key issues,
including energy costs or the urgency of veterans care
issues. During this period I met with the editorial
boards of the two local newspapers. The Virginian-Pilot
gave me an unequivocal endorsement.5
Campaiging for Congress
In the end, I won by 12,000 votes – 53 per cent to 47
per cent. I am honoured by the responsibility that the
people of the 2nd District have placed in me. The experience of defeating an incumbent and bringing a new
style of politics to the area was immensely rewarding.
But the real work has only just begun.
12. Conclusion
Nick Anstead and Will Straw
hat does the Labour Party believe its role should
be in the 21st century? Is it satisfied that a political party can be merely a means to electoral victory and therefore to subsequent achievements such as the
foundation of the NHS or the creation of the minimum
wage? Or should it aim to be more than that?
For progressives, successful political parties must be
both a means and an end, playing a critical role in creating
a vibrant space for civic participation and deliberation.
This is a fundamental part of the constitutional left’s definition of the good society, because apathy and disengagement are the enemy of progress and the nursemaids of
reaction – the antithesis of what we seek to achieve. We
believe that the Labour Party must, once again, become
the spiritual home of the broad left and all those committed to a progressive – rather than a conservative – future.
As the authors in this book demonstrate, Barack
Obama’s victory suggests that increased participation and
a situation where citizens feel that politics matters and
take an active part in fighting for what they believe is
compatible with, and increasingly important to, modern
politics. Many facets of the Obama campaign are, of
course, uniquely American, and made possible by the
political culture and institutions in the United States. It is
very unlikely that British parties, especially Labour
twelve years into government, will be able to replicate the
scale or intensity of enthusiasm that Obama generated
The Change We Need
(itself partly a product of eight years of reactionary, unilateral government).
But the American election does hold vital lessons that
political parties must learn in order to equip themselves
to campaign effectively and facilitate a healthy and modern democracy. Failure to grasp the implications of
Obama’s victory could result in electoral meltdown as
other parties steal a march. Nonetheless, these lessons
are ripe for misinterpretation. Some may think that the
Party’s task is to adopt the best ideas, practices and technologies used by Barack Obama and bolt them on to how
we currently carry out party politics and campaigning.
However, as Matthew McGregor argues in chapter 9, a
‘build it and they will come’ mentality to new campaign
techniques is deeply flawed.
Instead, the facilitation of a new movement politics by
the Labour Party should go deeper: it should change more
fundamentally not just how the Party competes for election but also how it is organised and how it mobilises support. Thus, while Obama’s election provides opportunities
for Labour, it also poses a huge challenge to which the
Party must respond. It depends on fully exorcising the
ghost of the self-destructive indiscipline of the 1980s, the
memory of which has driven a command and control
approach to all aspects of party campaigns and organisation. Labour must also unlearn several of the techniques
which were successful in the early years of 24/7 media in
the 1990s but which are now inappropriate and counterproductive, as we enter a new age of fragmented and personalised news consumption.
Some will contend that letting go of the top down
model will end in disaster, with a return to the
internecine warfare of the past. But Obama showed that
a successful campaign requires a mixture of a centrally
managed core message alongside decentralised tools of
self-organisation and a culture where it is OK to openly
challenge policy and strategy. If Labour proves unwilling
or unable to make the leap required, it risks ceding its
role as probably the most potent weapon progressives
have to achieve political change. If it cannot open up, it
will become disconnected from new political movements
and organisations. To understand how Labour can meet
these challenges, we must first understand how it got to
where it is today.
The three ages of the post-war Labour Party
The political historian Kevin Jeffreys has written that,
“The Attlee era was the closest Labour ever came to
becoming a mass movement, but even at this pinnacle it
represented only a small fraction of the Party’s electorate.”1 While this may have been the case, it is also
important to note that the Labour Party of the 1950s had a
strong relationship with the lifestyles, associations and
rhythms of British life. This cannot not be said of any modern political party in the UK. With the exception of a brief
uptick in the early Blair era, Labour Party membership has
been in decline for many years. While some constituency
associations remain a vibrant focal point of community
action, there are many others – particularly where there is
no MP or council leader to rally behind – that lack either
the personnel or the financial resources to function effectively. Meanwhile, the national organisation has become a
professionalised election-winning machine, favouring
command and control over participatory politics.
Some choose to blame the New Labour project for the
declining energy among the base but while this argument
offers a comfortingly simple explanation, and correspondingly simple answer, to the Party’s current predicament, it
is dangerously reductionist and ahistorical. Firstly, declining membership is a 50 year-old phenomenon. In 1952,
Labour had more than one million members above and
beyond union affiliates.2 Political parties during this period
were successful because their organisational structures
The Change We Need
reflected the lives of the membership and offered an
expression of social solidarity. Branches and constituency
parties were firmly grounded in localities, and would thus
encompass family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
Labour and Working Men’s Clubs were linked to a local
party and acted as important social hubs. In the early
1950s, the glue that held the Party together was not a rigid
ideology or worldview, but instead a set of shared values
and aspirations held by a broad community of supporters.
By the 1980s, the Party had a membership of fewer than
300,000 people. This decline was driven by social change
as class de-alignment occurred. This reflected a more fragmented society where social solidarity was breaking
down. As a result, identity became more complex and
social networks more geographically disparate. This
degraded the social glue that had held the Party together.
Furthermore, in the age of home entertainment, the social
benefits that once tempted people to join Labour were
simply no longer an enticement.
The decline in membership fundamentally altered the
character of the Party and was one of the root causes of the
near-civil war which Labour underwent in the early 80s. The
members that remained were more likely to view the world
through an ideological prism, and adopt positions at odds
with the Party’s leadership and, more seriously, with the
public. This situation was exacerbated by the creation of the
Social Democratic Party in 1981. Furthermore, declining
membership left Labour prone to entryism, with organisations from the hard left – which Labour had kept at arms
length since its foundation – able to get their members to join
failing constituency parties, and to usurp their role within
Labour’s decision-making apparatus. Power within Labour
became uneasily suspended between the Parliamentary
Labour Party and the shadow cabinet on the one hand, and
the National Executive Committee, constituency parties,
and conference on the other – a two-headed hydra that
pulled the Labour movement in different directions. The
fissure in leadership led to the drafting of the disastrous
1983 manifesto and Labour’s subsequent electoral meltdown.
Since political parties’ principal motivation is to win
power and change society according to their view of the
common good, this situation was unsustainable. Gradually,
Labour ‘modernisers’ – first Neil Kinnock, then John Smith
and subsequently Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – remodelled the Party. They did this by concentrating power in the
hands of the parliamentary leadership, making the whole
operation far more professional and well managed, and
rebranding the Party as ‘New Labour.’
This approach to politics had a considerable upside:
three election victories, two of them landslides, and a period of unprecedented success. The Conservative Party, the
most potent election winning force in Western Europe, was
cowed to an unprecedented degree. Indeed, for a short period during the early years of Tony Blair’s leadership,
Labour’s renewed electability led to an increase in Party
membership. But there were ultimately big downsides. It
created a culture of centralised politics at the heart of
Labour. Scarred by the experiences of the 1980s the leadership became deeply fearful of ceding power to the grassroots, who they felt could be recaptured by the hard left. In
turn, members felt disempowered and isolated from a Party
elite that seemed increasingly distant. These developments
created a paradox: while the organisational ideology of
New Labour can be seen as a rational response to membership decline, it also became a cause of it. By 2007, the Party
was down to 182,000 members.
Rethinking the logic of collective action
Participation is a good thing. But in order to generate
engagement in the 21st century – and reap all the political
and civic rewards that come with it – Labour must seriously consider the forms of its organisation. The Obama cam98
The Change We Need
paign demonstrates that generating more participation is
possible today if parties adapt to the new social and technological reality and are driven by a singular theme.
Although Bush’s failures and Obama’s positive message
was critical, participation on this scale is not a uniquely
American phenomenon. In the United Kingdom, campaigns such as Make Poverty History have managed to
engage millions of people. These successes are not coincidental. Modern American electoral campaigns share many
characteristics with civil society and pressure groups, and
are what political scientist Andrew Chadwick terms
hybrid organisations – part party, part movement.3 As yet,
British parties have failed to achieve such a transformation
partly because they still function within institutional
arrangements created in the 20th century.
The institutions that are necessary for new forms of campaign organisation have a number of distinct characteristics:
They lack rigid institutions or overly hierarchical
They have a high level of internal pluralism;
They have the lowest barriers to entry possible;
They allow for multifaceted forms of participation
among supporters;
They have the ability to act as a platform on which
motivated individuals and groups can self-organise;
They are capable of interacting with other groups in
the broader political eco-system.
These characteristics, alongside a singular and focused
message, are shared by many successful modern political
organisations. The great achievement of the Obama cam99
paign was to take this model of activism and employ it to
achieve electoral success, first in defeating the
‘inevitable’ candidacy of Hillary Clinton and then winning a popular majority in the presidential elections, the
first time a Democratic candidate had achieved this feat
in over 30 years.
How was this achieved? In a similar way to New
Labour in the 1990s, the Obama campaign centralised its
message. A narrative of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ – adjectives
that the candidate himself embodied – was chosen at an
early stage, and maintained with discipline and fervour, as
David Lammy describes. Little expense was spared in
achieving effective branding and cultivating an image of
professionalism. The Obama team also excelled in data
management, ruthlessly harvesting readily available
information about their supporters as the insights offered
by Yair Ghitza and Todd Rogers show. This data was used
to construct a personal relationship with each individual,
based on their interests, networks and willingness to work
for the campaign. Additionally, Karin Christiansen and
Marcus Roberts prove that training in effective campaigning techniques, such as canvassing and fundraising, was a
hugely effective political weapon. This approach ensured
that supporters were effectively managed and galvanised,
and that the campaign was able to wring them for every
last donation and hour of volunteering.
In contrast to Labour’s recent history, however, the
Obama team decentralised many other aspects of the campaign, and gave citizens a huge amount of freedom to selforganise. Here, the internet proved to be a vital tool. In
particular, Barack Obama’s web site contained a social networking element,, or MyBO as it
became known. This allowed users to register with the
campaign, and then create policy or interest groups with
like-minded supporters (such as Veterans for Obama),
organise their own fundraising drives or canvassing
events, and advocate their beliefs through blogs or online
The Change We Need
petitions. This approach was extremely successful. For
example, MyBO was used to organise 200,000 campaign
events in communities across the country. These meetings
did not come about because they were organised centrally
or even planned by a local committee, but instead because
self motivated citizens used tools provided by the campaign to organise themselves.
This approach to politics did not just exist in the online
space. It was practiced at the community level too. As one
volunteer in Ohio explained:
"It's about empowering… we turn them around and
say,'Well hey, here's how to be a community organiser.
Let me help you be a community organiser.'And then
they go out and they get people to be their coordinators. And then we tell those new coordinators, 'Build
yourself a team and be organisers too.' There's no end
to it."4
Unlikely as it might seem, there are strong similarities
between the Obama campaign and the parties of the
1950s. Both were constructed around real world social
networks and supporter interaction. The great achievement of the Obama campaign was to employ technology
to galvanise the more complex, geographically dispersed
social networks that western citizens inhabit in the early
21st century. For example, in a manner similar to social
networking sites such as Facebook, users of MyBO could
upload their personal email address books, allowing
them to contact all their family and friends and ask if
they too wanted to sign up to support Obama. The internet also helped to connect supporters in strongly
Republican areas of the country, where Democrats had
previously been too isolated to organise.
This type of campaigning holds huge potential for
Labour but may appear to hold significant risks too.
Many supporters would argue that decentralisation will
allow interest groups to capture campaign and policy
making functions, in the way that Militant did in the
1980s. But it is easy to overstate this danger since entryism is only possible in closed institutions that lack firm
roots in the wider community. The best long term
defence we have against such attacks is not to raise barriers to participation, but to lower them.
Nor should we make the mistake of thinking that
dissent is always a bad thing, an institutional mindset
of which, at times, Labour has been guilty. The Obama
campaign demonstrated that debate on policy can
occur within a campaign in a respectful and successful
manner. Indeed, MyBO could be used to agitate against
the candidate’s positions. Most famously, this occurred
when more than 23,000 supporters joined a group to
protest at Obama’s support for legislation that granted
legal immunity to telecommunications companies that
had co-operated with the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants. But rather than
rebuking this group of dissenters, Obama replied
directly to the group online and set out his own justification. Although agreement was not reached, campaigners felt that their concerns had been heard.
Furthermore, this ‘revolt’ included few displays of
aggression or disrespect, because activists were treated
like adults and, in turn, offered the same courtesy to
the campaign. A few individuals who did use the web
site to make inflammatory or derogatory comments
were quickly rebuked – not by the upper echelons of
the campaign or some anonymous moderator, but by
other activists, proving that successful participatory
organisations do not need to a top-down structure to
manage and respond to negative content.
Labour must escape the historical frame in which
debates about structure have recently occurred. The
Party must no longer view organisational decisions as a
choice between the fragmented chaos of the 1980s and a
The Change We Need
1990s-style concentration of power. Instead it must look
for a new configuration that recognises today’s social and
technological circumstances and combines the mix of the
message discipline of the 1990s with the open discourse
that citizens have now come to expect.
Labour has a dedicated and professional staff who
work imaginatively on uncompetitive wages to make the
Party an effective campaigning force. Across the country,
there are thousands of volunteers who work tirelessly
with little or no reward to get Labour elected and to
encourage and challenge its representatives in office. But
the Party has not done these supporters and employees
justice and evolved to cope with new social patterns and
norms. While constitutional changes have updated the
Party’s core ideology and voting structures, they have
not addressed the evolving desire in society to combine
the individual and the collective; to find solidarity and
kinship at the local level, on a timetable that suits the
individual. This is the great challenge the Party faces and
the real lesson of the American election.
We would do well to remember that no political organisation has a divine right to exist. Indeed, rather like a species
of animal unable to cope with a changing environment,
over the centuries parties have come and gone as the political climate has changed. While social and technological
revolutions offer exciting opportunities for success, they
can also be very dangerous.
All British parties are still creatures of the mass media
age, when news production and dissemination was concentrated in the hands of national and local newspapers
and a handful of radio and TV stations. However, as this
period recedes, and we move towards an era of personalised media consumption, typified by a greater number
of channels, entertainment on demand, online shopping,
internet dating, social networking, and home working,
parties will desperately need activists to spread their
message and act as advocates of their policies within
communities. Yet, paradoxically, activists need political
parties less than they once did. In the networked society,
citizens do not require the institutional scaffolding
offered by parties to engage in political activity. Anyone
can set up a simple campaigning group on an issue with
a few clicks of a mouse. If people share their concerns,
that group may have thousands of members in just a few
hours at virtually no cost.
In such an environment, the onus is on parties to make
themselves attractive vehicles for political activism and to
greatly broaden their appeal. To these ends, we advocate
the following five principles:
1. Remove all barriers to participation
Obama’s 13 million-strong email list yielded four million
individual donations. By contrast, Labour Party membership fees create a barrier to entry and make it harder to
regularly ask supporters for donations. The Party currently takes in £4 million a year from its membership fees and
an additional £2.3 million in ‘top up’ donations from
around 70,000 members. This is an average of roughly £20
per subscription-only member and £50 from the more generous or wealthy. By contrast, Obama raised an average of
roughly $170 (£120) from each of his donors. The time has
clearly come for a new approach to this critical component
of being a Labour supporter.
Scrapping party subscriptions, and instead moving
towards regular fundraising drives of members and the
wider progressive community, would offer supporters the
chance to contribute to specific issues or electoral-based
campaigns. Requests for cash could be linked to particular
events like the 60th anniversary of the NHS or a local election campaign. To avoid a funding cliff edge, this new
The Change We Need
model could be phased in gradually by giving new members the right to set their own subscription level (including
paying nothing). Existing members could be encouraged
to change their subscription fee with an assumption, but
no obligation, that it would increase.
2. Enable channels for dissent and debate
There needs to be a cultural Glasnost within the Labour
Party. In this instance Glasnost means realising that a healthy
party enables constructive internal debate, diversity of views,
and dissent. It means that debates are pointless if everyone
agrees. Citizens need space to reflect and political parties
should offer this. Labour’s traditional deliberative environments, ranging from branch meetings to conference, are too
closed and hierarchical to offer such a space. Citizens today
have the ability to comment at any time, anywhere on anything from the news to their latest book purchase, or even to
sign a Downing Street petition. Labour must develop an
open environment for debate and issue-based organisation
that is open to the broader population.
3. Give supporters the tools to self-organise
The digital revolution is dramatically changing citizens’
expectations. The growing personalisation of media consumption indicates a move away from geographic and temporal constraints on our activities. In this era, defined by the
demand for immediacy and the individualisation of experience, it is easy to see why the political environments in some
constituency parties, such as overly formal General
Committee meetings, often drive away new members.
Obama’s campaign proved the power of self-organisation, and, to remain competitive, Labour must adopt
this approach. Online and offline tools can help to
achieve this. Labour currently has, in technical terms,
some very good online tools allowing members to pub105
lish content, organise and debate ideas with each other.
These, however, are kept in a password protected, members-only ‘walled garden’. As a result, they are only useful for forming networks among those who are already
members. These systems should be opened up and
developed further, to ensure that broader connections
between progressives can be formed.
Offline, this means opening up the institutions of constituency parties. Where CLPs have opened their doors to
non-members, the number of activists in election campaigns
has spiked. However, examples such as this remain the
unusual exception. A more open approach would also help
reconnect local communities by providing new, innovative
ways to bring people together under the umbrella of the
Labour Party.
4. Keep supporters better informed
Obama’s campaign proved how effectively new technology can be used to create a genuine link between
leadership and activists. It is vital that Labour
improves its use of email and other information and
communication technology, such as SMS text messaging, to form an individualised link with every one of
its supporters. Messages should also request action
rather than providing a one-way flow of information,
as they so frequently do.
5. Reward hard work and entrepreneurialism
The efforts of individual activists need to be recognised, allowing them to progress through the echelons
of the Party and to gain more responsibility.
Additionally, the Party should consider a move
towards open primaries for candidate selection. This
would have two important impacts. First, it would
ensure that the decision was not made by a small body
The Change We Need
but by everyone in the local community. Second, it
would encourage exceptional individuals who have a
background in broader public service and share
Labour’s values to step forward and seek office.
We do not pretend that this transition will be easy. But
we are sure it is necessary. Without taking these steps
there is every risk that the Labour Party as a membership organisation will come to have little, if any, relevance to the lives of British citizens.
Indeed, it seems likely that last year’s US election campaign is just the start of a seismic revolution. It is quite
possible that the transition to the information age will
rival the development of the printing press or of industrialisation as an epoch-forming event. Yet, even within this
change, there will still be constants. There will always be
people who strive for a fairer society, and those who
believe that we can achieve more through common
endeavour than we can alone. The question is whether the
Labour Party can continue to be a suitable vehicle for these
political beliefs. Can we do it?
Yes, we can.
Chapter 1: Introuction
Barack Obama, "A More Perfect Union," Philadelphia,
March 18, 2008, and Barack Obama, Dreams From My
Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (Edinburgh:
Canongate, 2007).
Chapter 2: Retrospective on the election
Joseph Bafumi and Robert Y Shapiro, "A New Partisan
Voter," The Journal of Politics 71, no. 1 (2008), Robert Y
Shapiro and Yaeli Bloch-Elkon, "Do the Facts Speak for
Themselves? Partisan Disagreement as a Challenge to
Democratic Competence," Critical Review 20, no. 1-2
(2008), Robert Y Shapiro and Yaeli Bloch-Elkon, "Foreign
Policy, Meet the People," The National Interest 97, no.
September-October (2008).
Lawrence R Jacobs and Robert Y Shapiro, Politicians Don't
Pander: Political Manipulation and the Loss of Democratic
Responsiveness (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press,
2000), Robert Y Shapiro, "Why Respond to Polls? Public
Opinion Polling and Democracy," Public Opinion Pros,
November, 2004.
Michael P McDonald, "2008 Unofficial Voter Turnout,"
United States Elections Project, 2008.
Mark Blumenthal, "Mystery Pollster: Scoring the Polls,"
National Journal Online, November 12, 2008.
The Change We Need
Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International,
"Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004"
(paper presented at the Edison Media Research and
Mitofsky International, January 19, 2005).
Anthony Corrado, Thomas E Mann, and Trevor Potter,
eds., Inside the Campaign Finance Battle: Court Testimony on
the New Reform (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2003).
Gary Langer et al., "Exit Polls: Storm of Voter
Dissatisfaction Lifts Obama to an Historic Win: Battered
Economy, Partisan Shift in Power and Promise of Change
Lift Obama to Victory," ABC News, November 5, 2008.
Chapter 3: Gender and the election
Maggie Haberman, "Hill Tops Demos, GOP Tied in
Knots: Nationwide Poll," The New York Post, December 28,
2007, 23.
CNN, "Results: Iowa," CNN Election Centre, 2008.
Pew Research Centre's Project for Excellence in
Journalism, "Character and the Primaries of 2008," Pew
Research Centre, May 29, 2008. Of stories, 69 per cent of
Obama narratives were positive, and 67 per cent of
Clinton narratives were positive. Both Democratic contenders fared much better than Republican John McCain
whose coverage was 43 per cent positive.
Pew Research Centre's Project for Excellence in
Journalism, "Character and the Primaries of 2008," 3.
Karen Breslau, "Hillary Tears Up: A Muskie moment, or a
helpful glimpse of ‘the real Hillary’?," Newsweek, January
7, 2008.
Headlines the following day included: Geoff Earle, "Hill
Gets Weary & Teary – Chokes Up Amid Cam-Pain
Strain," The New York Post, January 8, 2008, Philip Elliott,
"Emotional Clinton says ‘this is very personal,’ voice
breaking in NH remarks," Associated Press, January 8,
2008, Errol Louis, "Calculated or Not, Weepfest Won’t
Help Her," Daily News, January 8, 2008.
Craig Gordon, "Women voters held the key to Clinton's
resurgence; They strongly supported her after abandoning the campaign in Iowa," The Houston Chronicle, January
9, 2008, A15.
The state exit poll data suggest that blacks favoured
Obama by a factor of 7:1 across the states on average.
National American Election Survey, Telephone Survey
(Philadelphia, PA: Annenberg Public Policy Centre,
National American Election Survey, Telephone Survey.
MSNBC, “Exit Polls”, 2008.
CNN, "Exit Polls," CNN Election Centre, 2008.
CNN, "Exit Polls."
Pew Research Centre, "Winning the Media Campaign,"
Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism,
October 22, 2008, 23.
Pew Research Centre, "Winning the Media Campaign,"
Pew Research Centre, "Winning the Media Campaign,"
National American Election Survey, Telephone Survey.
Pew Research Centre, "Winning the Media Campaign,"
CNN, "Exit Polls."
CNN, "Exit Polls."
Erika Falk and Kate Kenski, "Sexism Versus Partisanship:
A New Look at the Question of Whether America is
Ready for a Woman President," Sex Roles 54 (2006).
Chapter 4: The power of storytelling
Barack Obama, "Barack Obama’s Presidential
Announcement, Springfield, Illinois," YouTube, 2007.
Barack Obama, "Transcript: Illinois Senate Candidate
Barack Obama," Washington Post, July 27, 2004.
Kevin Sullivan, "US Again Hailed as 'Country of
Dreams'," Washington Post, November 6, 2008.
The Change We Need
Ethan Bronner, "For Many Abroad, an Ideal Renewed,"
New York Times, 5 November, 2008.
Chapter 7: The web 2.0 election
J Stromer-Galley, "Online Interaction and Why
Candidates Avoid It," Journal Of Communications 50, no. 4
Indeed, John McCain’s campaign created an ad called
“Celebrity”, which attacked Barack Obama for being a
star like Paris Hilton. This ad, an exception to the general
rule that viral videos are not created by campaigns, generated enough buzz to go viral, generating 1 million
views in a few weeks, Mike SooHoo, Deputy E-campaign
Director for the McCain campaign, explained in an interview.
P Zube, "Campaigning on MySpace: Opportunity or
Vulnerability in the 2008 US Primary?," in Politics: Web
2.0: An International Conference (Royal Holloway,
University of London: 2008).
K B Marcelo and E H Kirby, "Quick Facts about US Young
Voters: The Presidential Election Year 2008,", October, 2008.
Vote 4 Me, "Text Messaging has Mobilized Voters in
Elections Around the World. Will the Once Teen-Centric
Technology Change American Politics Too?," Newsweek,
August 2, 2006.
Vote 4 Me, "Text Messaging has Mobilized Voters in
Elections Around the World. Will the Once Teen-Centric
Technology Change American Politics Too?"
Combined News Service, "McCain staffer suspended
over Obama, pastor video,", 2008.
J A Vargas, "Young voters find voice on Facebook: Site's
candidate groups are grass-roots politcs for the Web generation,", February 17, 2007.
Vargas, "Young voters find voice on Facebook: Site's
candidate groups are grass-roots politcs for the Web
10 P Burrowes, "Edwards camp goes all a-twittering," The
New York Times, April 2, 2007.
Chapter 8: Blogging the election
Mayhill Fowler, "Obama: No Surprise That Hard-Pressed
Pennsylvanians Turn Bitter," The Huffington Post, April
11, 2008.
Mike Stark, "President Obama, Please Get FISA Right,", 2008.
Nataniel Silver, " - Home," Five, 2008.
Ben Smith, "Sign of the Media Times," Politico, January 2,
Brandon Friedman, "VetVoice,", 2008/2009,
Kevin Grandia, "DeSmogBlog,",
Chapter 9: The democratising force of fundraising
Opensecrets, "Banking on Becoming President,", 2008.
Federal Election Commission, "Presidential Campaign
Finance," Federal Election Commission web site, 2008.
All numbers in this section from Jose Antonio Vargas,
"Obama Raised Half a Billion Online," Washington Post,
November 20, 2008.
CNN, "Clinton Outpaces Obama in Fundraising for
Third Quarter,", October 2, 2007.
Chapter 10: Data-driven politics
A S Gerber and D P Green, "The Effects of Canvassing,
Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A
Field Experiment," American Political Science Review 94,
no. 3 (2000).
A S Gerber and D P Green, Get Out the Vote: How to
Increase Vote Turnout (Washington DC: Brookings,
The Change We Need
K Arceneaux and D W Nickerson, "Who is Mobilized to
Vote? A Re-Analysis of Eleven Field Experiments,"
American Journal of Political Science 53, no. 1 (2009).
Catalist/Analyst Institute, "2008 Election Analysis,"
National Press Club, January 15, 2009.
AFL-CIO, Analyst Institute, "2008 Election Analysis."
Chapter 11: Campaigning for Congress
John Samples and Patrick Basham, "Once Again,
Incumbents Are the Big Winners," Cato Institute, 2004.
Aaron Applegate, "Beach’s 2nd District race shapes up to
be competitive," The Virginian-Pilot, July 28, 2008.
Full details of voting records can be found at National
Journal, "2007 Vote Ratings,", 2008.
Federal Election Commission, "House and Senate Races,"
Federal Election Commission web site, 2008.
Editorial, "For Congress: Glenn Nye," The Virginian-Pilot,
October 24, 2008.
Chapter 12: Conclusion
Kevin Jefferys, Politics and the People: A History of
British Democracy Since 1918 (London: Atlantic, 2007).
All membership data before 2000 from David Butler and
Gareth Butler, Twentieth Century British Political Facts
1900-2000 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 151. 2007 figure from Patrick Wintour and Sarah Hall, "Labour
Membership Halved," The Guardian, 2004.
Andrew Chadwick, "Digital Network Repertoires and
Organizational Hybridity," Political Communications 24
Zack Exley, "The New Organizers, Part 1: What's Really
Behind Obama's Ground Game," Huffington Post,
October 8, 2008.
A Applegate. 'Beach’s 2nd District race shapes up to be
competitive', in The Virginian-Pilot (2008). Available at: Accessed February
2, 2009.
K Arceneaux and D W Nickerson, 'Who is Mobilized to
Vote? A Re-Analysis of Eleven Field Experiments',
American Journal of Political Science, 53 (2009).
J Bafumi and R Y Shapiro, 'A New Partisan Voter', The
Journal of Politics, 71 (2008), pp. 1-24.
M Blumenthal. 'Mystery Pollster: Scoring the Polls', in
National Journal Online (2008). Available at:
1_6722.php. Accessed February 2, 2009.
K Breslau. 'Hillary Tears Up: A Muskie moment, or a helpful glimpse of ‘the real Hillary’?' in Newsweek (2008).
Available at:
Accessed February 4, 2009.
E Bronner. 'For Many Abroad, an Ideal Renewed', in New York
Times (2008). Available at:
2008/11/05/us/politics/05global.html?ref=world. Accessed
January 2, 2008.
P Burrowes. 'Edwards camp goes all a-twittering', in The
New York Times (2007). Available at: http://
gewanted=print. Accessed February 6, 2009.
D Butler and G Butler, Twentieth Century British Political
The Change We Need
Facts 1900-2000 (Basingstoke, 2000).
Catalist / Analyst Institute. '2008 Election Analysis', in,
National Press Club, (Washington DC, 2009).
A Chadwick, 'Digital Network Repertoires and Organizational Hybridity', Political Communications, 24 (2007),
pp. 283-301.
CNN. 'Clinton Outpaces Obama in Fundraising for Third
Quarter', in (2007). Available at:
ash/index.html. Accessed 28 January, 2008.
———. 'Exit Polls', in CNN Election Centre (2008). Available
polls/#val=USP00p1. Accessed February 4, 2009.
———. 'Results: Iowa', in CNN Election Centre (2008).
Available at:
2008/primaries/results/state/#IA. Accessed February 4,
Combined News Service. 'McCain staffer suspended over
Obama, pastor video', in (2008).
Available at:
215621231,214504897.story. Accessed February 6, 2009.
A Corrado, T E Mann and T Potter, eds., Inside the
Campaign Finance Battle: Court Testimony on the New
Reform (Washington, D.C., 2003).
G Earle. 'Hill Gets Weary & Teary – Chokes Up Amid
Cam-Pain Strain', in The New York Post (2008). Available
at. Accessed
Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
'Evaluation of Edison/Mitofsky Election System 2004',
in N. E. P. (NEP) ed., Edison Media Research and Mitofsky
International, 2005).
Editorial. 'For Congress: Glenn Nye', in The Virginian-Pilot
(2008). Available at:
10/congress-glenn-nye. Accessed February 2, 2009.
P Elliott. 'Emotional Clinton says ‘this is very personal,’ voice
breaking in NH remarks', in, The Associated Press, 2008).
Z Exley. 'The New Organizers, Part 1: What's Really
Behind Obama's Ground Game', in Huffington Post
(2008). Available at:
Accessed November 25, 2008.
E Falk and K Kenski, 'Sexism Versus Partisanship: A New
Look at the Question of Whether America is Ready for
a Woman President', Sex Roles, 54 (2006), pp. 413-428.
Federal Election Commission. 'House and Senate Races',
in Federal Election Commission web site (2008).
Available at: Accessed January 28, 2008.
———. 'Presidential Campaign Finance', in Federal
Election Commission web site (2008). Available at:
chKeyword=. Accessed January 28, 2008.
M Fowler. 'Obama: No Surprise That Hard-Pressed
Pennsylvanians Turn Bitter', in The Huffington Post
(2008). Available at:
96188.html. Accessed December 30, 2008.
B Friedman. 'VetVoice', in (2008/2009). Available
at: Accessed February 2, 2009.
A S Gerber and D P Green, Get Out the Vote: How to Increase
Vote Turnout (Washington DC, 2008).
A S Gerber and D P Green, 'The Effects of Canvassing,
Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A
Field Experiment', American Political Science Review, 94
C Gordon. 'Women voters held the key to Clinton's resurgence; They strongly supported her after abandoning
the campaign in Iowa', in, The Houston Chronicle, 2008).
K Grandia. 'DeSmogBlog', in (2008/2009).
Available at: Accessed
February 2, 2009.
The Change We Need
M Haberman. 'Hill Tops Demos, GOP Tied in Knots:
Nationwide Poll', in, The New York Post, (New York,
2007), p. 23.
L R Jacobs and R Y Shapiro, Politicians Don't Pander:
Political Manipulation and the Loss of Democratic
Responsiveness (Chicago, IL, 2000).
K Jefferys, Politics and the People: A History of British
Democracy Since 1918 (London, 2007).
G Langer, R Morin, B Hartman, P Craighill, C Deane, M
Brodie, P Moynihan, B Shapiro and S Clement. 'Exit Polls:
Storm of Voter Dissatisfaction Lifts Obama to an Historic
Win: Battered Economy, Partisan Shift in Power and
Promise of Change Lift Obama to Victory', in ABC News
Accessed February 2, 2009.
E Louis. 'Calculated or Not, Weepfest Won’t Help Her', in,
Daily News, 2008), p. 6.
K B Marcelo and E H Kirby. 'Quick Facts about US Young
Voters: The Presidential Election Year 2008', in (2008). Available at: http://www.civic
Accessed February 9, 2009.
M P McDonald. '2008 Unofficial Voter Turnout', in United States
Elections Project (2008). Available at: http://elections. Accessed February
2, 2009.
National American Election Survey, Telephone Survey
(Philadelphia, PA, 2008).
in (2008). Available at: http://
February 2, 2009.
B Obama. 'Transcript: Illinois Senate Candidate Barack
Obama', in Washington Post (2004). Available at:
h t t p : / / w w w. w a s h i n g t o n p o s t . c o m / w p - d y n /
articles/A19751-2004Jul27.html. Accessed January 2, 2009.
———. 'Barack Obama’s Presidential Announcement,
Springfield, Illinois', in YouTube (2007). Available at:
Accessed December 22.
— — — , Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and
Inheritance (Edinburgh, 2007).
———. 'A More Perfect Union', in Philadelphia (2008).
Available at: Accessed February 4, 2009.
Opensecrets. 'Banking on Becoming President', in (2008). Available at: Accessed January 28, 2008.
Pew Research Centre's Project for Excellence in
Journalism. 'Character and the Primaries of 2008', in
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Pew Research Centre. 'Winning the Media Campaign', in
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J Samples and P Basham. 'Once Again, Incumbents Are the
Big Winners', in Cato Institute (2004). Available at:
Accessed February 2, 2009.
R Y Shapiro. 'Why Respond to Polls? Public Opinion Polling
and Democracy', in Public Opinion Pros (2004). Available
nov/shapiro.htm. Accessed November 22, 2008.
R Y Shapiro and Y Bloch-Elkon, 'Do the Facts Speak for
Themselves? Partisan Disagreement as a Challenge to
Democratic Competence', Critical Review, 20 (2008), pp.
———, 'Foreign Policy, Meet the People', The National
Interest, 97 (2008), pp. 37-43.
N Silver. ' – Home', in FiveThirty (2008). Available at: http://www.fivethirty
The Change We Need
last-revised.html. Accessed December 30, 2008.
B Smith. 'Sign of the Media Times', in Politico (2009).
Available at:
Accessed February 2, 2008.
M Stark. 'President Obama, Please Get FISA Right', in
Obama-PleaseVoteAgainstFISA. Accessed December
30, 2008.
J Stromer-Galley, 'Online Interaction and Why Candidates
Avoid It', Journal Of Communications, 50 (2000), pp. 111132.
K Sullivan. 'US Again Hailed as 'Country of Dreams'', in
Washington Post (2008). Available at: http://www.
wa s h i n g t o n p o s t . c o m / w p - d y n / c o n t e n t / s t o r y /
2008/11/06/ST2008110600708.html. Accessed January 2,
J A Vargas. 'Young voters find voice on Facebook: Site's
candidate groups are grass-roots politics for the Web
generation', in (2007). Available
pf.html. Accessed February 5, 2009.
———. 'Obama Raised Half a Billion Online', in
Washington Post (2008). Available at: http://voices.
raised_half_a_billion_on.html. Accessed December 4,
Vote 4 Me. 'Text Messaging has Mobilized Voters in
Elections Around the World. Will the Once TeenCentric Technology Change American Politics Too?' in
Newsweek (2006). Available at: http://www.newsweek.
com/id/46675/page/46671. Accessed February 6, 2009.
P Wintour and S Hall. 'Labour Membership Halved', in
The Guardian (2004). Available at: http://politics.,9061,1274855,00.html.
Accessed February 22, 2008.
P Zube. 'Campaigning on MySpace: Opportunity or
Vulnerability in the 2008 US Primary?' in, Politics: Web
2.0: An International Conference, (Royal Holloway,
University of London, 2008).
The Change We Need
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Fabian Society publications
and the
politics of
In ‘Fairness not Favours’, Sadiq Khan MP argues
that an effective agenda to provide opportunity
and tackle extremism across all communities must
go beyond a narrow approach to security, and sets
out new proposals for a progressive agenda on
inequality and life chances, public engagement in
foreign policy, an inclusive Britishness, and
rethinking the role of faith in public life.
The pamphlet puts the case for an effective
agenda to provide opportunity and tackle
extremism across all communities must go beyond
a narrow approach to security, and sets out new
proposals for a progressive agenda on inequality
and life chances, public engagement in foreign
policy, an inclusive Britishness, and rethinking the
role of faith in public life.
Fabian Society publications
How to
Inheritance tax is under attack, and not just
from the political right. The critics of this tax
have dominated the debate over recent years
but, as the authors of ‘How to Defend
Inheritance Tax’ argue, this tax is one of the
best tools we have for tackling inequality and
kick starting Britain’s stalled social mobility.
Defending inheritance tax is not just the
responsibility of politicians – there must be a
citizen-led campaign too. In this Fabian Ideas
pamphlet, Rajiv Prabhakar, Karen Rowlingson
and Stuart White provide progressives with the
tools they need to win this argument.
They set out the evidence on inheritance and
inequality, tackle the common objections to the
tax, and demonstrate the moral and pragmatic
arguments for an inheritance tax.
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How to narrow the gap
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One in five children still grows up in poverty in
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care about ‘social justice’. This report sets a litmus
test by which Brown, Cameron and Campbell
must be judged.
‘Narrowing the Gap’ is the final report of the
Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child
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