It Happened to Me

Notes from Internet+Society 2004: The Election Panel

Photo: Votes, Bits and Bytes logo.

Continuing my (admittedly late) series of notes from the Berkman Center’s Internet+Society 2004 conference, here are my notes from the session on the 2004 US Election.

Here’s the writeup of the session taken from the conference schedule:

Affecting the Outcome II: Election 2004 in the United States

What happened here in the United States? Did the internet play a key

role in the outcome of any aspect of this election year – local, state,

Congressional, Presidential – or was it just another bubble? Did new

actors come out to vote? And how, if at all, will the way this year’s

leaders were elected change the way our leaders govern? Presume that

new participants have gotten involved in the political process, and

that longtime political activists are now further empowered to

communicate with leaders in power. After election day, can ICTs help

those elected to govern better? And where to from here?

The panel consisted of:

  • Chair: Prof. Heather Gerken, Harvard Law School
  • Chuck DeFeo, eCampaign manager, Bush-Cheney ’04
  • Zack Exley, Director of Online Communication and Organization, Kerry-Edwards 2004
  • Prof. Sunshine Hillygus, Harvard University
  • Dan Gillmor, journalist, San Jose Mercury News and

Photo: Election panel at Internet+Society 2004 Conference, featuring Zack Exley, Dan Gillmor, Sunshine Hillygus, Chuck DeFeo.

From left to right: Zack Exley, Dan Gillmor, Sunshine Hillygus, Chuck DeFeo

Zach Exley

  • The

    Kerry campaign solicited stories from people about how the Bush

    government affected them. 100,000 submissions were received. They were

    stored in a database and made available online.

Dan Gillmor

  • The

    most important thing that happened was a little incident in Kentucky.

    Ben Chandler, the Democratic candidate for congress, spent $2000 on

    blog ads asking for contributions. He got $80000. The mainstream media

    did an abysmal job covering this campaign: “I’m just horrified”.

  • In this election, a lot of interesting things happened “at the edges”, both positive and negative.
  • Journalism

    is moving from lecture to conversation and newsmakers of the world are

    facing troubling and interesting ways of dealing with the conversation.

    One interesting new byproduct of this move: journalists themselves

    being covered (cites Rathergate).

  • In spite of this move,

    there’s a certain resistance and even resentment of “we media”. CNN

    hired the CBS executive who referred to bloggers as the “pajamahadeen“.

    “There’s a network that doesn’t get it.”

  • A lot of interesting,

    well-written, well-produced professional looking independently-made

    pieces appeared: consider the ads produced for’s Bush in 30 Seconds or JibJab’s This Land is Your Land.

  • Wants to

    see prominent wikis in the future in campaigns, covering every issue.

    They have to potential to provide nuance and deep understanding that

    goes beyond what a campaign’s website says.

  • “We media” has to extend to governance, not just campaigning.

Sunshine Hillygus

  • “I’m going to play the role of academic curmudgeon and talk about the negative effects”
  • The

    internet has removed some hurdles for participation, but only for the

    politically motivated. People who were interested in the election could

    dive in and participate in ways that were not possible before, while

    the disinterested could avoid the entire thing. Contrast this with the

    1950’s, when you couldn’t avoid the election — you had to watch it on

    TV news.

  • The internet has helped to polarize people. There has

    been a proliferation of one-sided sources of information — “echo

    chambers” which reinforce the persepctives of their target audiences.

    Further, the varying degrees of anonymity on the ‘net allow people to

    give extreme views that social norms would not normally allow you to

    express. This movement towards the extreme is causing moderates to drop

    out of the discussion.

  • The removal of barriers to entry has had the consequence of increasing class biases.
  • The

    internet has contributed to pressures on traditional media to produce

    faster, less-researched, more sensationalistic news. Exit polls! They

    didn’t get it wrong, they were statistically unviable. As for the

    ‘net’s “self-policing nature”? Jayson Blair lost his job for

    fabricating, but was has Matt Drudge lost (citing Drudge’s disproved

    story alleging that Kerry had an affair)?

  • We have not yet figured out the balance.

Chuck DeFeo

  • The

    strategy of the Republican party’s e-campaign was to use viral

    marketing — a one-to-one approach. We wanted to have volunteers who

    themselves recruited volunteers. We organzied events like “Walk the

    Vote”, “Neighbour to Neighbour” and “Parties for the President”, which

    gathered people who lived in the same neighbourhood but didn’t

    necessarily know each other that well. These events were held more

    often in homes rather than public places, as Meetup events are.

  • A key part of this strategy was knowing where Republican supporters and undecideds lived.
  • This

    sort of gathering is more powerful than a TV or print ad: it’s someone

    in your neighbourhood promoting by saying “I live near you, our kids go

    to the same school, I share your values.”

  • Additional benefit of these gatherings: “You know your neighbour now”.

One question from the audience

came from someone who wanted to volunteer for the Democrats’ campaign.

He complained that that he, and many others, showed up to help out but

nobody knew what to do with them.

  • Exley:

    Our field program was a disaster. There was no plan, and there were no

    trained volunteers. “It was as if they did not see an election coming.”

  • The

    Right is beating Left at what used to be the Left’s game: grassroots

    campaigning. The Left thinks that grassroots politics is “doing neat

    stuff”, but in fact, it’s still talking to people. It fundamentally

    comes down to a cultural problem: we on the Left don’t have trust in

    ordinary people. We don’t know how to talk to ordinary Americans.

  • I agree with Chuck [DeFeo] — our best campaigners aren’t paid staff people, but real people!

Michelle Levesque: In the last week of the election, the Bush/Cheney campaign site was made accessible only from the US and Canada. Why?

  • DeFeo: “We chose to focus on where we could do the most good.”
  • “There are folks outside the country that would’ve preferred that we did not get our message out.”
  • Exley: “They got hacked.”
  • Chuck: “We did not get hacked!”


people in the audience asked DeFeo to provide the real explanation as

to why the Republicans chose to restrict access to the Bush/Cheney

site, but DeFeo stuck to his original nonsensical reason: because there

were bad people out there. This tactic is what won the election for the

Republicans, so why mess with success?

The audience hissed as the moderator tried to move on to the next question.

Audience question:

Have we shot ourselves in the foot — have we been shortsighted in

looking at the internet as a source of funding rather than a way to

create network effects?

  • Exley: No, looking

    at the ‘net as a source of funding is good. It means that regular

    people are playing a big role. It’s not just a big donor’s game anymore.

  • “I think Chuck is trying to keep you all lulled into thinking that it’s all being hippy and talking to each other.”
  • DeFeo: The goals of the Republican e-campaign were straightforward and we stuck to them:
    • Raise money online
    • Get the president’s message across
    • Empower supporters
  • Sunshine:

    I think it was that the Republicans were on the ball by relying on

    ordinary individual voters. Democrats have been relying on unions.

  • Gillmor:

    Since we’re not going to have real public financing of campaigns,

    anything that helps raise lots of money from the little folks is going

    to be the closest thing. The Republicans are better at this than the


Micah Sifry: Brought up

Ashley Faulkner, the girl whose mother was killed in the 9/11 attacks

and who was later featured in a photograph where she received a hug

from President Bush.The sound bite from this was often used: “He’s the

most powerful man in the world and all he wants to do is make sure that

I am okay”.

This “sense of security sends one back to the father

and mother”, and this psychology is evident in the rhetoric of the

Rebublicans: we speak in terms fatherland/motherland.

Quoting Randolph Bourne’s War is the Health of the State (1918):


sense of insecurity, the desire for protection, sends one’s desire back

to the father and mother, with whom is associated the earliest feelings

of protection. It is not for nothing that one’s State is still thought

of as Father or Motherland, that one’s relation toward it is conceived

in terms of family affection. The war has shown that nowhere under the

shock of danger have these primitive childlike attitudes failed to

assert themselves again, … A people at war have become in the most

literal sense obedient, respectful, trustful children again, full of

that naïve faith in the all-wisdom and all-power of the adult who takes

care of them, imposes his mild but necessary rule upon them and in whom

they lose their responsibility and anxieties.


the question: Is the nature of the bond between President Bush and

hissupporters, democratic/two-way, or


  • Exley: “I’m buying Chuck a drink after this. I called him a hippy, and now you called him a Nazi?”
  • DeFeo:

    He was a type of leader that our nation responded to. I’m not enough of

    a psychologist or sociologist to take the discussion to this higher


Sifry has more on this in this blog entry at Personal Democracy Forum.

Liza Sabater: Doesn’t it make sense that the Republicans did well? A sense of community already exists in their target demographic.


question makes more sense in light of comments she made during the

earlier session on and community. She talked about her

particpiation in various homeschooling groups, where she met all kinds

of people: “fundies, dominionists,

crunchy granola types” and so on. She observed that secular

homeschoolers didn’t have anywhere near the resources that the

religious homeschooling groups and wondered how she, as an atheist

mother, find homeschooling support that was also compatible with her


  • Exley: We had more volunteers, but they were deployed poorly. We may have had more people than the Republicans.
  • Chuck:

    No, we had more people. We had 61 million to your 53 million! [A

    half-dozen people clap in the rear right of the room start clapping].

  • Hillygus: Remember, during a war, the incumbent has a major advantage.

Audience question: Does the campaign’s choice of technology reflect its value?

  • [Unknown]: Moore’s Law doesn’t solve the problem of education.

Audience question [to Dan Gillmor]:

Could you elaborate on you said earlier about being “horrified” by the

mainstream media’s coverage of the election? Has the internet played a

role in the downfall of the mainstream media?

  • Gillmor: “Do you have a week?”
  • The effect of the internet that worries me is that the news cycle is now all the time. It’s led to a preference for getting it first over than getting it right.

    The pressures are enormous: we are a high-margin business, and we’re

    being forced into areas where we shouldn’t go. A lot of this pressure

    from Wall Street.

  • “The public service part of journalism is

    being abandoned, and it scares the hell out of me.” Consider that

    there’s still an enormous part of the population that believes Saddam

    Hussein planned 9/11, and the media hasn’t really worked to debunk

    this. Had it been a belief that questioned the right to free speech,

    the media would’ve jumped on it. I recommend going to Jay Rosen’s site

    to see this covered in more detail.

  • Hopefully the net will step in.

Audience question:

What about the role fear played in the campaign? President Bush said

the country would be in great danger if he were not re-elected.

  • DeFeo:

    “The American electorate is incredibly samrt and know how to form their

    opinions.” Voters are able to decide for themselves from the different

    sources of information. I think we are the better choice.

  • Exley:

    What Chuck said was very important. “When was the last time you heard a

    Democrat say that the electorate was smart?” Did they, the last time we

    won, say “this country’s dumb, I’m moving to Canada?”

  • Hillygus: The study she recently conducted says that the election was about the war, not morals issues.

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