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The Innovation Context: The Political Landscape

In the race against the Clintons, the Obama team had developed a finely honed survival instinct that forced them to continuously reevaluate the playing field and identify new ways to connect with voters. This led to several key decisions that spurred innovative uses of social media and the creative application of online tools.

The Fifty-State Strategy

Traditionally, political parties tended to avoid engaging in states that were heavily controlled by their opponents. The Fifty-State Strategy, pioneered in 2004 by Democratic candidate Howard Dean, focused on building a presence for the party in all states, even ones where a victory was unlikely. The idea was to build increased awareness of Democrats who would be elected to local and state positions that would pave the way for future wins. The strategy was risky, since it would require people and financial resources in areas where their opponents had the advantage instead of concentrating on swing states where Democrats needed only a slightly higher number of popular votes to win. Obama was able to successfully execute the Fifty-State Strategy by ensuring that all online tools reinforced offline action and by empowering users to organize for his campaign in all states, including Republican strongholds.

Target the Middle

Unlike the Bush Administration’s strategy of catering to voters who leaned to the right, the Obama team focused on the disaffected center. This allowed the campaign to open up a dialogue with independents as well as Republicans who were unhappy with the Bush Administration. From an online perspective, courting the center directed the tone and language of the blogs and the design of the website to ensure a welcoming and balanced atmosphere.

Focus on Smaller Donations

The Obama camp also took note of Howard Dean’s fundraising strategy, which raised $50 million over the course of his campaign, largely through small donations made online. Dean’s average donation was $80. This was a sharp detour from the contemporary political strategy of tapping wealthy political donors to finance the campaign. In addition to generating free publicity for Dean, who started out as a “long-shot” candidate and became a front-runner, the technique was also less expensive than traditional telemarketing, direct mail, and hosted events. Finally, by soliciting small contributions the campaign was able to contact a donor multiple times, and donors were more likely to make multiple, small donations without exceeding the legal limit. Overall, John McCain was able to raise an impressive $360 million, but it seems paltry compared to the $750 million raised by the Obama campaign.

Online Fundraising

OBAMA

MCCAIN

TOTAL AMOUNT RAISED

$750 MILLION

$360 MILLION

TOTAL AMOUNT RAISED ONLINE

$500 MILLION

$75 MILLION

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