The ALP is considering jumping on the campaign technology that helped Barack Obama win the White House in its bid to beat off Tony Abbott in 2013.
A source inside Labor’s national office told Crikey this morning that the Blue State Digital campaign tools forged in the fire of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential tilt will be closely considered by Labor to extract micro-donations and online participation from a cynical populace.
Crikey can reveal that former Democratic strategist and Bruce Hawker business partner Michael Allen has recently secured the rights to distribute the BSD toolkit in Australia — regarded as the “killer app” for snapping the centre-left out of their collective torpor to round behind a candidate or cause.
The slick software allows mass emailing, community “outreach” tools and event planning tools to convince voters to stump up some of their hard earned. It has been extensively used by US unions and not-for-profit organisations like Wal-Mart Watch, the Alliance for Climate Protection and the Communications Workers of America in addition to the DNC.
In 2008, Obama — using BSD — managed to corral over $200 million in donations and 1 million Facebook friends. The technology was recently employed in Dilma Rousseff’s triumphant campaign for the Brazilian presidency and is being used by Obama again this year.
In 2009, BSD founder Ben Self consulted with then-PM Kevin Rudd on how to best harness social networking.
And in 2010, Allen was a key player — alongside Hawker — in designing the party’s campaign website buttressed by initiatives like an “ideas incubator” and Twitter and Facebook links. He now heads up public affairs firm Bureau Publica with former ABC tech head Jason Coghlan. He confirmed to Crikey that he had been in talks with the ALP about 2013.
In a press release to be distributed later this afternoon, Allen says that BSD proved that a lack of big money was no longer a barrier for enduring political support. The new tools up the ante in the web war for political eyeballs.
“Before Barack Obama’s run in ‘08 it was accepted that you could not attempt a serious run for President without enormous financial backing and deeply entrenched structural support.”
“The Obama campaign was able to turn that view on its head by proving that the rules have now changed — provided that you have the right tools.”
Allen is a veteran of numerous US Democratic tilts, working as an aide to three centre-left hopefuls in Colorado in 2002-03 before moving inside the DC Beltway to join blue chip consultants MSHC Partners.
In a possible pointer to the treatment set to be dished out to Julia Gillard, Blue State Digital says the Rousseff campaign tools helped to “humanize” the candidate by providing “supporters with opportunities to interact with her: to share their ideas, their stories, and their hopes for the future. By surfacing these voices online, Blue State Digital helped foster…direct, grassroots participation in government.”
BSD tallies with recommendation 5 of the Bracks-Carr-Faulkner review that demands Labor “explicitly adopt a community-organising model which aims to empower and equip members to work in their local communities on campaigns, to build stronger community connections and to recruit members.”
The first cab off the rank for BSD locally is the federal office of the Australian Nursing Federation, who is looking to mobilise its army of 215,000 members — and concerned members of the community — in the lead up to next year’s federal poll.
“It will let us develop campaigns that have strong member and community involvement and action. We anticipate all of our community campaigns will use the software,” ANF Political Director Sue Bellino told Crikey.
The software would replace the ANF’s current website later this year, Bellino said.
Currently, there is a dearth of professional campaign tools employed in Australia. The most prominent “grassroots” organisation, GetUp, lacks the more streamlined web approach now dominant in the US and Europe. While GetUp claims to have “597,400 members”, many of these have simply signed an online petition and are far from active. Competing US software utilised by the other side of politics includes the Nation Builder “community organizing system” employed in numerous GOP campaigns.
Social movements in Australia are generally in decline, with the heft and solidarity of the industrial labour movement unable to be replicated by the diverse bunch of New Social Movements that started cropping up in the late 1970s. This broader hollowing out has been blamed by some commentators as the real reason behind Labor’s terminal unpopularity at the polls.