Last week US Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did an extraordinary thing. He conducted a conference call with liberal bloggers who are increasingly disappointed that the Democratic leadership has not forced President Bush to pull American troops out of Iraq and seemingly apologised to them.
Unlike Australia, the political blogosphere in the US breaks news, is deep, extremely well developed, is regularly quoted in the mainstream media, and, particularly for the Democrats, speaks for the base in a manner that talk radio does for the Republicans.
However, the Democratic or “liberal” blogosphere is both a help and a hindrance to the Democratic Party.
It helps in that it will run stories that the mainstream media will not and will relentlessly provide oxygen to stories that may otherwise die. It also energises the base, which is crucial in a voluntary voting environment. It is a hindrance in that the average commentator and online activist is hardly a Nascar dad or a soccer mum or any other key “mainstream” or “swing” voter.
US politicians treat the blogosphere as a constituency; however, the significance of blogging for politicians themselves belongs to the last presidential cycle. Why?Because multimedia is simply more effective if you are a candidate wanting to get your message across.
The blogosphere does not get swing voters engaged. It simply rallies your base. Look at an average Australian political blog for instance and you get the love Howard/hate Howard voter not the “I’m undecided and have come here to be convinced by the merits of your argument” voter.
The numbers behind the US experience are compelling. A Bivings survey conducted during the 2006 US congressional and Senate races highlighted that while only 23% of Senate candidates had a blog, 55% employed multimedia in their campaigns.
Australian politicians in a compulsory voting environment are better served by spending their time on YouTube and other multimedia and social networking areas. These efforts are more likely to help them engage with undecided voters, attract mainstream media attention and get them elected, than pandering to ranters on blogs who have already made up their minds on whom they will vote for.
There’s just one issue for Australian pols. Make sure your target audience has functioning broadband.