By Jean Latz Griffin
Shortly after being soundly trounced in the 2008 elections, due in large part to losing on the Internet playground, Republicans starting planning how to close a new technology gap that put them, somewhat surprisingly, on the wrong side.
In several elections before Howard Dean’s campaign in 2006, they had used some important new technology more effectively than had Democrats, specifically sophisticated marketing methods to tailor messages to voters and get them to the polls.
But the game changed when the Obama campaign dominated the social networks, online organizing and other new media such as texting and placements in video games, and translated contributions, volunteer hours and self-organizing into votes.
The dominance was recognized in April when, among the 23 Golden Dot Awards given by George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet, only six went to clearly identified Republican campaigns, eight went to to Democrats and the rest to issue campaigns.
That only sounds balanced between the Rs and the Ds until you notice that two of the Republican awards went to Ron Paul, who lost his bid for the Republican nomination for President.
“When you get beat, you look at where you got beat and double down on improving that area,” Cyrus Krohn, then RNC’s director of e-campaigning, told the Wall Street Journal in January. “The Internet is the place you can look at and say there’s room for improvement.”
Krohn resigned from the RNC in March, but still had high hopes that the Republican party would recover its dominance.
“The perception that the GOP is woefully behind online and can’t catch up is the blog-flogging of political simpletons,” Krohn said in his farewell post.
So how are the Republicans doing so far this year in improving their online presence and expertise?
Certainly better than in 2008, but still with a long way to go.
The Republican National Committee website packs a lot of energy. The top left corner of the homepage has an impressive array of online goodies packaged well: a link to a YouTube video on the tribute to Jack Kemp, buttons to click for mobile updates, an invitation to visit the RNC YouTube channel, and a link to Vote Fraud updates.
A downloadable GOP toolbar that enables you to donate to the Republican Party “every time you search through the Yahoo!-powered search box.”
Four images on the homepage are set to rotate through a variety of opportunities. “Join the official RNC FaceBook Group, 73,584 members Strong and Growing” rotates with “RNC Internships,” “Shop the GOP Store,” or the “Michael Steele: Coast to Coast.”
One of the most interesting gadgets on the rest of the home page is a link to “Call Talk Radio.” Clicking on it takes you to a list of national talk radio programs that you can call to “get the word out… and promote the GOP.” Put in your contact info and you can find local shows to call. Since almost all talk radio is conservative, this certainly falls into the category of motivating the base rather than finding new converts.
By contrast to the crisp and active RNC site, the Democratic National Committee website is sort of languid. President Obama looks determined with a flag in the background. You can click to “See the Change in Your State,” “Contribute” or “Find a Group by Zip Code.” It feels so 2008, but without the urgency. Click on the “DNC Ad – GOP Survivor” button and you will find a rather clever parody – hosted on YouTube of course.
On the social network side, Republicans still lag behind when all the Obama social network activity is included, but head-to-head with the Democrats, they sometimes win. A search for each party’s national committee on YouTube, for example, shows 122 RNC videos with 3,414 subscribers, 187,070 views and 614 friends. That is significantly more than 81 DNC videos with 1,627 subscribers, 81,556 views and one friend.
The problem for Republicans, however, is that they can’t ignore what President Obama brings to the current video technology fight: 1,840 videos, 17,112 subscribers, 21.5 million views and 24,808 friends.
They face similar disparities on the major socnets: The top Obama twitter feed has 1.1 million followers; the ObamaNews feed has 105,924. The top site that pops up in a search for “Republican” is E_Stampede, which has 18,198 followers. Newt Gingrich has 273,640 followers and Karl Rove has 49,100 followers. They are #1 and #13, respectively, of the Top Conservatives on Twitter (TCOT).
Krohn insists that Republicans are in better shape than they have been given credit for, with an email list of 12 million and significant gains in social networking, but do have significant obstacles to overcome to regain the upper hand in technology.
“Change comes quickly online and the tide will turn again in favor of the GOP, once we hone our message and harness emerging technologies,” Krohn said. “To do that, we must match Democrats, programmer-for-programmer. Regrettably, we’re in terribly short supply of professionals focused solely on building platforms and applications. This is where we got dot bombed in 2006 and 2008. Maybe we should start providing computer science scholarships in exchange for a commitment to serve our party.”