20 Oct Low tech is good for local politics
Much has been written since the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer about political blogs and their impact on the November election. From the sheer number and the attention given to political bloggers, you would think these technology-equipped political pundits would have a significant impact on the November 2 vote.
But is technology really deciding elections?
Certainly, the immediate availability of information on the “Internets,” as the president noted during the second debate, has helped many voters separate fact from fiction. Instant polls quickly solidify opinions, and e-mail blasts raise millions of dollars overnight. On a national level, information technology can be used effectively to influence at least some large subset of voters.
It’s an entirely different matter at the local level.
As a former Massachusetts resident, I am reminded of Tip O’Neill’s famous remark that “all politics are local.” And local politics, I’m here to tell you, are barely influenced by technology.
In recent weeks I have invested considerable time and energy in the effort to defeat a local ballot initiative in my town of Redwood City, California, a mid-rundown town that is dwarfed in style, wealth, and reputation by its neighboring towns of Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. In two weeks the residents will vote on ballot Measure Q, a re-zoning referendum that, if passed, will green light a massive, environmentally questionable, logistically nightmarish development to be built along the city’s bayfront.
Determined to help defeat the measure, I went to the No on Q Campaign headquarters, a defunct and dilapidated restaurant that leaves no question as to why the eatery went out of business. Amid the new arrival of yard signs and maps of the city’s voting districts, a small and diverse crowd stamped and addressed postcards and letters to the city’s 35,000-plus registered voters. The chatter that day focused on the campaign’s activities that morning at the farmer’s market, and who would staff the Olive Festival the following day. An elderly woman volunteered to make phone calls, two folks returned from planting yard signs around town, and we all agreed to come back the next day for more folding, stuffing, and stamping.
It all seemed so very low tech to me. Aside from the computer-generated address labels, the highest technology in that run-down office was the transistor radio, which offered the play-by-play of the Giants’ defeat to L.A. “What are we doing to leverage technology?” I asked the campaign manager, herself the founder of a software company. “Are you working the blogs?”
No. No technology. No blogs. Local campaigns, I was assured, are won by walking the neighborhood, leaflet events, and putting more mail through the door than the opposition.
Of course, I didn’t believe it. I was certain I could reach voters, touch them more frequently and with more complete messages, by writing a blog on the matter. So I began writing my No On Q blog a week ago. I have posted regularly, sometimes several times a day. I respond to the Yes campaign’s letters before most folks even have read their mail. I got the No on Q Campaign to link to my blog from the campaign’s Web site, and I found two other bloggers who have talked about the issue and now they link to my posts.
In the last week, my No On Q blog has had 200 hits, six comments and zero trackbacks. In that same time, I’ve received no fewer than eight pieces of mail in support of Measure Q and four postcards from the No headquarters. More yard signs on both sides of the issue are going up around my neighborhood. Two campaign volunteers have knocked on my door.
For all the reach the Internet is supposed to deliver, when local issues are at stake, the old techniques, it seems, are still the most effective. I convinced my neighbor to put up a No On Q yard sign while talking with him across the fence one evening. I’ve reached more people leaving No On Q pamphlets at Starbucks in the morning. I’ve raised more awareness with a bumper sticker than with a blog.
I’m not giving up my blog, but I am heading back to the headquarters to lick stamps and stuff envelopes. Sometimes, low technology really does have more reach.
Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld’s DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at email@example.com. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.
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