[Update: see the comment at the end of the article for more on this subject — and an important correction...]
The author of the French blog Netpolitique left a trackback/comment the other day on my article from a few weeks ago on saturation coverage of the U.S. presidential candidates online:
Will the JFK of the Net be French?
Not to sound haughty, but French presidential candidates have been there and done that, and more, for over two years. They are now headed into the final stretch of a bruising political campaign which has ignited the French blogosphere for months now…
First, everbody calm down — drop the flaming Freedom Fries and stow the gallophobia someplace where it won’t hurt anyone. His full article goes into a lot of good detail about what’s been happening in the run-up to the French national elections, and it does seem quite interesting.
In particular, online video seems to have made a big splash, driven in part by the fact that French candidates cannot purchase airtime for political ads (a very civilized restriction, as anyone who lived in a swing state in ’04 would tell you). Also, the French blogosphere is huge, with the web no doubt supplementing the tradition of endless corner-café political conversations. Finally, the article touched on the use of mobile organizing, one area in which European political parties generally outstrip their American counterparts.
All this being said, other than the cell phone component, the author doesn’t describe anything particularly groundbreaking — American candidates have been using video-sharing and social networking applications extensively for months now, and if the French candidates are doing it more comprehensively, they’re also much closer to election day (as in, weeks instead of the nearly-a-year we’ll be waiting for the first primaries). Remember, the American candidates just unveiled their initial sites a few weeks ago. And, as he acknowledges, online organizing isn’t winning elections yet — mainstream media still rule (as does local organizing, something that he doesn’t touch on at all).
With all that in mind, give it a read, since the French elections should give us more information about what tactics work online and which ones fall flat. I’m waiting for the after-action report.