Colin Delany November 20, 2009

An Internet Politics Index to David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win

Here at e.politics, we’re happy to read things so you don’t have to — though in this case you should, because David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win is well written and one hell of a glimpse into the strategy, tactics and execution of a remarkably successful political operation.

Suspecting the book’s value as a resource in the future, I took extensive notes as I read through it — essentially creating an index of every substantive mention of online politics in the book, which I’ve reprinted below as a resource for y’all, along with a few links to relevant e.politics articles (the current edition of the book doesn’t include its own actual index, unfortunately).

A couple of quick observations: first, the ‘net gets mentioned every three or four pages as you’ll see, demonstrating its absolute centrality to the Obama campaign (the index alone comes to roughly 2000 words!). Second, Plouffe and his colleagues had very little patience for the way the political press covered the campaign, mentioning often that the real stories of the campaign were overlooked in favor of ultimately irrelevant narratives (lipstick on a pig, anyone?). Finally, and personally, I don’t seem to have made any catastrophic errors in the Learning From Obama series/e-book — whew, I was more than a little nervous on that front.

Most of the citations below refer directly to the internet and its role in politics, with a few extra items that were either particularly interesting or a lot of fun. Note that I left out most random mentions of information distributed via personal email or Blackberry; including them would have blown this sucker up even bigger, since the Obama leadership team was absolutely addicted to email.

Internet Politics in The Audacity to Win

14

  • “cutting edge website” first requirement for campaign launch

15

  • 2006 Deval Patrick race lets Plouffe work with a campaign using the internet effectively for organizing and messaging

16

  • campaign’s top team had different experiences but were all primed to see potential of technology to help “tap into the winds of change”

20-21

  • technology-driven grassroots movement to be core of campaign

21

  • “so many people are living their lives through technology — how can we expect their interaction with politics to be the one exception?”
  • campaign greenlights the main website (“heavy on video”) and development of MyBarackObama.com social network

29

  • initial campaign announcement to be via online video

30

31

  • “even with technology, there was no substitute for being able to run down the hall and discuss issues with your colleagues”

32

  • announcement video is YouTube sensation, drives hundreds of thousands of people to “embryonic” website

36

  • new media team reports directly to Plouffe

  • Julius Genachowski, Joe Rospars recruited
  • Kevin Malovar becomes CTO

38

  • Mark Penn and microtargeting

47

  • online signups reach 450,000 by end of March ’07, in part driven by free real-world rallies

48

  • email collection at Austin event

  • data mining to analyze supporters’ contribution history and volunteer effort, allowing campaign to “track what people responded to and what they didn’t”
  • website signs people up on its own
  • list also grows organically via tell-a-friend

49

  • online event organizing suggested by on-ground fundraising team in Kentucky

  • low-dollar fundraising events yielded converts who became online donors
  • beginning of campaign’s distributed fundraising

49-50

  • citizen fundraisers via website
  • not a tactical relationship
  • authentic

50

  • online merchandise sales as fundraiser

51

  • live-stream video
  • initial success after Rospars recommended

  • 1st quarter ’07 online money still relatively small

52-53

  • 1st quarter raised $4 mil online, less than could have raised
  • being careful with relationship with supporters, wanting them to have balanced experience of campaign
  • fundraising team thought list was underperforming, new media team didn’t want to treat supporters like ATMs (C.f. How Obama Changed the Dynamics of Online Fundraising)
  • conflicts between new media and fundraising teams “some of the tensest disputes” he had to resolve in campaign’s first year

54

  • size of email list ahead of schedule

55

  • website and MyBO soc net strong as campaign expands from basic operations

  • need to keep building email list

56

  • [early media coverage made campaign a marathon at a sprint pace]

  • Obama found most coverage of the race banal

61

  • [Bill Richardson's track suit...]

62

  • importance of connecting directly with voters rather than through media filter

65

  • [importance of local field offices]

76

  • huge early growth of email list

  • unsolicited signups
  • first online ads in the spring of ’07
  • desire of people for actual information in campaign emails
  • power of emails from Michelle and Barack, need to regulate number from Barack
  • more emails begin to come from Plouffe directly

77

  • raised $10 million online in the 2nd quarter ’07

  • small domors volunteered at a high rate

78

79

  • good fundraising news spread to supporters first via site

  • posting first strategy memo on site

83

  • later sends strategy memos via email

  • diff betweeen sending and posting, with a much stronger response from sending directly to list

84

  • YouTube debate & Iran negotiations

  • first TV ads now running (summer ’07)

86

  • [importance of focus gourps, and the use of few by Clinton staff = campaign malpractice]

  • Mark Penn and microtargeting

88

  • metrics!

91

  • before Iowa, adding more online advertising targeted at young people

92

  • first mention of blogs, in with other media talking about Clinton (C.f. Cutting Political Bloggers Out of the Loop)

  • MyBO as a groundlayer for paid staff, since people could organize locally and staff could drop in later to take over a network already in place
  • Chris Hughes to supporters: get busy on your own

93

  • green light for internet-organized local volunteers

94

  • [cost-per-delegate thinking favored small caucus states]

95

  • email, internet strategy, MyBO all strong and strengthening

103

  • ["change we can believe in" emerges]

104

  • slogan signage looked great on TV and online

  • strong fundraising allows “ferrari campaign” in th future

112

  • Clinton email invites non-Iowans to important pre-caucus event, suggests lack of grassroots support

  • online video of pre-caucus events

113

  • [press = "jackals"]

114

  • Clinton staff comment that Obama supporters “looked like Facebook”

115

  • Remembering pre-internet days, when he went to the newspaper loading dock overnight to get the Des Moines Register poll early

117

126

  • more on field data

130

  • [in Iowa, door-knocking more important than phoning]

135

  • [Gandalf appears in Iowa]

  • [first fist-bump mention]

137

  • Iowa organizing as model for future of campaign

138

  • value of donor base

  • post-Iowa importance of people-to-people communications, technology allows people to bypass media filter to send information directly

140

  • Plouffe checking post-Iowa online fundraising numbers as arrive in NH, huge follow-through gives needed resources

148

  • campaign rebutting Clinton robocalls with own calls & emails, when they should have been out in public responding

152

  • Plouffe checks online fundraising after NH loss, huge income including many first-timers

  • supporters are clearly in for the long haul

154

  • money keeps pouring in, some from emails but much unsolicited, setting (temporary) record

157

  • [Bill Clinton in South Carolina = divine intervention]

158

  • posting attack responses on web

165

166

  • people’s own words most effective selling tool, not campaign talking points

167

175

  • strong, effective St Louis for Obama group organized selves via MyBO, facebook

184

  • traditional media still important despite rise of influential websites and blogs

187

188

  • [Obama kept campaign bus TV on espn on rather than cable news, would have run a worse campaign if he listened to the talking heads]

190

  • “Our fundraising was on fire, particularly online…” allowing huge ad blitzes in TX and OH

191

  • internet advertising “omnipresent” in TX and OH

196

  • ["the press nearly soiled themselves from excitement over the [3 a.m.] ad’s drama”]

198

  • posting strategy memo to website

206

  • Rev Wright videos flooding the internet

214

  • Obama’s race speech viewed more on the internet (particularly YouTube) than live, a fundamental change in “message consumption”

215

  • Huffington Post breaks the recording of the “clinging to their guns” conference call

217

  • nothing is private in an internet age, so “don’t say anything you don’t want posted on YouTube and whipped around the internet at warp speed,” but in this case the audio-only clip didn’t have the legs that accompanying video would have given it

231

  • building volunteer list through in-person events

237

  • Looking back after primary victory: “Technology was core to our campaign from Day One and it only grew in importance as the primary went on…”

243

  • Clinton staff seem to assume Obama can wipe out their debt with “a couple of e-mails”

245

  • technology and other campaign successes only “complemented” Obama, “a better candidate than his campaign”

247

  • internet advertising is one factor in plan for “the most muscular state campaigns ever assembled in battleground states”

  • 2008 campaign really only happened in 16 states

254

  • grassroots supporters as key strength: after primary, campaign had roughly 2 million donors and over 7 million on email list, plus a high conversion rate of supporters into donors (an “enthusiasm gap” that favored Obama over other candidates)

255

  • “we would need a persuasion army to convince Republicans and independents to support Barack” in the general election

  • Rospars told to double the size of the list
  • internet advertising and live events to help pull in Clinton supporters
  • person-to-person connections via MyBO and Facebook

256

  • in state like North Carolina, money alone would not win: “no substitute for committed volunteers”

260

  • McCain “lacked a powerful online fund-raising program,” which helped keep him in the public finance system

263

  • use of online promotions to boost donations, including “Dinner with Barack”

  • public financing opt-out announced via email/video to supporters

264

  • big email list one of several factors collectively more important than TV ads

  • money can be thrown at TV at the last minute; field organizations need time to grow

265

  • internet also reduces need for TV in a presidential race, since people are following events on their own online

273

  • “flying blind” on Berlin speech crowd turnout b/c of lack of online signups

277

  • Israel visit during overseas trip helps counter “a consistent guerrilla email campaign around the country, suggesting that Obama would not be a stalwart friend of Israel”

  • running foreign policy ads, including online, in battleground states to reinforce trip message (“symphonic consonance”)

290

  • Tim Kaine gains cred as potential VP in part via extended email conversations with campaign top team

295

  • Rospars proposes telling supporters first about veep

  • text annoucement to supporters fit campaign message, also assisted practical goal of list-building (C.f. Obama Wants ME to Know Who the V.P. Will Be)
  • fifteen-fold increaase in text list in two weeks

297

  • people on text-message side of veep announcement operation terrified of early leaks

  • AP story prompts message send
  • text directs people to view live-stream of announcement event the next day
  • follow-up encourages supporters to discuss event on MyBO
  • website becoming a true “home” for supporters

298

  • including more videos in emails b/c people spent more time on them than on plain text versions (presumably meaning that the emails contained links to videos rather than the videos themselves)

299

  • cable and internet audiences help make up for network convention coverage cutbacks

301

  • Michele’s convention speech will help counter internet rumors (Muslim, etc)

307

  • Palin nomination rumors explode online, Plouffe has to turn to Google to find the basics on her b/c she wasn’t a top suspect and her file isn’t on his laptop

311

  • nasty rumors about Palin spread online;

312

  • top Obama team watched Palin’s convention speech after-the-fact on YouTube

314

  • post-Palin speech online fundraising boom, even before the solicitation emails from the campaign started arriving

315

  • [swing voters watch local news and read regional papers, less likely to watch cable news, which played to true believers]

316

  • candidate rallies important in part because attracted crowds that converted to supporter list at high levels

317

  • battleground state ads “blanketed every medium, from TV to radio to the Internet”

326

327

  • high conversion rate of list members into donors (30%), volunteers

  • ten fundraising emails sent in September
  • astonishing online fundraising in September, sometimes $500k per hour

328

  • money allowed explosion of targeted media, a “fantasy camp for political operatives”

329

  • Plouffe strategy videos to grassroots list help counter the talking heads

  • less-produced, more-authentic look was more successful
  • strength of email team
  • “new media” team should be “digital strategy”
  • national v regional/local emails

330

  • email mix and density

  • detailed Florida strategy video (with budget numbers!) motivates supporters, gave relatively little useful info to McCain folks

332

  • standard rapid response formula includes talking points to supporters out in field

335

  • Couric/Palin interview amplified by YouTube and video on CBS site

350

  • texts, emails, online advertising all part of GOTV blitz as early voting begins

356

  • new media dept suggest long-form documentary video on Keating Five in response to Bill Ayers

357

  • video released online to wide viewership and to press, Obama displeased by tone

364

365

  • online fundraising still humming in October ’08

  • pre-election 30-minute TV ad “of course” simulcast online

378-379

384

  • OFA as successor organization to grassroots campaign

Leave a Comment:

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Back Top