Here’s an observation from Joe Trippi and Rod Martin’s lunchtime POLC conversation yesterday — yes, the long American election seasons have some drawbacks, but they do give campaigns a chance to build support incrementally over months and even years. To take advantage of online organizing, campaigns need time to find people, time to convert them and time to turn their support into donations and real-world action. Most online outreach bears more resemblance to seige warfare than to blitzkrieg, with success coming from many individual online encounters with voters and influential voices over time rather than on a sudden surge of attention.
This dynamic creates a particular problem for political parties and candidates in parliamentary systems, since their campaigns are almost always relatively short, frequently measured in days or weeks rather than months and years. Outside the U.S., in other words, if a party waits until the campaign season to start their online outreach, it’s almost certainly too late. Trippi in particular mentioned being brought in to talk with the British Labour Party a couple of weeks before a major election in the last decade, and having to tell them that there was very little they could do online in the time they had remaining that would do much good.
Instead, political actors need to be taking a long view, creating systems and support bases now that may not pay off until several years in the future — online politics is based on building and capitalizing on human relationships, and they rarely spring up overnight. In other words, you want to fail online? Wait until the last minute to get started.