The Internet has fundamentally changed the second most important aspect of elections: money. In fact, writes Tom Regan in the Christian Science Monitor's "Innovation" column, if not for Internet fundraising, Barack Obama would not be the Democratic nominee.
In a year when he continues to break all fundraising records, Obama raked in most of his $265 million from the Internet. The Clinton campaign complained regularly that Obama was outspending it by 2 or 3 to 1 in many states. All that cash came from the Web.
Consider that when Obama raised $32 million in January – a previously unimaginable total – he only raised 12 percent of the money “offline,” according to Patrick Ruffini of TechPresident, a website that tracks how campaigns use technology. That means $28 million came from mostly small online donations.
But, Regan said, the net's impact isn't limited to money. The most important aspect of course is bringing out voters – lots of voters. And thanks to Obama's groundbreaking use of the net, the campaign has been able to make deep and far-flung connections with new voters. A new Pew study finds that 46 percent of Americans have used the Internet in some election-oriented way, chiefly (35 percent) by watching online political videos, and secondly (10 percent) by using social networks to get involved. But for under-30 voters the social networking number is huge –half of under-30s with social network profiles get or share information about politics or the campaigns through the networks. Interestingly, only 6 percent of Americans have made political contributions online, so there is massive headroom for small contributors to have even more important impacts on elections. Of course, Obama also has to deal with the scurrilous aspects of the Net like accusations he is a secret Muslim or that Michelle Obama said "whiteys" (both wrong). But while Obama tries not to deal with the lies through the mainstream media, the campaign has set up a website to "fight the smears."