New Dawn for Political Participation?

There is a lot of buzz around the idea that technology-enhanced party activists are increasingly important in electoral politics. Zack Exley’s an interesting piece on field organizing in the Obama campaign is just one example.

In one sense, this is a no-brainer. Of course, more activists on the streets are better than fewer. Of course, the proliferation of off-the-shelf web 2.0 solutions has changed the costs of mobilizing.

Another potential question is, however, looming behind the potential new dawn for party political participation. Will those who get involved continue to accept that they are simply foot soldiers acting out a battle plan largely designed in a traditional campaign war room? Or will they, like contemporary net roots and traditional (European) party members, insist on getting influence on actual policy development?

If they do demand influence, will they (a) become a liability for campaigns that also have to address potential voters outside of the core constutiency that presumably provides most of their activists? (b) complicate attempts to stay ’on message’ in relation to traditional mass media? (c) be able to make a policy difference? In other words, will they still be worthwhile for campaigns?

Perhaps more importantly, can they achieve influence? There seems to be considerable transatlantic differences here, where influence in Europe is based on party organization, in the US, it comes mainly in the selection of candidates in primaries (Ned Lamont vs. Joe Lieberman springs to mind).

These issues are negotiated in the daily balance struck between candidates, professionals, and activists who presumably all want to win, make a difference, and do something worthwhile. Though they may not always agree and what those three things amount to.

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