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The New Political Multiplier

BY Alan Rosenblatt | Tuesday, March 27 2007

So Obama got 2.7 million or so views on YouTube since last week compared to second place Hillary’s 78,000 total views. This much we know. Are the numbers fishy? Perhaps. On the other hand, it is possible the 320,000+ members of the One Million Strong for Obama Facebook community each viewed an average of nine Obama videos this week. It is not impossible.

Then again, are there really 320,000 unique members of the One Million Strong group? Technically, we are only allowed one Facebook account per person, so that number has to be real.

And remember when Howard Dean had something like 600,000 people on his email list going into Iowa in 2004. Shouldn’t he have been able to get more votes?

Politics has a calculus (and not that complication Calculus of Consent Buchanan and Tullock wrote about in the 60's). There is a multiplier that relates the number of people who volunteer for campaigns to the number of votes that candidate will get; a multiplier between the number of people who give a campaign their address and the number of votes, etc.

The multiplier is not a fixed number. It varies from year to year and from candidate to candidate. But it is there.

Regardless of what the multiplier is, or was, I think we are seeing that the multiplier has shrunk since politics has embraced the internet. It is easier to volunteer. It is easier to sign up for an email list. The costs of entry have dropped dramatically. If it is easier to get involved in politics, then the political multiplier is probably smaller, perhaps much smaller, then ever.

So as we look at any number describing political interest and involvement in the campaigns, we should definitely temper our expectations for their meaning. Even if the Obama YouTube numbers are real, it may not mean as much as we think it does, and certainly not as much as we used to think.