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Turning Enthusiasm into Votes and Money

BY Joshua Levy | Sunday, October 15 2006

Another article appeared yesterday, this time in the Wall Street Journal, about the political campaigning uses of MySpace. It describes the experience of candidates like Chuck Poochigian, the Republican running for California attorney general, when they take a chance and join MySpace. Judging from the response he's received since he joined MySpace in August -- he has over 500 friends (some politicians like Ted Strickland can boast over 2000 friends) -- Poochigian's MySpace presence has been a success:

Within two months, Mr. Poochigian reported that the number of online donations to his campaign jumped more than 50%. "It's been pretty remarkable," he says. "There is little question that the level of enthusiasm among younger voters is higher now than it otherwise would be."

Poochigian's opponent is past California governor and present Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who has also gotten into the social-networking game, with less of a bang:

Only 80 friends have signed up to the MySpace page of Mr. Poochigian's opponent, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown... Mr. Brown's page carries little campaign information, save for a few campaign-trail pictures and a video commercial that slams Mr. Poochigian's conservative views. Still, Mr. Brown, a Democrat with strong name recognition, is leading in this race. His fund-raising, too, has far outstripped his rival.

So despite Poochigian's increased online donations and a limited response to Brown's MySpace profile, Brown is still ahead in the polls and in fundraising.

A MySpace page isn't going to turn a race around, but this example raises an interesting question: what is the correlation between quantifiable results like fundraising and less quantifiable things like "enthusiasm"? If candidates' MySpace profiles show an increase in the latter but little effect on the former, can they be considered a success?

As the WSJ piece notes, even if a social networking presence doesn't directly lead to more money, it leads to more political participation by younger voters (all of the voters interviewed for the article are in their twenties), a group that is notoriously difficult to engage in politics.

We'll have to wait until after November 7th to see if younger voters come out in larger numbers than 2002 or 2004, but it will be exciting to see how candidates use MySpace and other social-networking apps to channel something intangible like "enthusiasm" into something tangible like votes or money.

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