Home Meetup: The Secret Campaign Weapon?

Meetup: The Secret Campaign Weapon?

Web metrics firm Compete released their latest “Candidate FaceTime” metric yesterday, which measures how many hours people are spending across the social networking profiles of US presidential candidates. Not surprisingly, Ron Paul continues to dominate all candidates, while Barack Obama leads the pack among Democrats. The biggest surprise is the rise of Mike Huckabee — who has also been rising in national polls — perhaps due to the Chuck Norris bump (what can’t that guy do?). Compete, however, points to Meetup as the true secret weapon.

According to Compete, only two candidates are effectively using Meetup to rally support among voters: Paul and Huckabee. Paul’s Meetup activity accounts for 87% of all activity by candidates on the site, while Huckabee registers 12%. No other candidate cracks the 1% threshold.

“Paul and his zealous online supporters offer a case study on how, by leveraging Meetup.com, online activism can be harnessed into offline action,” writes Compete’s Matt Pace, pointing to the 82,000 Meetup members in Paul’s camp who have held nearly 21,000 offline meetings. But how much of that is planned or even officially sanctioned by the Paul campaign?

The second largest Paul group on Meetup, the “Greater NYC Ron Paul Action Group Manhattan+,” has a link to the NY4Paul.com site, which is unaffiliated with the Ron Paul campaign. In 2004, when Howard Dean became the poster boy for netroots politics by utilizing the same site (Meetup), it was mainly an accident. The New York Times wrote recently, “Dean’s campaign didn’t explode online because he somehow figured out a way to channel online politics; he managed this feat because his campaign, almost by accident, became channeled by people he had never met.” The same thing seems to be happening with Ron Paul now.

Of course, that is the very definition of grassroots. But what it points to is this: these things can’t be planned. Ron Paul’s grassroots support network grew up by itself, not likely because Paul himself planned it. When Paul raised $4 million on Guy Fawkes Day, it was via a fundraising effort that his campaign had nothing to do with. So, Meetup is less of a secret campaign weapon than is a zealous grassroots support group (the former only works if you already have the latter), but that sort of thing is impossible to plan.

The Compete numbers do tell us a couple of other things, though. According to TechPresident, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton still have by far the most Facebook and MySpace supporters, but the FaceTime stats suggest that perhaps Ron Paul is engaging his supporters via the Internet better than his opponents. What the metric doesn’t tell us is how many people are watching Paul, just how much they’re watching. TechPresident points out that Paul’s recent record $6 million single day fundraising haul was made possible by contributions of just 58,000 people (or about .0001933% of the country) — so it certainly possible that he is engaging his supporters more than his opponents, but that the total number of supporters still numbers far fewer.

That could be why Paul’s incredible online support has so far not translated into success in traditional polls of likely voters, where he generally does not make much of an impression (Paul averages just 5% across national Republican polls).

In August, we wondered why there was such a disconnect between online popularity and poll numbers in a post called The Web 2.0 Election: Does the Internet Matter in Election Politics?. We suggested three reasons, including demographics, “cool factor,” and that the traditional polling methods themselves were screwed up. But I think perhaps the best possible cause of the disconnect came from one of our commenters.

“There’s a possible fourth reason for the disconnect – the internet is international. US politics has worldwide implications and so non-US citizens and even non-US residents care about the US election, watch candidate videos on YouTube and befriend them on social networks. However, they don’t vote,” wrote Elad.

Outside of the US, where anti-war sentiment is often much stronger, it seems likely that onlookers would be attracted to the more staunchly anti-war candidates (like Paul on the Republican side, and Obama or Kucinich on the Democratic side). Further, Paul and Obama are also likely seen as the most anti-establishment candidates (due to Paul’s Libertarian views, which contrast sharply with those of his fellow Republicans, and the perception that Obama is a Washington outsider because of the short time he has been in the Senate). I wonder how many of Paul’s 5.8 million YouTube views come from outside the US?

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