Home The Birth of the Political Long Tail

The Birth of the Political Long Tail

Are we witnessing the emergence of the Long Tail of politics over the course of this presidential election cycle in the United States? Central Desktop CEO Isaac Garcia thinks so, and applies Chris Anderson’s famous Long Tail theory to the campaign of US presidential hopeful Barack Obama in a rather compelling blog post last week. In the post, which was syndicated on the TechPresident blog, Garcia argues that Barack Obama, and to a lesser extent Ron Paul, have built campaigns on the back of the Long Tail of political interest in the US.

We’ve noted on ReadWriteWeb before how Obama and Paul have used the Internet to successfully build a grassroots campaign and raise lots of money. Of the record $32 million that Obama raised in January, $28 million was via the Internet, and 90% from small donations under $100 each. “That’s a whole new paradigm for fundraising,” we wrote. “Rather than chase $2,300 checks from a few hundred rich people at lavish fundraisers (okay, they still do that), campaigns can more easily focus on collecting thousands of smaller donations from regular people that add up to the same amount (or more).”

“The rise of the Obama Campaign tells us that Scale Matters. It means that The Long Tail is validated (in politics at least),” says Garcia. “It also means that size doesn’t matter after all; rather, it is the quantity that matters. Scale Matters.”

That’s an important point, and echoes what we said earlier this month about the paradigm shift in political fundraising. The Internet has allowed campaigns to tap into the Long Tail of politics for fundraising and organizing. Obama and Paul are attracting people to the political process who have never participated before, and while their message and rhetoric has a lot to do with that, it is the web tools that have enabled it and allowed it to happen.

What Howard Dean started in 2004 with his now famous use of Meetup.com to mobilize a grassroots campaign across the US, has developed further in this election cycle with the use of tools like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. “It is technology that is driving the grassroots effort in such a fast and scalable fashion for these new campaigns,” writes Garcia. “By enabling users and donors to contribute their dollars, content and time through online tools the speed and efficiency in which these efforts grows takes on a network effect that accelerates campaigns quicker than ever. In many ways, its the network effect of user participation and user empowerment that is driving the Obama campaign.”

New software has created a political landscape where voters feel more connected to candidates and each other than every before. Citizens are able to participate in the political process on a personal level more easily as a result of web 2.0.

Because of that development, political campaigns in 2008 are able to tap a previously unreachable Long Tail of voters (or potential voters). What Obama and Paul are tapping into also echoes the commentary Alex Iskold made about the Long Tail of the blogosphere last November. “You can make money on the Long Tail but not in the Long Tail. The precise point of Anderson’s argument is that it is a collective of the Long Tail amounts to substantial dollars because the volume is there,” he wrote.

It is important to note that what Obama and Paul are doing is exploiting the massive scale of the Long Tail, they’re not a part of it. While neither is a centrist candidate, they are also not fringe candidates. The Long Tail, as it applies to candidates, exists with third parties and independents. The argument that Garcia is making is not that Obama and Paul are Long Tail candidates, but that they are tapping into the Long Tail of voters to power their campaigns.

(It is also probably important to note that Garcia has a vested interest in his theory as the CEO of Central Desktop, which makes software that was used by the Obama campaign to connect to voters in California.)

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