Category Archives: elections

Google Buzz a Mixed Bag for Political Communications

Google unveiled its new social networking product, Google Buzz, during the second week of February.  This marks Google’s most direct challenge to social networking sites that have proven to be important tools for communications and multimedia sharing amongst its users.

For political communications, Facebook and then later Twitter, have become important tools in both national and local electoral politics.  These social media sites allow for deeper engagement between campaigns and their supporters, enables increasingly scaled multi-way conversations and are excellent organizing tools.

How will Google Buzz fit in to this mix of social media sites already running and how will Buzz be integrated into political communications?

The buzz about Buzz going around blogosphere is now centered around the lack of sensitivity to Google and Gmail users’ privacy concerns.  Google may have made a huge mistake when it automatically brought users into one’s Buzz network without their permission.  Internet privacy advocates are having a field day with this.  But as with most everything Google, the company is listening and trying to correct its errors.

As a social network, I see the biggest advantage of Google Buzz being its integration into other Google software.  For example, in the last year, I have gotten away from my activity on Facebook and have moved much more heavily into email.  It’s not so much a conscious decision on my part, but simply a reaction to the amount of emails I receive daily necessitates my attention get paid to my inbox.  Therefore, having the Buzz tab next to my Gmail inbox is highly convenient.  Not to mention, Buzz syncs up with YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader, Google Chat, etc. very seamlessly.  On top of that, Buzz seems to be a pretty clean and easy designed app.

Google Buzz’s downside may be that it’s too connected to one’s email.  I think many Facebook users like the idea of having a personal network on Facebook unconnected to their email.  I can understand that.

As a political tool, we shall see how Google Buzz gets used and if campaigns will utilize it in the 2010 cycle.  I think it will provide a new way to bring in a lot of engagement to a campaign and communicate in a new and possibly easier fashion.  As someone who works on campaigns, the thought of having email and social networking contained in one interface is very attractive.  In fact, I would venture to say at the moment that Google Buzz stands to assist campaigns to communicate with key activists and volunteers in a deeper and more personal way.

For example, beyond non-Google web apps, I see a lot of value in being able to have Google Docs and Google Calendar be a part of Google Buzz and at the fingertips of campaigns and volunteers in a single medium.  That could prove very valuable.  I, for one, would be willing to give it a try.  I believe it will aid in multi-way communication better than Facebook at this point as Facebook has become another broadcasting tool for campaigns.  If the privacy issue can be resolved and users of Google Buzz can have better control of who is able to tap into a given network, Buzz can be a very useful tool.

The 2010 Democratic Primary Best and Worst Communications Spin Job

The Dan Hynes-Pat Quinn race for the Democratic Gubernatorial nomination produced one of the most interesting communications stories of the 2010 primary race.

By now, we’re all familiar with the Hynes’ Campaign ad showing Harold Washington discuss his regret hiring Pat Quinn in the 1980′s, pointing to Quinn’s incompetence.

The message was pretty hard to argue with – coming straight from Democratic and progressive icon Harold Washington’s mouth that Pat Quinn is unqualified to handle budgetary matters.  At first, it helped to bring Hynes up in the polls with Quinn.

But then something remarkable happened.  To the Quinn campaign’s credit, the Governor was able to turn the Washington ad into an issue of race and M achine politics where Dan Hynes and the Hynes family stood on the wrong side of that debate.  This was a good and pretty predictable response from the Quinn camp.

The Hynes response to this was deeply flawed.  Hynes could have distanced himself from the Quinn attacks, stating his father’s politics was ancient history and that his father was not running against Pat Quinn.  He could have voiced disagreement with the race wars of the 1980′s and Tom Hynes’ role.

Instead, Hynes fell off message, defending his father and allowing Quinn to shift the conversation that previously focused on job performance to a much more emotionally-charged issue of race.  There was no doubt that Quinn worked for progressive candidates and causes and he was able to use the Hynes attack to his advantage to demonstrate solidarity with minorities and middle class voters.  The message completely escaped Hynes.

The timing of course was critical.  This all took place a few weeks before Election Day.  Leading in to this period, a candidate wants to be focused on their message.  The Hynes defensiveness was very costly communications hiccup.

The Irony in Voter Apathy

I’ve taken a long break from blogging.  During the 2010 Democratic Primary Elections I worked on two campaigns and so I decided not publish my personal take on politics for the sake of my candidates.

Now that the election is over, I would like to get back to blogging regularly.

If there’s one major observation I took away from from this election, it’s that voter apathy has an ironic way of self-defeat.

For instance, we commonly heard throughout the course of this election how fed up people were with politics in Illinois and our political leadership.  This led to cynicism about the system in general and a feeling that all politicians are corruptible and on the take.

The irony is of course that this attitude leads people to refrain from voting and therefore gives the Democratic Machine a free pass to win elections.

Off the top of my head, look at all the good government, reform candidates who lost in 2010 primaries:

  • David Hoffman lost to Alexi Giannoulias
  • Jonathan Goldman lost Anazette Collins
  • Rudy Lozano Jr. lost to Dan Burke
  • Stella Black and Todd Connor lost to three Machine-backed candidates for Water Rec
  • Monica Torres-Linares lost to Jerry “Iceman” Butler
  • David Schroeder lost to Ken Dunkin

And the list goes on…

The point here is that voters who want good government, who want reform, who want honest people in elected office – only hurt themselves when they stay away from the voting booth.

We had a historic low turnout this election.  All that does is ensure the majority of those who show up are Machine supporters.

Good candidates can’t get elected when turnout is so low.

This is a fallacy in Chicagoland’s political culture that has to be changed.  We face huge problems – mounting debt, failing public transportation, failing schools, corruption, etc.  Change won’t happen when we throw our hands up and allow those who seek to protect the political status quo to walk away with elections.

It won’t take much on our end – just a commitment to learn about candidates and to cast our votes.

Establishing the Hoffman for Senate Brand

David Hoffman’s US Senate campaign email last night was probably the best email I’ve seen from a political campaign in the 2010 cycle for sure, and maybe even beyond that.  Why was it so effective?  One word: authenticity.  So many campaigns are trying to copy the Obama-styled emails and communications that propelled him to the presidency.  However, most campaigns fall way short.

From a new media perspective, Hoffman’s campaign is so interesting because I have not seen a federal campaign literally ask voters to contact their offices, promising a real person will return their email or phone call.  Many campaigns pay lip service to “two-way” communications.  Many of these tools are just c0-opted to broadcast messages, unfortunately.

Then there’s the commitment to new media.  That signals the Hoffman campaign is interested in finding and working with online grassroots advocates who will be the campaign’s evangelists.  The online community is commonly the group who starts the buzz and sets the agenda far in advance.  That plan seems to be on solid footing in Illinois too, though it may not take off because for an online community, Illinois is relatively small.  Then again, for a primary a campaign is really speaking to the ardent party supporters.

All of these aforementioned “principles” are setting up the Hoffman brand, it’s promise, that it has nothing to hide.  The email was an invitation for people to come in, sniff around and if you like what you see, then support Hoffman.  It’s a really great effort so far to ensure the campaign is “walking the talk” of its reform and anti-corruption agenda.

Here’s the email:

Dear Valued Constituent:

Now that we have a full campaign team up and running, I wanted to introduce myself, kick off some guidelines for our communications, and give you a look at the fight ahead.

I’m Dan O’Neil, the Director of New Media for Hoffman for Illinois. I’m responsible for the online team, which includes our Web site, email communications, social networking sites, and all other online outreach. I’m aided by Mike Hardy, our Online Content Director, and Lara Sanders, our Director of Online Organizing.

You may have already heard from Lara over the last week. She has been contacting volunteers who have raised their hands and offered to help us turn the page on politics as usual in Illinois. She is also working through all emails sent to the campaign with specific suggestions for events, fundraisers, and other offers and requests. If you haven’t heard from Lara yet, expect to hear from her in the next few days. You can contact her directly at (312) 772-3539 or lara@hoffmanforillinois.com.

A Few Guidelines

We’re running a different campaign for a different candidate.

  • We’d like this to be a two-way conversation. If you get a blast email, and would like to respond to us personally, by all means do! Let us know what you think about what we had to say, whether we’re contacting you too much or too little,or anything else
  • Our emails are written by real people, and we sign them as our own. You won’t get an email written by a campaign staffer that says it’s from David. You won’t get template pleas written by campaign finance professionals. If we’re going to do this (and we are), we’re going to do it together, and with honesty
  • Please feel free to forward on these emails, blog about their content, and tell your friends and family what we have to say
  • A good amount of our communication is via Twitter and Facebook. We like it, because it cuts down on inbox clutter, allows you to have greater control over how you get our messages, and keeps us in the context of the rest of your daily life

David on the Issues

Many of you have expressed a need to hear more from David on the issues that matter to you most. While we are getting ready to announce our formal policies on our Web site, David has already spoken out on a number of them:

September 30 Filing Deadline

An important milestone in the campaign is the Federal Election Commission financial reporting deadline of September 30. We need to have a strong showing on that day to prove that we will have the support we need to win in February and beyond. David is a strong candidate, and is capable of beating back the Republican challenge for President Obama’s former Senate seat.

We accept no PAC money or contributions from State or Federal lobbyists, so please consider pledging your support for our campaign.

We’re now less than four and a half months until the Democratic Primary Election on February 2, 2010. There’s a lot of work to do. We are fully
engaged in this battle now, and we’re certain that together, we’ll win.

Best,

Dan


Daniel X. O’Neil
Director of New Media
Hoffman for Illinois
www.hoffmanforillinois.com

Don’t Take Local Judiciary for Granted

Published in the Urban Coaster, August 21, 2009

I’ve been active in progressive politics, issue campaigns and elections my whole career.  Never have I been faced with a more complex challenge than my current job: managing a judicial candidate’s primary campaign. But like most voters, I didn’t know the first thing about judge races.  All I knew was that these races were confusing.  What’s the difference between county-wide races and subcircuit races? The “Yes” vs. “No” votes?  Why are judges elected anyway?

The confusion aside, one thing I believed before I became a judicial candidate’s campaign manager and now believe even stronger, is that our judiciary is a critical part of our democracy.  And just as we voters exercise our responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable and put the best person in the job, we need to do the same for Cook County’s judiciary.

I’ll try to clarify some things about judicial races.  About half our judges in Cook County are appointed and half are elected.  The appointed judges are appointed by sitting judges…

To read the complete article, click here.

Jumping into IL-10

This week has been the time politicos have been waiting for – who would run for the seat Mark Kirk vacates as he bids for U.S. Senate?

The safe bet would be to assume the seat will go Democratic.  Two contenders with name recognition and a history have already signaled that they will run: Dan Seals and Julie Hamos.

It will be every interesting to see how each candidate goes about building a campaign for the 10th Congressional seat.  Hamos, the State Rep from Evanston, has been working towards a state-wide run until Lisa Madigan announced she would not vacate her Attorney General seat.  Hamos is looking to turn that disappointment into a victory in the Democratic primary.

Hamos has some built-in advantages for her in the 10th District.  She’s already known in the area from her years as State Rep in Evanston (outside of the 10th District).  She will have unprecedented support from elected officials (especially Jan Schakowsky next door in the 9th), who wants a woman and a progressive in that seat long-held by a Republican.   Hamos has also built up plenty of good-will in the district as the area served as a fundraising hub for her state-wide race.  I believe she has a lot of sympathetic supporters who feel that Lisa Madigan thwarted Hamos’ chances at higher office and now will support Hamos in the Congressional bid.

Seals, I think, faces a really uphill battle.  He does have the advantages when he ran for the seat during the last two election cycles.  He knows the district really well and undoubtedly brings lessons learned and insights to this campaign after losing two previous ones.  But, he won’t have the backing he did when he was an unknown taking on Kirk in 2006 and again in 2008.  From what I’ve heard, many residents in the 10th are hoping that Seals will not run, to open the door for new blood.  That would be Seals’ death knell.  He cannot count on the political kingmakers to bless his run this time around.  He will need an even stronger grassroots campaign than he has had previously.  Can he do it?

I think if he does run a better grassroots campaign, he can beat Hamos in a very tough battle.  But looking at today’s events after Seals announced his candidacy via email, a look at his Facebook page has no announcement to about 500 supporters across several pages that he is running for Congress.  That built-in network will be absolutely key to Seals’ support in the 10th and beyond.  He needs that to be successful.  He cannot rely on the Democratic organizations handing him supporters like they did in previous elections.  Facebook is the start of grassroots outreach, and it’s a good bell-weather of a campaign at a given moment.

Hamos, meanwhile, has to do a good job of channeling her support and momentum from the statewide run into continung to give supporters a piece of the campaign.  The Hamos team has done a great job at that so far.  It has been interesting to see the media speculate about Hamos’ political future plans and the campaign make no announcement or outreach to her supporters (even to tell them to sit tight) since Madigan announcemed she isn’t’ running over a week ago.

How to Choose Between Facebook and MySpace

Some really great research is beginning to disseminate through the blogosphere emanating from the Personal Democracy Forum just held in New York.  In particular, is the user base and growth of the two largest social networks, MySpace and Facebook.

Northwestern researcher Eszter Harggitai found that MySpace’s users slightly declined or stayed about the same over a 0ne year period dating back to 2008.  In fact, Facebook’s traffic increased 97 percent and MySpace’s traffic declined 5 percent from a year ago, writes Riva Richmond, blogging for the New York Times.

Both Richmond and Harggitai refer to social media researcher Danah Boyd, who has uncovered important demographic trends with Facebook and MySpace users.

Research by Harggitai, Boyd and others boils down to this:

  • Whites are using Facebook more and leaving MySpace
  • Asians are using Facebook at very high levels and MySpace very little
  • Hispanics are more likely to be active on MySpace than Facebook
  • African Americans seem to be more evenly split between using Facebook and MySpace but are using Facebook slightly more
  • Facebook users come from more economically advantaged families than MySpace users

Not commenting on the social stratification of the research findings, it is interesting for those who are running local political campaigns to take this data into consideration when putting together an online communications strategy.  Supposing there is finite time in a campaign, plus limited staff resources, it is safe to assume that a campaign cannot effectively be all over each social network and use each well (i.e. John Edwards in 2008).

Therefore, especially for urban and suburban districts, it seems practical to use this data in order to assist a campaign in choosing what kind of social networking strategy they will employ.  Campaigns have to ask themselves, does it make sense to use Facebook in a more predominantly African American or Hispanic voting area?  This research would indicate that would be a bad idea.  But, the realities on the ground are always a little different and must be measured for each case.

The lesson here is listening to statistics and going with the percentages.  Other campaigns have tried and failed, others have won.  Good campaigns listen to those lessons and put those findings to work to their advantage.

Social Media in Electoral Politics is not a Mutually Exclusive Venture

I had a really interesting conversation last night with Jeff Smith, a really sharp Evanston lawyer, activist and candidate for state representative in the 18th District.  Smith is running in a field of other great candidates, including Patrick Keenan-Devlin and Eamon Kelly.  Jeff and I were discussing the value of Facebook in building a support network and reaching voters during an election.

I took the position that Facebook offered an incredibly efficient medium to communicate and organize voters.  Jeff countered that though that is true, most probable voters in his Evanston district probably won’t go on Facebook and would need to be reached the old fashioned way – knocking on doors and shaking hands. 

The truth is, I think, is that we’re both right and we’re both wrong.  From Barack Obama’s campaign down to Daniel Biss’ campaign for state rep in 2008, we learned that a good online strategy was made possible by the hard work candidates and staffs put in on the ground to introduce themselves to voters.  Facebook was just the next logical place to go to continue the conversation and stay engaged in the campaign.  In short, there are synergies between online and offline that are complimentary, rather than mutually exclusive.

Of course, the largest group of Facebook users are in the 18-25 range, but we also know the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is the 45-54 age group.  Ask any teenage kid if their parents are friending them on Facebook and the likely answer is ‘yes.’  I believe that in the Evanston district, Facebook and other new media tools will be crucial to winning the campaign for state representative.

Jeff is right too – nothing replaces shaking hands and talking to voters.  People want to feel listened to and  putting a name with a face is crucial.

All three candidates have a solid presence on Facebook and all have comparable-sized networks.  It seems as though all candidates believe it’s necessary to have a Facebook page.  But how many will make it a priority?  Who will use it as a strategic tool?  Who will accidentally find it invaluable because of the reach and ease of use?

These are all questions I’ll watching out for in this race!

Pat Quinn’s Website Badly Needs Reform

With all the talk about the problems our state faces and how our legislators will handle these issues as they prepare to return to Springfield, I wondered what Pat Quinn had to say.  After all, I’m sure the Governor has a campaign website where he can talk more freely to web visitors than the “officialese” of government-run web pages.

I was really shocked to see Quinn’s campaign site, “Pat Quinn for Illinois,” to be so spartan.  Pat Quinn had to have taken notice of how Barack Obama’s team maintains both Whitehouse.gov and BarackObama.com.  Both sites have different purposes.  The office-holder site is meant as a center for information, helping to illustrate what is happening in the world of that elected official.  But the campaign site, like BarackObama.com, is meant to mobilize.  It is set up to build support for the office holder’s agenda and create excitement around that particular political movement.

Pat Quinn’s website does not even come close to doing that.  What I can’t understand, is that for a guy who is going to face a very tough election in 2010, wouldn’t he and staff want to speak to Illinoisans, get their input and build support for Quinn’s fragile agenda?  I would think so.

But here’s what you do see on Pat Quinn for Illinois:

  • A picture of Quinn 10 years out of date

    Quinns Picture on Pat Quinn for Illinois

    Quinn's Picture on Pat Quinn for Illinois

  • Missing a word (“be”) in the third paragraph on the opening letter of the website’s homepage
  • No legislation listed in his bio section that Quinn championed which deals with any of the systemic problems our state faces for over 10 years
  • No compelling list of achievements in his bio section that would make any voter excited about what this man can accomplish
  • A photo gallery that does describe when, where or what context the photos are from
  • No call to action on the website at all

I think Pat Quinn is  a decent, honest man who has proven to be a trusted legislator over his years of service.  However, the longer his campaign website remains in its current condition, the less of a chance he has to speak to voters, to win support for his agenda and to win election.

Pat Quinn in 2009

Pat Quinn in 2009

I also believe it is no coincidence that Quinn’s proposals for dealing with some of the state’s fiscal problems (raising income taxes, pension reform) were met coldly and are losing whatever support it had to begin with.  I attribute that to not having a movement of supporters behind him.  And that movement starts with good, ongoing communications with the people of Illinois.

Preckwinkle’s Cook County Board Campaign Website

I was doing some online searches on Cook County Board presidential candidates the other day, prompted by this week’s County Board vote to overturn Todd Stroger’s tax increase.

I finally came upon  Toni Preckwinkle’s website.  I say finally because if you do a google search of the terms “toni preckwinkle cook county” you will not see her website come up until the second page.  I think that has to be addressed immediately by the campaign in order to position her better for online search.  After all, about 80 percent of new web traffic comes through online search.  Plus, high returns on her website helps to control the campaign’s message, so that online searchers are not finding articles related to Preckwinkle that the campaign would not want people to read.

Toni Preckwinkle's Homepage

Toni Preckwinkle's Homepage

More puzzling though is when you get to Preckwinkle’s homepage.  First of all, it says, “Help keep Cook County moving forward.”  Isn’t the whole reason she is running because Cook County isn’t moving forward?  Why would voters want to oust Todd Stroger if he had County government costs and management under control?  That message does not seem to make sense to me.

More troubling though is the way in which the website is currently set up.  The homepage is a landing page that asks for the person’s email and zipcode.  There is no way to “skip” over this step, because as I later learned, the rest of the campaign site has not been developed yet.  That is ok, although, I think down the road the campaign will have to allow for people to visit the site and not enter their information to get into the rest of the site.  That would be a collosal mistake if the campaign did not do this.

The problem I have though is that next to the boxes asking for email and zip code is the button “learn more.”  I expected that after I clicked on the box I would actually learn more.  Instead, I got a message saying “check back soon for updates.”  That’s really misleading that the website would prompt me to learn more and then not follow through on that promise.  The campaign should more accurately state “submit info” or something rather than learn more.

As a web user, I see this current set up as a strong ploy to get me to enter my information for campaign purposes.  Of course, voter outreach is a central part of any campaign.  But, there is an expectation that after I give my information to a campaign, that I will be given information that was promised to me.  In this case, “learn more” does not mean “learn more.”  The campaign should be careful not to turn off voters before the campaign for county president really gets under way.