For years we have debated the influence of money in politics. We have looked at wealthy businessmen and lobbyists buying elections. Studied how TV commercials flooded living rooms and turned the polls around. In America the Super-PACs came storming onto the scene after an election funding reform with more or less unlimited funds for establishment backed candidates.
Basically. We have spent our time following the money. Complaining about the money. And we might have been wrong all along. Suddenly the common knowledge that money buys victories does not seem so common sense anymore. Let us take a few examples.
Syriza won by a landslide in Greece without a euro in the bank to campaign for. The newly started left wing party Podemos in Spain didn’t have a dime but stormed into parliament in the top3. In England the far right populists UKIP scored the highest % of voters for a third party in a long while with largely no money spent. In Sweden the Swedish Democrats have gone from nothing to polling at 28% without any noticeable funding … and for that matter, Jeb Bush outspent Donald Trump many many times in the Republican primaries for the presidential election 2016.
The Rise Of The Political Message !
We have debate the art of the political message. However. Our normal underlying logic would be that either the campaign messaging was tailored to where the voters already were and then boosted by spending millions on spreading the word. Or alternatively, the message was firm and millions was spent on swaying the voters to come around to it.
So why oh why are campaigns able to deliver astounding landslide victories without any funding at all?
One way of looking at it could be that diversified mass media, social networking, citizen journalism and many other such phenomenons have actually helped make the democratic processes more accessible. We are increasingly seeing movements growing out of nothing on social networks to dominate an issue, a debate or even an election. Barack Obama was obviously one example of such a movement (though he did raise plenty of funds later on, though not primarily from the usual big donor sources). The art of internet campaigning is kind of already old news though. We used to debate how to make things go viral, how to get interaction with fans and how to accumulate likes.
Thats all good, but now it is all about catching the signals coming from the souls of the people and filtering into the spiderweb of social channels – and then sending the right signals back in a diverse a way as possible. Does it sound loopy? It is quite simple to see and outrageously difficult to do. But if you look at the reason Jeb Bush failed and Donald Trump succeeded – it wasn’t the money, it wasn’t political backing, it wasn’t that one was outside the range of the voters he aspired to get support from (well if one was, it certainly was not Jeb), it wasn’t that they weren’t both active on social media.
No, it was the almost intuitive ability to catch signals and shoot them back at the voters to create a symbiosis. In the case of Donald Trump it might in fact have been a lucky punch – but he played it to perfection nonetheless. He caught the signal, turned it into political messaging and filtered it back. Jeb in contrast tailored a message he figured would resonate well with voters, he replaced Bush with ! and put together a package of traditional republican policies and then fed it all into a 100million dollar advertising campaign. And got nothing.
Social Signals in Politics
You might argue Barack Obama, Syriza, Podemos, Donald Trump and many such movement phenomenons in politics have a lot in common. They either carry forward a feeling already widespread enough to launch the wave or they respond to the social signals they pick up and exploit them to ride a wave already pending. Either way. Expect more of this as media narratives splinter, our engagement on and offline diversify further and common discourse becomes harder to come by.
The internet campaign has been running for a decade and it wont stop. But look for your answers in the signals!
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