July 17, 2004

Comparison of Presidential Campaign Sites

What we have here is a comparison of Badnarik.org, Johnkerry.com, Georgewbush.com, Votenader.org and Peroutka2004.com. All of these sites at times are or have been in the top 100,000 ranked web sites as determined by the Alexa service. The Cobb campaign site votecobb.org is pitifully low, not making it into the top 100,000 in the last few months (and likely never before that, either) and other candidates like Jay for the Personal Choice Party or Brown for the Socialists are also not running top-100k sites.

First of all, notice something crucial: Badnarik.org beat Votenader.org almost every single day from late May (during the Libertarian convention) to today's posting. Only one brief spike puts Nader's site ever so slightly above Badnarik's. After that spike, Nader's site plummets right off the 100k list for nearly a week and Badnarik's site climbs marginally and maintains its general placement for the same period. The whole rest of the last few months since May 30 have seen Badnarik beating, leading and at times smashing Nader's website. Now, what does this mean? Does it mean Badnarik will outpoll Nader in November? Well, I think that will happen, especially after Nader only gets on in a half-dozen states and withdraws, but that's not what this means. It means Badnarik is being much more effective at running a web-based campaign.

Who uses the Internet? They tend to be younger than the general population, often adolescent or young adult, and they also tend to be middle class, fairly intelligent, and Internet people are also substantively more libertarian than the general population. Sure, there are online hate groups like Stormfront and others and there are tons of Democrats like the Democratic Underground and Dean's blog (heh, I mentioned Stormfront and Democratic Underground in the same sentence), but the average person online tends to be more inclined to favor a little more hands off attitude in social and economic policy. The Internet is a great place for the Libertarians to work, showcased by the Libertarian Party website (which I, biased though I may be, believe is more accessible, visually appealing and well-designed than all the other party websites) and other efforts such as the Free State Project. The Free State Project, an effort to move 20k libertarians to New Hampshire for activist reasons, was originally conceived online and owes much or perhaps indirectly all of its successes so far to the Internet's libertarian roots. Further, online chat groups and sites are more likely to have libertarian rooms, sections, lists or links than anything equivalent in the real world.

The reason is simple. Aside from the fact that libertarians tend to be young, middle class, tech-savvy and so forth, they also have nowhere else to coalesce. There are libertarians everywhere, just in small numbers. Every state in the union has a Libertarian Party, they are just diffuse. There is only a small percentage of the population that tends to think like a libertarian, and political polls routinely show between 12 and 20 percent of the population is ideologically libertarian. Only 2% of the country self-identifies as libertarian, fewer than that vote Libertarian. The numbers aren't especially concentrated, although there are pockets and clusters in Northern New England and the West. The only place to reasonably organize for libertarians is the Internet, the place where geography is meaningless to anybody not ordering a package for delivery.

The Free State project again gives us some focus - libertarians realize they are a very widespread force but also an extremely diffuse one. Libertarianism is not isolated to Alaska or Georgia or New Hampshire or New Jersey or California. It is all over the place, and while individual parties have more or less success, ultimately each party is pretty small. The Free State Project is a conscious attempt to correct that problem and focus resources and membership on one state, to increase the chances of success from activist efforts. The major parties do this every year, especially for special elections. Take, for example, a recent special election in Kentucky. The national parties sent buses of interns, volunteers and party activists from DC on over to KY to campaign for the election. They distributed activists in the best way to win. That's what the FSP does, and that is exactly what the Internet overcomes for libertarians.

Further, there are quite a few libertarian bloggers (not like me, famous ones... With talent) and neo-libertarian bloggers. It's quite common. After all, they're online, big audience, plenty to say, nowhere else to say it, blogs make perfect sense for libertarians.

Now, I think I've somewhat established the importance of the Internet activists to libertarianism. It is an important but under-recognized core of the party, it is our convention or our clubhouse, this is where we hang out, the Internet, and the degree to which we are activated on the Internet shows the degree to which all libertarians are activated. After all, there are so few of us around that very-active online libertarians are an extremely large section (perhaps a majority) of all US libertarians. So if you're getting good response with online libertarians, chances are it's a great indication of strong support from the entire libertarian contingent.

When Badnarik's website consistently beats Nader for the span of over 2 and a half months, that says that libertarians online are actively engaged in his website. And it's not paltry, either. The average visitor to Badnarik.org had, on July 17th, 9.4 page views. The average page views the same day for Kerry was 3.2, for Bush 2.5, Nader 2.3, and Peroutka 4.3. This means that people don't just click up page ranks, they actively read the site material, biography, schedule, issue papers, blog entries, etc. Meanwhile, most people come to Nader's site and click a couple times, perhaps looking for some information, then click off to another site.

Further, online polls, surveys and mock elections are being swamped with libertarians voters. Dave Leip's Election Atlas runs a mock election and Badnarik has for a number of weeks been leading in both the popular vote and electoral vote - at one time winning 2 out of every 3 electoral votes. While this is obviously not going to be the actual result, it is indicative of widespread support, mobilization and effort by libertarians to get out the vote and support Badnarik. There are other examples, such as a North Carolina news outlet running an online straw poll that included Badnarik. As soon as it appeared on the Badnarik blog he shot into first place, and as of right now is in the lead with 49% to Bush's 36% and Kerry's 14%. Nobody thinks Badnarik will carry the entire state of North Carolina, but this is indicative of the organizational efforts and the activist support the campaign now wields.

Also, as shown with the Dean campaign, online contributors can be very effective at raising large sums of money. Now, while Dean obviously had many more people contributing than Badnarik will have, it shows that there's potential for support from those he does have. He's already been successful in raising money through the Amazon contribution list, and in many other venues.

Crucially, this forecasts a surprising unity among the individualist voters, the libertarians who so often complain or vote for another third party, or for the better of the two establishment candidates, or who abstain from voting entirely. Getting the libertarians to unify is both very difficult and very important. With both Russo and Nolan already working for the campaign and Russo producing the ads (Badnarik's strategy is "Television, television, television") the campaign is in a solid position, and as online activism heats up the natural passions of libertarians country-wide, we'll see the skeptics and naysayers fall into line.

But I suppose what we should all take from this is a trend. Along with the recent (this week) inclusion of Badnarik into several mainstream polls (Zogby's much-maligned online survey, Mason-Dixon poll, HHH Institute poll, and others) it suggests that Badnarik is steadily going to gain on and then overcome Nader. He's beat him online, he's beat him in ballot access, now the next two steps are to be the designated third candidate in polls and to beat Nader in media access and interviews.

It's looking like a very strong libertarian campaign, and Zogby even said that Badnarik is likely to affect the entire outcome of the race, polling even at or around 1% of the vote. I'm predicting Badnarik will poll third place, same as 1984 and 1988, will make at least 50 if not all 51 ballots, and will poll over 1.1% of the vote - which would end up being the best Libertarian campaign to date.


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