Andrew Keen on New Media

It won't be the internet wot won it as old media set the pace in US poll

What has been the greatest shock so far in the American election? Barack Obama's meteoric Iowan rise? Hillary Clinton's tearful comeback in New Hampshire? John McCain's resurrection in South Carolina?

No. The biggest surprise thus far has been the relative insignificance of the internet in determining the outcome of the election. New media joins Republican flops Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani as the most dramatic no-shows in the nascent 2008 presidential race.

American new-media pundits predicted that 2008 would be the "YouTube election" – a poll decided by the bloggers, the social networkers and the other authors of user-generated content on the internet. It was supposed to be the election in which a successful candidate would emerge on the back of a democratic digital tsunami, raising huge sums of money and mobilising millions of supporters online.

Most of all, 2008 was supposed to be the year that traditional mainstream media would take a back seat to new media as the decisive force in shaping American public opinion about the election.

It certainly hasn't been a YouTube election. Pundits predicted a flood of so-called "macaca moments" – named after a 2006 incident in which George Allen, a notoriously conservative Republican candidate for the Senate, was captured on YouTube comparing a heckler of Indian descent to a "macaca" monkey – when "videographers" would post earth-shattering revelations about candidates.

But, fortunately, such an absurd and tasteless spectacle hasn't happened. So far, all the candidates have defended their privacy against the digital voyeurs, and amateur film-makers have failed to post any explosive content that has successfully recast the election.

The digital tsunami hasn't happened, either. It's true that every candidate has been investing in new media to market themselves and distribute their messages online. It's also true that all the candidates have gone through the predictable motions of establishing a presence on fashionable social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and then scooping up hundreds of thousands of virtual "friends". But the political impact of this type of digital grandstanding is questionable – particularly as many of the kids on Facebook and MySpace aren't old enough to vote.

None of the major presidential candidates in 2008 is exclusively, or even decisively, an internet creation. In 2004, the prototype of this kind of revolutionary candidate was the former governor of Vermont Howard Dean, who raised millions of dollars and established himself as the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination almost exclusively through online organisation and fundraising.

In 2008, the closest version of Dean is the libertarian Republican Ron Paul who, in the fourth quarter of 2007, raised a hefty $20m online. But, while Paul's anti-governmental message and kooky conspiracy theories obviously resonated with many thousands of radical online activists, they haven't won the support of the mainstream American electorate. In spite of his online popularity, the eccentric Republican won 10 per cent of the votes in the Iowa caucus, 8 per cent of the votes in the New Hampshire primary and only 6 per cent in the Michigan primary.

The obituaries for mainstream media are ubiquitous on the net. This year was supposed to be the year that new media replaced mainstream media as the central political battleground for the candidates. The election, internet pundits predicted, would be fought in digital space, on the blogs and wikis and in virtual worlds such as Second Life.

But, again, this hasn't materialised. Most of the blogosphere is an echo-chamber of either uncompromisingly left- or right-wing opinion, and there's little evidence that bloggers have had a decisive impact on public opinion about the candidates.

By contrast, it has been the mainstream media's coverage – particularly the debates between candidates (including last year's excellent CNN/YouTube debates) – that has really shaped public opinion about the election.

And, of course, the most decisive media event so far of the 2008 election was Hillary Clinton's teary coffee-shop confession the weekend before the New Hampshire primary – a truly historic moment that was captured and endlessly broadcast on the traditional television networks and their websites.

While the undeniable message of the 2008 American election is that the voters want political change, it isn't clear that this change extends to the digitalisation of politics. So far in 2008, it's been traditional blood-and-guts politics – whether it's John McCain attending more than a hundred town-hall meetings in New Hampshire, or Barack Obama's uplifting oratorical skills in Iowa – that is determining the election's outcome.

That's the real surprise of 2008 so far – that US politics hasn't gone virtual and the digital media are failing to turn the American political system upside down.

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice