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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
music
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
film
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
tech
Latest stories from i100
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn