They say all politics are local. But that doesn’t seem to include local online political advertising. The political pros at E-Voter Institute meeting held this morning in La Jolla said ad patterns are likely to shift in 2008 due to the early primaries, but they don’t expect local outlets or geotargeted search to be major beneficiaries. The role of the Internet remains tied to political organizing, campaign communications and fund-raising.
The problem is local is too fragmented. The Internet itself is a political consultant’s nightmare. “It is all about experimentation and loss of control,” said one.
While cable, TV and radio stations can expect an early bonanza from political advertising, local Internet sites remains too fragmented. And SEO and SEM oriented around issues and candidates, which can put it all together, haven’t been seriously considered. John Edwards’ campaign, for instance, was said to be the savviest user of the Internet among announced candidates, but one consultant complained that all its energy is dissipated on tiny Web 2.0 services.
E-Voter Institute, run by political pro Karen A.B. Jagoda, is a nonpartisan group that regularly meets to assess new technologies for elections. The meeting was sponsored by Yahoo! and The San Diego Union Tribune’s SignOn San Diego, which expects local online advertising will eventually be a growth area.
This meeting’s focus was on the likely impact of “Super Duper Tuesday” on Feb. 5, 2008, when eight states have settled on having their primary and 15 more are considering having theirs, essentially making it the day of decision. Usually, the primaries begin with New Hampshire in January and culminate with a flurry of final politicking in June, but states want to get the primaries done earlier while they still have the candidates’ attention.
Are the early primaries a good idea? The speakers noted that the candidates will be competing with Santa Claus for mindshare and Wal-Mart and Target’s Christmas retailing for airwaves. That might drive broadcast and cable ad rates sky-high, but could also alienate the electorate and discourage volunteers.
The tactics to rev up support during Christmas will burn out voters early, noted several speakers. The early presidential primary will have a direct impact on the local primaries in June 2008, where record low turnout in the low 30s is already being anticipated. Another issue: the increasing use of the U.S. Postal Service for voting, which forces campaigns to count on early balloting. Some 20 percent to 25 percent of votes cast by mail could come before the final two weeks of the November election.
Desperation to get supporters to the polls (or in the mail) may cause an even greater flurry of advertising on traditional and nontraditional channels — perhaps in local media and local search. But the flurry of advertising could alienate voters even more.
Voter fatigue will settle in early — nine months before the election, warned former congressional candidate Francine Busby (D). She joked that even her supporters “hated” her by the time last June’s secondary election occurred in her district, due to the endless TV ads, her campaign’s phone calls, her supporters’ phone calls and phony phone calls at midnight by opposing forces pretending to be her.
And it’s not as if she is a technophobe, Busby noted. Technology made it possible for her, “a virtual unknown,” to develop an e-mail list and a Web site and then manage a grassroots campaign to the point where she almost took heavily Republican North San Diego County.
Yahoo! Elections chief Cyrus Krohn, in a keynote, also said that Yahoo! isn’t counting on local to lead its election efforts. The most local it will get will probably be a polling station locater. If Yahoo! does get involved with local coverage, it will probably come from its newspaper partners. The content may flow back and forth between them and Yahoo!, he suggested. But primarily, Yahoo!’s offering a national solution.
Yahoo! is, however, getting totally revved up for the presidential election cycle and what Krohn calls “user-generated politics.” Krohn sees a virtuous circle from the service’s deployment of tools like Flickr, Jumpcut (a video editing tool it recently acquired), Yahoo! News and Answers.
Krohn noted that the ability to interact with voters on a mass scale is unprecedented. “Hilary Clinton posted a question (on Yahoo! Answers) on health care that got 18,000 respondents in a few days. John McCain posted a question on government reform that got 15,000 respondents,” he said.
Krohn suggested that times have changed since his days working on the Larry King Show in D.C. “We were happy to be able to process three or four questions in an hour.”