It's hard to argue there isn't a large technology divide between Republicans and Democrats. The Obama campaign was lightyears ahead of Team Romney in terms of its online sophistication, including its presence on social media. As a result, some Republicans argue for a greater focus on technology as a way to appeal to younger voters and recover lost support in national elections. Stuart Stevens, chief guru for the Romney campaign, disagrees. Writing in The Washington Post, he argues that Republicans need a new message—and not just new technology—if they want to make inroads:
In this fourth decade of the Internet, one of the original truisms is still true: Content is king. The ugly, clunky Drudge Report site still harvests record numbers of eyeballs because it serves up a hearty meal at a good price: free. The content rule is true across mediums. How many graphic makeovers and relaunches has CNN attempted to arrest its slow slide? The simple truth is that most people feel there is no reason to watch CNN, and they are happy not to. Meanwhile, “Storage Wars” racks up viewers and “Dog,” the bounty hunter, has a new series. [...]
Barack Obama was able to forge a powerful community in 2008 because of his message. Technology conveyed that message to millions, nurtured it and help harvest their votes. But he didn’t win because he won the Facebook wars; he won the Facebook wars because he was winning. [Emphasis added]
Stevens is on target. Team Obama had an impressive Internet campaign, but its success depended on actual support from voters, not the other way around. If Obama were unpopular, no amount of Facebook advertising could increase his standing with voters, and indeed, you would have seen a torrent of stories noting the extent to which Team Obama's online investments hadn't paid off. As Stevens' points out, Romney's problem with voters on Facebook and Twitter was a subset of his problem with voters—they didn't like him or his policies.
Future GOP presidential campaigns should take note: If they want to succeed on the Internet, they need to appeal to voters writ large. And that might require a change to their message and their policies.
With that said, it's worth referring back to a point I made last week. It's still not clear that better policies are a necessity for future electoral success. Depending on economic conditions and the public's general assessment of the Obama administration, a Republican presidential nominee could win election without making a substantive change to its 2012 platform. Whether the Republican Party embarks on policy reform within the next four years depends entirely on the political standing of President Obama, and whether Republicans see the current period as normal—eight years out of the White House isn't unusual—or as a unique time requiring unique solutions.
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