Online Activists No Longer the Sad, Mad and Lonely


WASHINGTON — The Internet-savvy crowd that drove Howard Dean’s early campaign
is not made up of the “sad, mad and lonely” computer geeks often portrayed by the media,
according a new study released Thursday by George Washington University’s
Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet (IPDI).


The study, Political Influentials Online in the 2004 Presidential
Campaign
, says candidates, political parties and advocacy groups looking
to reach the highest concentration of opinion leaders and political activists
should continue to turn to the Internet to seek out “influentials.”


These key online players are defined by RoperASW executives Ed Keller and Jon
Berry in their book, The Infuentials, as people who “tell their
neighbors what to buy, which politicians to support and where to vacation.”
Berry said they are the people everyone knows who have opinions and
information of interest.


RoperASW and Nielsen/NetRatings did the polling for the report with financial
support from MSNBC and online magazine Slate. They aren’t the only online
publishers positioning themselves to win a share of the political advertising
expected to go online this election season.


Yahoo!, for one, late last month launched a special section on its News
channel dedicated to election coverage, and the Online Publishers Association
in September released a study that found Internet users were interested in
seeing political advertising online.


The new IPDI report defines those who visit candidate Web sites, make online
financial contributions and interact with other politically-oriented people
through weblogs and e-mails as “Online Political Citizens” (OPCs). In turn,
the report found 69 percent of OPCs are influentials.


By contrast, Berry said RoperASW research finds that influentials make up just
10 percent of the general population.


“This means OPCs are nearly seven times more likely than average citizens to
serve as opinion leaders among their friends, relatives and colleagues, and
are disproportionately likely to exert a ‘multiplier effect’ outward to the
public at large,” the report states.


Report co-author Carol Darr, who is also the director of IPDI, said, “Online
Political Citizens are influential Americans who most political organizations
have either overlooked or misunderstood. This group has already made a huge
impact on the 2004 presidential campaign and OPCs foreshadow a radical change
in the nature of American politics.”


Veteran online political strategist Jonah Seiger, a visiting fellow at IPDI
and a consultant to the report, told internetnews.com the media engaged
in “hype and overstatement” on both the upside and the downside of the
Internet’s influence on the Dean campaign.


“The fact is the Dean campaign will leave a lasting and significant impact for
its use of the Internet,” he said. “He used the Internet to energize
influentials and raise $40 million, more money in a single year than any Democrat in history. He just didn’t close the deal.”


Joe Graf, who wrote the report with Darr, added, “In general, the media has
portrayed the people we call Online Political Citizens as isolated
cyber-geeks. The results of the [report] shatter that stereotype and reframe
OPCs as a group that deserves the attention of the media and the political
mainstream.”


In data that has implications for online advertisers as well as political
activists, the report finds that OPCs are more than two times as likely to
have a college degree as the general public, have higher incomes and are
slightly younger than the average American and more likely to be white, male
and single.


Politically, OPCs are five times more likely to have donated money to a
candidate or political party in the last three months than the general public
and are very active through e-mail with 87 percent receiving political e-mail
and 66 percent forwarding political e-mail to friends or colleagues.


Approximately 43 percent of OPCs report they watch at least two hours of
television on average weekday, compared to 48 percent of the rest of Internet
users.


“Much of this may be multitasking — or leaving the television on while
surfing online or checking e-mail,” the report states. “For many people, if
they spend three or four hours an evening on the Internet, they likewise spend
nearly the same amount of time with the television on. Online Political
Citizens are simply heavy users of media.”


The report concludes, “The fact that so many of the Online Political Citizens
are influentials means that if candidates, parties and issue advocacy groups
want to reach the people who reach others, the place to find them is the
Internet.”

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