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The Future of Political Blogging: 6 Predictions

1] Blogs have broken the monopoly of the mainstream media over political discourse and recast the traditional political agenda to include long-ignored voices and issues. Moreover, by challenging the historic media pose of "objectivity," blogs are leading America "back to the future" of a much more diverse and openly-partisan media -- to a revival of the 19th Century "broadside" and "penny press."

2] Blogs are to politics today what TV was to the Nixon-Kennedy campaign of 1960 -- the midwife of a new paradigm in campaign strategy. From now on, victory will go not just to the master of the television "sound bite," but also to the candidate best able to mobilize and direct what author Hugh Hewitt calls blog-fueled "opinion storms" around key issues.

3] "Sound bite" politics, of course, was an artifact of media "scarcity" -- most especially the limits of the 90 second TV story format. But in the new era of media "abundance," in which any citizen can broadcast and publish at will, blogs will very likely result in more substantive issues-oriented political campaigning.

4] Although some worry that blogs are deepening the polarization and divisions already present in American politics, their participatory and popular character cannot help but engender a significant resurgence in citizen involvement in the political process and in voting. The days are over when only 50 percent of eligible voters will show up at the polls on presidential election day.

5] Blogs are not simply political persuaders, however. They are also "collective organizers" of grassroots political action that are already beginning to weaken top-down party control of the political process, erode Big Money's absolute domination over the selection of candidates, and enhance the ability of insurgent candidates of all political hues to emerge and compete effectively.

6] Indeed, bloggers' unique and unprecedented ability to mobilize the "long tail" of electoral politics -- i.e., the myriad streams of independent political opinion in America whose collective vote-getting ability, if only harnessed and directed, could potentially rival that of the two main parties -- could very well fuel the emergence of viable 3rd party candidates by the end of this decade.

Your thoughts?

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Comments

I predict (if it's not already happening) paid bloggers. If enough spin is spun enough, the herd starts moving, regardless whether from actual agreement or a feeling of helplessness, paralyzing confusion, etc., just like the media does it now. A hired blogger operating in multiple arenas would have not only the time, the skills and the resources to fuel the zealots for the home team, but also to infiltrate and stir up subtle dissent among the "enemy" camps followers. Currently it's fairly easy to spot and bait "civilian" attackers within favorite blogs, and frankly, most folks seem to prefer to spend their time with like-mided others anyway. Hence it only makes sense to hire professionals to do the work it takes (truthfully or otherwise) to influence the other side effectively. I'm not suggesting that the expectation would be to turn lefties into righties or vice versa, but rather an engendering of self-doubt, guilt, compassion for the opposing side, occasional concession to a point made by "them", etc. In other words, essentially watering down blogging in order to render it ineffective except for the powerful few for whom ineffectiveness benefits.

1) I agree completely. This is the most exciting things about the blogs. If you read Alexis de Tocqueville on newspapers of the 1830s, they come off sounding just like blogs.

2) This is already happening, and is being managed. "Rathergate" was a blog manipulation (and a set-up) of a sort we will see more of--along with more legitimate uses of blogs to create political "buzz."

3) I hope so.

4) If blogs do fulfill their promise, yes.

5) Groups like ePluribus Media are already moving in this dirction.

6) The blogs may result in a complete reordering of our political systems, but I would not yet be willing to predict anything more concrete.

Excellent analysis, David. I think #6 could go farther: think "second superpower." I.e. because blogs have no borders, the conversations they engender could evolve long-term into global political movements.

See now I don't quite agree with #3. At least not yet. America is still a country ruled by the 24hr network news orgizations and their 15 sec sound bites. Look at the 2004 election. Bloggers were supposed to make the difference this year around, but they proved overwhelmed by the barrage of money media coverage.

I think 2008 will be the true test for the internet in this sense.

The greatest impact that blogs and bloggers could have is #6. I don't know about this decade, but it truly is providing the means to the end of the 2-party mentality.

I agree with everything you've stated. From my perspective, the tipping point will come when a Google or Yahoo! News presents the topical return of each user query within the context of concept (tag) related blog posts. Google and Yahoo! News both subscribe to a fixed index of traditional news sites when providing information retrieval. This step may be too revolutionary, even for them.

Blogs have changed politics from an early adoptor perspective, but the masses of American voters who still don't know what a blog is won't become involved in this political discourse unless new interfaces are created to foster absolute passive inclusion within the blogosphere.

While much of America uses the Internet and reads blogs, there are a large percentage of people who don't give two cents about politics or never think for themselves. Until you can get those people into politics the sound byte rules. Blogs will influnce those already interested and give us more information but the 'religious nuts' that live in this red state won't believe anything except their preacher.

Sean,

Would what you are describing be "wiki" blogs?

Great! Now everyone can own their own facts!

7. Astroturfing, fake netroots movements and the like, are going to become increasingly significant in steering the opinion storm. People already troll blogs to disrupt comment threads and generally create noise, driven only by their own contentious desires. As blogs become a more important source in shaping public opinion, they'll be driven by much more. As soon as people start getting paid to blog or troll, it'll only be a matter of which party can do it better. Sort of like election fraud.

I'm curious about "fake" opinion storms and the idea that corporations, or political parties, could truly create phony mass movements.

What about the self-policing so-called "meritocracy" of blogs that supposedly tends to limit audiences for blogs that are fraudulent?

Could you expand more on your idea, bvac?

As to 4.

The Blogshere is certainly an unruly place, and there is little doubt that it will remain so.

But each word, be it ill-conceived, hateful or simple stream of consciousness, represents progress. Any thought anyone takes the time to structure into language, however clumsily, is a contribution.

We are cabable of picking and choosing our way, when the sharks arrive here there will be another place to move on to, you should pardon the expression.

One at a time, we may learn to read, to write, I daresay to think.

It will take a while, but eventually it will begin to dawn on a lot of people that a lot of other people are getting increasingly more difficult to argue with.

When they sit by the bank for the the first time and drop a line into the current, we got em!

Perfect. I may quote part of what you said for another post, if that's alright with you.

The first blog: prehistoric cave paintings.

In expanding to rule the globe, we each became anonymous. Now we're regaining our voices.

The revolt of the voiceless against the heedless.

Messy stuff. We'll have to think for ourselves and work together if we want to make it work.

bujeeboo: No, I'm not talking about a Wiki model.

Imagine going to Google and/or Yahoo! News and running a search for "Iraq War". Now picture the results interface presenting the normal NYTimes, LATimes, WSJ, etc. results except it also presents the three most reputable blog posts tagged with the same query (Iraq War), flanking the mainstream results.

Adding that feature to this step of a user's mental model in searching for information would greatly increase the visability of the individual American's perspective; in context to mainstream reporting.

I'd be honored.

Thanks Sean,

That explains it. That Collaborative Rank site described in the Wired News article is pretty nifty!

A careful concern regarding the future of blogs in politics.

The fruitful "reengagement with the American electorate the blogsphere provides notwithstanding, I am troubled by what the blogsphere may become. My principle concern is that greater levels of participation in blogs, and the importance placed on them, will result in the absence of genuine leadership in politics.

Blogs could, and have to an extent, become another tool in the manufacturing of politicians. Rather than developing independently thoughtful policy (both foreign and domestic), politicians may be/are increasingly likely to reach out to the blogsphere to gain a sense of the most 'popular' stance on a given issue. This is dissimilar to conventional polling because in this setting almost all of the individuals being 'polled' - the bloggers - are both politically active and capable of widespread dissemination, giving the bloggers' opinions more weight. Will the blogsphere be used so that a politician may ask where his people are already heading so that he may 'lead' them there?

Good point, Adam. But wouldn't it turn out to be just another data point for politicians to use in crafting their message?

I mean, they already poll registered voters as well as likely voters. If what you predict comes to pass, then they'll also have "activist" voters' poll numbers to throw in the mix.

I'm not saying it's a good thing. But it may not turn out to be qualitatively more destructive than what politicians already do -- which is, cater to the polls rather than actually lead with vision.

David, you took the words out of my mouth. Any way you slice it, a vehicle for more individuals to project their voice into the political arena is a good thing. We're talking about a richer data slice of constituent desires.

I'd go as far as imagining that bloggers might one day, if part of a real advertising model, take the struggle off-line as well, becoming involved in their own communities, serving as a citizen voice of the people for local/state government.

Well, that is once we get over the rush of seeing the power of our own voices. ; )

I have to agree with CJ and would offer this take on it.. the Internet is simply yet another form of technology which, in and of itself is politically neutral (right-wingers have plenty of blogs also, so they, along with the inherently conservative mainstream media hierarchy) and will not change the political makeup. When you read the history about the early days of radio and NPR (ie: Robert McChesney's book, "Rich Media Poor Democracy", for instance), it was said that it was going to lead to a significant increase in the political intelligence and savvy of an improved electorate. The same was said about the advent of television. Cruel jokes if said in this era.

I would suggest that political change takes place as a general reaction to significant 'external' political events -- major recessions, major unemployment, wars, major inflation, etc. These events will continue to be primarily affected/directed by well-heeled interests. Though our blogging (especially on the left/progressive side) can be very articulate and excellent analysis (we can all come up with examples) and florid prose, it will remain 'preaching to the choir' on both ends of the political spectrum, with the 'middle-roaders' being neglectfully indifferent until something DIRECTLY hits home.

I agree, right now that's the chief weakness of political blogging: it's inability to reach across the red state-blue state divide.

But political bloggers' chief strength -- their proven ability to raise large sums of money and mobilize the activist core to action -- does seem to differentiate this new medium from either radio or TV in the past.

Unlike TV or radio, which are largely passive media, blogs are "collective organizers" (to use Lenin's phrase in describing the political newspaper Iskra in revolutionary Russia).

Though I see little benefit in continuing the beating, David, I am compelled to make on final comment. Not knowwing about Media Matters is only part of the faux pas. Not understanding who you were dealing with, O'Reilly, is your biggest mistake, by far.

O'Reilly is a sleeze of the highest order. That he offered you up as a sacrifice to his myopic legions should surprise no one.

Thruth be told, blogs are not the reason people won't show up or run for office, it's media-at-large. Though I thoroughly love and support our First Amendment rights, the media has gone too far. Good, honest, caring people, who would be great and effective public servants, refuse to put themselves or their friends and families through the inevitable onslaught they know will come.

This is a national tragedy. The media is, in large part, responsible for this situation. Shame, shame!

Shame, indeed.

When even the New York Times proclaims the existnce of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq only to later say "oops" -- and I'm not even sure they admitted they were wrong -- then things have gotten pretty bad. Surveys of media trust show a sharp drop over the last year.

I sure hope your #6 is wrong. I think blogs have the potential to reinvigorate participation in traditional political parties. It would be very bad (and fortunately unlikely) if blogs were to fuel a third party.

The reason people dream wistfully of a third party is because the existing parties don't represent them. The solution is to work to change the party to be more representative. Blogs represent a great opportunity to do this.

All third parties do is to draw votes away from the party that is closest to one's point of view, guaranteeing the other party's victory. For example, to the extent that people actually voted for Nader, they drew votes (or potential votes) away from environmentalist candidates.

Third parties are almost always a disaster for those voting for them, with the extremely rare case of a party being replaced by another party, as the Whigs were by the Republicans in the early-mid 19th century. It hasn't happened since then, and it isn't likely to happen any time soon.

You're certainly right that this is how third parties have functioned most of the time, Shargash.

But the main point is that blogging will enable a stronger voice and greater participation in politics by ordinary citizens. However that is manifested, ultimately it will be a good thing for democracy, I believe.

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