I was a political consultant on new media in the 2000 election, and here are some of my observations:
Just 48 hours before election day, George W. Bush’s Internet strategy team made a crucial decision to invest in banner advertisements on web sites in key states, including Florida. In retrospect, that online ad buy “may have been what made the difference for us in a state like Florida,” observed Mike Connell, President of New Media Communications.
As a consultant to the Bush campaign, Connell led the redesign of the Bush web site in July that transformed it from a bland online brochure to a slick, interactive site full of personality. On his own web site, Connell proudly displays a glowing Los Angeles Times review of his web handiwork, asserting that the Bush web site “project an image of George W. Bush as the latest cool product from Silicon Valley.”
Not to be outdone, Connell’s competitor on the Democratic side, Ben Green, webmaster for Al Gore, believes his team also made some crucial decisions in the campaign. He points out that Bush’s site was hacked an hour after its summer redesign. A teen covered Bush’s picture on the home page with a hammer and sickle. And when traffic to the presidential campaign web sites spiked after the first debate, the Bush web site was so overwhelmed with traffic that it was down for three days, Green told the Politics Online conference. In contrast, Green made certain the Gore site was super-secure and super-accessible throughout the campaign. On his web site, Green proudly quotes a Forrester Research analysis that judged Gore’s site the most accessible of the candidate sites when traffic demands were toughest.
In the 2000 presidential election, anything and everything made the difference. But one thing is clear: 2000 was the first truly interactive campaign. As John McCain’s web guru Max Fose observed, it was the first campaign in which supporters of most candidates for Congress, governorships and the presidency were “just one click away from getting involved in the campaign.”
Not surprisingly, the Bush and Gore camps disagree on which campaign site was more popular with the voters. Mirroring their disagreements over who won the election, the two campaigns used different measurements to determine how many visitors they received on their web sites. The Bush campaign won with computer users who accessed the web from home, according to Connell. The Gore campaign won if computer users who access the web from work are included, according to Green. This dichotomy led Connell to wisecrack that “Republicans are more likely to work while at work,” and Green to retort that Gore supporters aren’t as affluent as Bush supporters and not everyone can afford a computer at home as the Bush people might presume. Suffice it to say both campaigns claim to have reached between two million and three million voters.
“During the last two weeks of the campaign, we had one million people a day looking at the web site,” Green said. “There is no 30-second spot that reaches one million people at once.”
Gore spent about $100,000 just before the election to advertise on Yahoo and America Online.