Saturday, January 12, 2008

Social Networks: 1 Political Machine: 0

Network Weaving

The first U.S. presidential primary of 2008 is over and it was full of surprises. After the first inning, we have an unexpected lead.

One of the biggest shocks was on the Republican side -- Huckabee beat Romney. The low budget guy beat the the big spender -- shocking all of the pundits. The common wisdom in politics is that money wins -- s/he with the biggest machine marches on. Since Huckabee couldn't outspend his rivals he had to out-think them. [Lack of money frequently leads to creativity]. Huckabee chose to network his way to success. From USA Today:
'Huckabee, whose campaign has caught fire only in recent months, is largely relying on pre-existing networks within Iowa, ...'
He found local social networks of conservative Christians, gun owners, home schoolers and tax reformers. It was in these networks that Huckabee's message caught fire and spread to other networks that intersected with these. Soon Huckabee had large clusters of interconnected supporters, all reinforcing one another -- friends talking to friends.

Meanwhile, Romney and the others were following common campaign wisdom and setting up phone banks, canvasing neighborhoods and spending money in the mass media -- strangers talking to strangers.

What was the big difference between these two approaches? Huckabee was connecting to intact networks that had a long history together, while Romney was connecting to individual voters -- one at a time. While Romney's supporters were also members of social networks, they were talked to, and influenced individually, alone. Who knows what they did when they went back into their social network? Huckabee's networks all got the same message at roughly the same time -- they probably had very fewer defections.

From Jonathan Tilove @ Newhouse News:
...ultimately, for all the talk about voting being a private act, it is in fact a social act in which individual behavior is hugely dependent on the thinking and actions of others.
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