Moving Forward with a New Administration
With the Economic Recovery Plan dominating the news cycle, it seems hard to believe that the 2008 Presidential Election was only last year. However, in American politics what matters is what have you done for me lately and President Barack Obama is experiencing that first hand. What he accomplishes in the next several months, will help set the tone for him moving forward. Americans will now judge him less on what he says (and how he says it), and more on what he is able to achieve and how those achievements align with his campaign promises.
But before we leave the election behind for detailed policy debates, we need to recognize its significance. The election was historic for a variety of reasons, some obvious and some less so. The most obvious was the election of the first African-American president. The importance of this event cannot be underestimated for a country that would have denied President Obama's great-grandfather (had he been born in this country) the right to vote. What is even more interesting is how the election of an African-American man seemed both extraordinary and commonplace at the same time.
There were other important results of the election that will set it apart from those before it. "The election produced the highest voter turnout since 1968, the highest turnout of 18-29 year-olds since 1972, and the highest turnout of African-American and Hispanic voters ever. In addition, it brought increased Democratic majorities to the House and Senate" (Young Voting: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, 2008).
Even if these were the only milestones, the 2008 election would still be considered one of the most important in U.S. history. However, there is a less obvious feature of the election that may produce the longest and most significant impact. Obama’s approach to funding his campaign was revolutionary and its success will most likely change the way elections are financed for many years to come. Obama was the first major candidate to decline participation in the public financing system for presidential campaigns because he found an incredibly effective alternative. He used the power of the Internet and social networks to open the financing system in ways that had never been done before. He did so in part out of necessity and in part due to a new philosophical approach to political participation, one that focused on method and scope at the same time. The concept allowed him to level the playing field without being beholden to the "big money" interests of politics.
The result of this effort was very impressive. In terms of method, he used online fundraising to raise more than $500 million dollars (of his total of $750 million) from three million donors who made six and a half million total donations (Obama's Online Operations Final Stats: Politics Online, Jan. 26, 2009).
In January of 2008, Obama received $32 million in donations, $28 million of which was raised online (both fundraising records at the time). In terms of scope, Obama had more individual donors of $200 or less than any other candidate in history (No Small Change, 2009).
Fifty-four percent of the total money that he raised (about $400 million) during the campaign came from these donors (Center for Responsive Politics, 2008).
While previous candidates tried to do this on a smaller scale, no candidate had ever approached web fundraising and networking from such a strategic perspective (and been so successful). His victory means that this will be the future of political fundraising for years to come. If Obama is as successful in the Oval Office as he was on the campaign trail, then he has the potential to change the nature of American politics as we know it.