Obama taps into online army

Obama taps into online army
A Sunday night email from Obama for America hints at a long-term vision.

The post-election data efforts of Obama for America have already begun. Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina sent out an email late Sunday seeking feedback from thousands of supporters and volunteers—an email appeal that some on the left hope is an early push for greater institutional memory.  

After the 2008 election, one of the main criticisms of OFA was that the organization was left drifting, pushed aside by the need for the new president’s top command to focus on governing.

At a panel discussion on the 2012 online campaign this past Friday, epolitics.com Editor Colin Delany echoed that criticism lamenting the fact that the campaign waited until 2010 to recruit its online army to fight legislative battles. While Messina’s Sunday night email suggests OFA won’t repeat that pattern, the information asked for in the survey could also benefit progressive efforts moving forward.

“The sense [in 2008] was the transition of moving from campaigning to governing was such a huge commitment of time and energy that OFA had fallen by the wayside; they may not have realized how much they’d need it in the legislative battles,” says Delany. “At the time a lot of us were concerned about what we saw happening, and there’s been a lot of talk on the left about not wanting to see that happen again.”

Now that he’s read Messina’s email, Delany says he’s resting a little easier. Required at the survey’s outset is supporters’ updated contact and demographic information—ZIP code, date of birth and gender. Additionally, the first page asks for affiliated constituencies before delving into questions useful in determining a person’s degree of prior campaign involvement.

Messina’s email insists “feedback is crucial in determining how we continue to work together,” while applauding the success of Democratic field operations. “Your hard work and passion defined this campaign and re-elected President Obama,” reads the survey. “Now, we're counting on you to help take this organization forward as we continue our work beyond 2012.”

Along the way, the survey asks for comments on how the campaign could’ve better engaged supporters and volunteers. One question asks supporters whether they met face-to-face with a campaign organizer about volunteering, while others ask about their role on neighborhood teams or what areas they hope to receive training on in the future— that question includes GOTV tools like VAN and Obama for America’s Dashboard.  

But more interesting are questions gauging personal interest in supporting new candidates and even running for elected office—hinting at a long term vision from OFA.

“If their intent is to broaden this into institutions that can really further a progressive movement, and not just Barack Obama the candidate, it could be a really important thing for politics in the country for years to come,” Delany says. “It could also really become an important part of President Obama’s legacy because he only has four more years at the top; he’s a young man.”

Delany notes that OFA has never been “terribly forthcoming” with information in the past. But he argues that sharing its findings with the progressive community would be beneficial for the future of the party.

“It’s all going to come down to how many resources they devote to keeping the structure alive and volunteers engaged,” he says.  

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