Iowa Was CauseWired

Say what you will about the results, but you can’t argue the method. Last night’s Iowa caucuses were totally “CauseWired,” if you’ll pardon my attept to turn a book title into geekspeak. From the hordes of young and indepenent voters who migrated from Facebook and MySpace to actual caucus sites in Iowa for Barack Obama to Mike Huckabee’s network of Christian voters and a GOP Twitter network to Ron Paul’s surprising double-digit finish after wildly successful online organizing, social networks put feet on the ground – and fired up a new, younger, better-wired electorate like never before.

Blogger Elaine Young asked the question aloud – the one that some us were asking a lot (in addition to who won and lost) last night:

My question is actually simpler…well…maybe not. What does social media have to do with it? Did the Twittering and Facebooking and MySpacing and Action Centers and blogging make a difference and get more people out to caucus or help spread the word in any way?

I don’t think we know the full answer yet, and the race is far from over. But I do think Obama’s showing was particularly important. All along, he’s been the leader in Facebook and MySpace friends, racking up millions of youthful followers – but many pundits doubted aloud whether that kind of light social networking around a popular candidate would have any real effect on an election. After all, they’d argued, candidates have pinned their hopes on the youth vote and been disappointed since Gene McCarty tramped through the snow in New Hampshire back in ’68. But it was very clear last night the old formula is changing, especially for Democrats. Chris Bowers, an analyst for the OpenLeft blog, summed it up:

The youth of America isn’t navigating a path between the two parties, they are overwhelmingly siding with one party. What they want is change and youth within the party, not an older generation’s status quo. They want a change in America, and a change in the Democratic Party.

Mike Connery, who blogs about millennial politics at Future Majority, said that younger, wired voters are now at the core of Democratic politics:

Barack Obama may be riding the momentum of a caucus win into New Hampshire, but the real winner in tonight’s Iowa caucus was young voters.

It’s been a long and rocky road for young voters – in the media and in the party – For four years, the media has declared (incorrectly) that young voters were the downfall of Howard Dean, whose over-reliance on an “unreliable demographic” ushered in his defeat in the 2004 caucus. This, despite the fact that youth turnout at the caucus increased that year. For the last year, we’ve heard how Obama’s strategy was foolhardy, and even from the campaign we heard that the youth vote would be “icing on the cake.”

It turns out, it was the cake.

Within the Democratic caucus, more than 46,000 young people participated, and young voters comprised 22% of all caucus-goer – a major increase from four years ago. Connery takes this as a sign:

Young voters are increasingly moving in the direction of Democrats, and tonight, the Obama campaign – thanks to a savvy youth operation that reached out on Facebook and MySpace, at high schools and on college campuses – was able to capitalize on that to attain victory. His win confirms what many have been saying for years now: young people will vote if you pay attention to the, speak to their issues, and reach out. New technologies can certainly help make that initial connection, yet it’s still good old fashioned face to face politicking – peer to peer organizing – that makes the difference. Years ago, when young people began voting Republican during the Reagan Era, Democrats stopped asking young voters to participate. Tonight’s victory shows what individual candidates, and the Democratic Party stand to gain by courting today’s young voters.

Republican blogger Patrick Ruffini, meanwhile, decided to experiment with Twitter, to see if the short-messaging social tool could stay ahead of the results/spin curve during last night’s action.

When I first floated the idea of collecting Iowa Caucus results through the microblogging social network Twitter, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Iowa is a small state, and not particularly known for tech-savviness. Would I find anyone willing to whip out their phone in the middle of a caucus and text in the results?

Result? Affirmative. Ruffini, who organized his Twitter group over at the excellent techPresident blog, found that early on the Twitterstream had a clear message: “Very shortly after 7 p.m. central time, all the reports were pointing in a single direction: a big night for Barack Obama.” That was ahead of the TV networks, who were still vaguely talking about entrance polls.

TechPresident also keeps those running lists of friends at the big networks and they turned out to be pretty damned predictive of the Iowa results: Obama has the most Facebook friends on the Democratic side, while Internet phenom Paul does on the GOP side. Number two for the Republicans? Huckabee. I’ve said (and still believe) that the idea of an “Internet President” is far-fetched, but the numbers do show who does the best of organizing and whose followers do the best judge of recruiting other followers.