The MoveOn Effect: The
Internet’s Impact on
Political Activism
Dave Karpf, Ph.D
Assistant Professor, Rutgers University
[email protected]
www.davidkarpf.com
Twitter: @Davekarpf
The Internet and Political
Action: A New Wave of
Skeptics
A New Generation of
Political Advocacy
Organizations
Let’s take a closer look at MoveOn
 Founded in 1998
 Emerged in 2002-3 as a




vocal force in the antiwar movement
5 million members
$90 million+ donated in
2008 election
933,800 volunteers in
‘08, 20 million+
volunteer-hours
200+ locally-based
“MoveOn Councils
•32 staffpeople
•Zero Offices
Not Just “Clickstream” Activism
MoveOn Isn’t an Isolated
Example
•Founded in January ‘09
•14 staff (only 3 in ‘09)
•400,000+ members
•Zero Office Space
•$1,350,000 raised in ‘09
•Combined expertise in
technology, issue
campaigns, and electoral
campaigns
•Built their list around
Norm Coleman/Al
Franken and around the
public option
Membership regimes: This
has all happened before
Skocpol (2003) describes the displacement
of cross-class membership federations
by professionally-managed advocacy
groups.
Membership went from
attending/participating to
supporting/check-writing
This was a technologicallymediated transition. And we’re
experiencing another one
(Bimber 2003)
Era
First Generation Second
(1800s-1960s)
Generation
(1970s-early
2000s)
Third
Generation
(2000-present)
Membership
Type
CommunityBased
Issue-Based
Online-Based
Typical
Activities
Attending
Meetings, Holding
Elective Office,
Participating in
Civic Activities
Mailing Checks,
Writing Letters,
Signing
Petitions
(Armchair
Activism)
Attending local
meetups, Voting
online,
submitting usergenerated
content
Funding
Source
Membership
Dues
Prospect Direct
Mail, Patron
Donors, Grants
Online Appeals,
Patron Donors,
Grants
Dominant
Org-Type
Cross-Class
Membership
Federation
Single-Issue
Professional
Advocacy Org
Internetmediated Issue
Generalist
Three Ideal-Types
Diarists
Core
Staff
Councils
DFA
Neofederated
Community
E-mail
members
MoveOn
Hub-andspokes
Nat’l
affiliates
DailyKos
Online
Comm-ofinterest
3 Elements of MoveOn’s/PCCC’s
Fundraising Success
1. Zero-cost scaling. 100 e-mails
cost the same as 10,000 e-mails.
2. “A/B Testing.” A form of passive
democratic input
3. “Headline Chasing.” Targeted
Appeals, Timely Issues.
Meanwhile, Old Revenue Streams are
Collapsing
 Prospect Direct Mail is in industry-
wide freefall.
 Targeted fundraising appeals yield
restricted money which cannot be
used for organizational overhead
expenses.
Existing Advocacy Organizations have
high overhead costs
National Wildlife
Federation
AFL-CIO
New Groups and Old
Groups Fundraise
Differently
Data from the
Membership
Communications
Project
6 months of
e-mails, 70
progressive
orgs, 2,162 data
points
And It Isn’t Just EPetitions
This isn’t “clicktivism.”
It sure ain’t “facebook activism.”
It isn’t even “organizing w/out orgs.”
…nor is it “networked nonprofits.”
It’s disruption theory.
•Changing definitions of membership
•Dramatic shifts in revenue streams
•New tactical repertoires
•Resultant shift in how collective
action is structured in America.
•Displacement of old orgs by new.
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The MoveOn Effect: Disruptive Innovation in the Interest Group