Net Impact of the Netroots in the Midterm Elections
National Journal conducted a survey of 71 GOP and 65 Democrat "insiders." Interestingly, 69 percent of the Democrats thought the netroots would help their party (as opposed to 0 percent feeling it would help the GOP and 31 percent thinking no significant impact). OK, that much might be expected. Democrats are optimistic about their chances and enthusiastic about the role online advocates play for them.
But the Republicans questioned were evenly split between whether it would help their party or the Democrats. (15% vs. 14%, respectively) On the whole these insiders felt that the netroots would have "no significant impact" on the midterms.
Both sides have demonstrated the ability to impact politics from the netroots level (ask Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, Trent Lott, and Howard Dean). And the Democrat netroots are definitely shaping the 2008 presidential primary for their party by their bright line litmus test on Iraq.
It will be interesting to see how things play out. In my view, the netroots of either party can have a significant impact on targeted issues and actions, but it is difficult to shift the outcome of elections. The netroots do a great job of amplifying messaging among themselves and among many talking heads, but they don’t have the same reach as talk radio or other media, for instance.
With the public relatively evenly split between the parties, elections come down to turnout. The netroots don’t yet have the ability to have that significant an impact in that regard, since most activities they undertake to stir up one side also aggravates the other, causing it to be a net wash.
It’s differnet on issues, however, as they are never decided by popular votes. Politicians are more likely to be responsive to the isolated echo chambers they pay attention to. So a smaller number of voices can have a greater impact.
One thing to watch for, however, is whether the netroots may have an indirect impact on the midterms. The vocal criticism of the netroots — especially those hardliners who stomach no dissent — could cause some politicians to adopt more hardline positions than they might otherwise. This could, in turn, impact turnout by alienating (or in isolated cases energizing) potential voters.