This is a guest blog post by freelance writer Jessica Wagner.
It sounds staggering but President Barack Obama will likely break $1 billion in political fundraising for his 2012 re-election campaign.
While this number is mind boggling and sure to incite its share of political debate, that kind of dough being generated for a presidential election is no surprise in a world where political campaigning is now as much a war fought online as it is a battle waged on television.
In 2008, Obama made big headlines when he became the first presidential candidate in the modern era to decline public financing for his presidential campaign. If you can recall the last time you did your taxes, you may remember a check box asking if you’d like to allocate $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. That fund is the basis for public financing, though checking the box does not cost you anything. When a candidate accepts public financing, and its $84 million dollars of free money, their campaign cannot spend more than $85 million.
Obama’s 2008 campaign raised a similarly unprecedented amount of money, nearly $750 million (you can see why they declined the meager $84 million!). But this astronomical increase in presidential campaign funds will extend to future campaigns by candidates of either political party. It has nothing to do with Obama himself, other than the fact that his team was the first to use online marketing strategies effectively in the execution of a presidential campaign.
Now that the power of making yourself known digitally has been understood by all those aspiring to become president, not only will the emphasis be on finding the right online marketing agency to get a solid web presence at the start of a run for the White House, but the inflow of donations as a result of smart online marketing strategy will eventually make Obama’s current campaign look like a Girl Scout fundraiser.
Obama’s online campaign was given a lot of the kudos for the fundraising power he wielded. It’s reported that myBarackObama.com registered 1.5 million volunteers and raised a stunning $600 million from 3 million individuals. This broke with the old model of “bundlers” bringing in the bulk of campaign contributions. Now, the power of the people could be heard in $200 increments, rather than the $2,500 limit. The big story from the 2004 election was the use of 527 groups, the big story from the 2008 election was the power of online marketing as an important tool to reach voters.
You can also thank the Citizens United decision upheld by our Supreme Court for this, which will be like an injection of steroids into the body of an already conditioned athlete. The ease in which it has now become to elicit small donations out of supporters via the web is going to mix with the relaxed new rules regarding corporate donations to produce some of the most intense money-injected presidential campaigns we’ve ever seen.
In the years to come we may start to see a new dichotomy develop in American politics, where the power of corporations combats the power of good online marketing in ultimately deciding our Commander-in-Chief.
Returning to the fundraising prowess of the Obama campaign in 2008, when online marketing for presidential candidates was exclusively dominated by the Obama campaign, nearly half of all donations came from the web. If you do the math, the average donation was less than $200. You can expect an equally sizable chunk of the 2012 re-election purse to derive itself from the pockets of small time supporters clicking a $50 pledge button, rather than those bundlers mentioned earlier.
On a personal level, 2008 marked the first time I had contributed to any political campaign.
It was only a meager $20, so I lowered the average, but it was a bit of a watershed moment for me. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have contributed if I didn’t register at myBarackObama.com and received the numerous emails they sent. The videos calling for volunteers and contributions, many of which weren’t even for his own campaign, resonated with me.
Will I donate again for 2012? Probably. I also hope to volunteer in the upcoming Presidential election because I feel that my time and efforts can have a greater impact than a $20 bill (I hope so anyway!). I won’t be surprised if I see calls to action in Facebook ads and it’ll probably serve as a reminder that I can do more.
As for the political landscape, it probably won’t come as a surprise if all future candidates go in this direction. We saw a little of this in 2010. We’re not talking about a few thousand dollars spent on Google Adwords buys each month ahead of the election, we’re talking full campaigns across all social media in an attempt to galvanize the base and spring them into action (such as on Facebook). If Obama is the only one to raise a billion dollars in 2012, it’s only because he had a well oiled machine in place.
The online marketing industry will benefit greatly from the competitive spending that will surely follow this $1 billion campaign.