Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Dean and Social Software

Shirky wonders if the Internet hurt the Dean campaign. His argument seems to be
We know well from past attempts to use social software to organize groups for political change that it is hard, very hard, because participation in online communities often provides a sense of satisfaction that actually dampens a willingness to interact with the real world. When you're communing with like-minded souls, you feel like you're accomplishing something by arguing out the smallest details of your perfect future world, while the imperfect and actual world takes no notice, as is its custom.
I think this means is that people indulged their feelings online, so did not show up to cast their ballot.

An alternative explanation is that Dean's online recruitment helped his campaign because although his showing in Iowa was less than some people thought it would be, it is quite possible that Dean did significantly better than an ex-governer from Vermont could hope to do ordinarily. The true comparison is not what people expected, it's what would have actually happened otherwise.

Sadly, you cannot run control experiments in real life, so I don't know how we can answer this question. Behavioral economics however has demonstrated that people think that their ability to recall something is a good indication of how common it actually is (so people believe that dying in a plan crash is quite common because they can recall many plane crashes from the past when in fact air travel is very safe). This bias suggests that Dean's ability to create positive media buzz made people more optimistic about this chances than they should have been. By contrast, the negative buzz now is probably making people too pessimistic.

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