How The GOP Harvests Its Activists and Rewards Them with Nifty Prizes


| April 26, 2002 Issue


T he grizzled old Republican Party is revolutionizing political campaigns with the aid of the Internet. While the Net has been a powerful campaigning tool in the past, "politicians have yet to tap the full organizing potential," writes George Sanchez of Motherjones.com . "Some suggest that Republicans may simply be catching up to the digital trend."

What makes the new campaign technique appealing is the method in which activists are recruited: GOPoints that reward "team leaders" with stars-and-stripes merchandise bearing the party logo. Funded by the Republican National Committee, rewards are based on the number of e-mail addresses collected, a political strategy that effectively disperses political goals and official party positions. Team leaders earn GOPoints by completing Action Items that determine the "collateral" redeemed. Kind of like a PTA fundraiser, the more e-mail addresses collected, the more value the collateral collected.

Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot says "The Team Leader program will revolutionize the way we communicate with our grassroots supporters, and the way activists participate in the political process." Indeed, team leaders are promised an edge on GOP politics, and, according to Sanchez, are given the task of distributing informative e-mail bulletins that aim to build a network of local GOP leaders, contacts to "local talk radio, print, and television outlets." Though the internet is an important resource with the power to sway votes for congressional districts, the GOP e-mail bulletins are for informational purposes only, a style of Internet communication that has already become a mainstream technique used by advocacy groups and advertisers.

David Lytell, managing partner of Democrats.com, thinks the bulletins are not enough, though an important tool in "organizing party loyalists via the Web." He says that Republicans have been unable to supply the most important aspect of grassroots political campaigns: an inclusive e-mail discourse between its members. "The Internet is most effective as a campaign medium when a campaign's strong partisans can be harnessed to carry on a sustained conversation with its weak partisans," he says, "so that they become sufficiently engaged to actually get out and vote."
--Mary Matze
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