As we have learned over the course of this semester, the new media has altered political discourse in our society in a variety of important ways. The new media’s power in helping political candidates fund-raise for their campaigns has been made crystal clear in recent years – Barack Obama’s incredible fundraising success in 2008, and the role that social media sites played in it, illustrates this point well. In many ways, the new media has also helped democratize not only the dissemination of political news but the process of political discourse itself in our society.
The question of where the new media’s role in politics will go next is one that has no clear answers and which instead leads to an endless array of valid possibilities. However, at least one expert thinks that the new media might soon bring about something that most have long thought of as unthinkable: the end of America’s two-party political system and the dawn of a political age in which third-party candidates can consistently be viable candidates.
Joe Trippi, a Democratic Party political strategist and former consultant for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, is the latest political expert who believes that social media may soon fundamentally transform America’s political landscape from one that supports a two-party political system to one that supports a multi-party political system. As his recent interview with Politico reporter Mike Zapler reveals, Trippi believes this transformation will occur perhaps as soon as 2012 or 2016, when he believes that social media technology may well facilitate the rise of previously-unknown political parties and candidates. Specifically, Trippi predicts that a previously unknown independent candidate will “seize on social media tools in ways that no one has even thought of” and will also utilize such social media tools to “just come out of nowhere and raise a billion dollars on the Internet,” which will according to Trippi, could lead to the end of the two-party system as we know it.
If Trippi is correct, and new media technology is able to bring about a new multi-party era in American politics in which third-party candidates or even non-aligned candidates can be consistently viable, it will have major implications for politics in America, where the two-party system has long been an unchanging political constant throughout much of America’s history, as this really cool interactive timeline demonstrates.
Evidence from today’s world does in some ways suggest that new media technology has played a critical role in helping third-party candidates and parties to organize. Though it is a fractured and flawed movement in some ways, the Tea Party Movement has certainly become a political force to be reckoned with in the U.S., thanks in large part to the power of social media technology. Moreover, voter dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party led to their worst night at the ballot box in decades last November, and voters are increasingly unhappy with the Republicans these days as well. Indeed, at least in some ways, it is understandable why Trippi and others might conclude that the rise of a multi-party political system with new candidates and parties could occur soon with social media technology leading the charge.
However, the evidence also seems to strongly suggest that social media may actually be further bolstering the existing two-party political system in America, rather than having the effect of radically changing it in favor of more parties and newer, previously-unknown candidates.
For one thing, the pervasiveness of new media technology in politics may actually be contributing to the rising cost of political campaigns, which only stands to hurt third-party candidates and parties. The ease with which fundraising can now occur on a massive scale, in part due to the use of social media technology, means that candidates must continue to raise ever-higher amounts of funds in order to be politically viable. President Obama’s unprecedented, potentially billion-dollar 2012 re-election campaign illustrates this point. But more precisely, the ease with which President Obama will likely meet this goal by utilizing mybarackobama.com, mass-scale fundraising emails from the DNC, and/or any other innovative ideas yet to be tried by his internet-savvy yet politically mainstream re-election team, best illustrate the point that social media technology may actually best serve America’s existing two major political parties, likely at the expense of third-party candidates lacking the vast resources currently at the disposal of both the RNC and the DNC.
What’s more, it also hardly seems to be the case, at least as of this writing, that either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party have become internet-complacent. Both the major parties utilize Twitter and Facebook extensively to communicate with constituents and promote their candidates to voters. YouTube has also become a veritable hammer in the political toolbox for both parties as well: Democrats and Republicans alike and their supporters post videos about candidates or the issues of the day that go viral with increasing frequency. Moreover, both parties have invested enormous capital into revamping their websites to make them more interactive and user-friendly for partisans and curious voters alike. Indeed, it seems that both Democrats and Republicans have been taking full advantage of the fundraising and political communications opportunities that the new media revolution has provided them, which means that the advent of the new media may actually only further bolster America’s two-party system.
So, is Joe Trippi right about the game-changing impact that new media will have on America’s two-party political system in the future? Or, will the new media’s influence in politics only serve to sew the two major political parties even further into the fabric of our nation’s political system for many years to come? Ultimately, Trippi’s argument to me is interesting but not entirely convincing. But, especially after this semester, I can certainly see why he believes in the revolutionary power of the new media, and so I hope that others might be able to convince me that the new media’s influence may well yield a robust multi-party political system in the future as Trippi seems to believe.