Thursday, July 11, 2019


I'm seeing praise for a new piece in the Washington Monthly:

The piece, by Richard John, examines recent work by a sociologist named Jen Schradie, who studied a fight over public-sector unions in North Carolina. Schradie concluded that online activism was a significant factor in the Republican victoryShe says that the right wins because it has more resources devoted to this aspect of the fight.

John writes:
The online activism of the left-leaning groups that supported public unions was qualitatively different from that of the right-leaning groups that opposed them. Liberal groups such as the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP were less critical of mainstream media, more skeptical of social media, and more committed to building and sustaining real-time personal relationships. As a consequence, they invested less in online activism and more in face-to-face interactions. Committed to inclusivity, they cultivated an ethic of fairness. While in-person canvassing has long been the gold standard for political strategists, it failed to win the day. Right-leaning groups such as the Caldwell County branch of the Tea Party, in contrast, demonized the mainstream media, invested heavily in digital tools, and mobilized online to bombard their members with carefully curated anti-union information. Freedom from big government trumped fairness for teachers and social workers, and the enemy was at the gates....

In the contest between left and right, the deck was stacked. Left-leaning groups were typically poorer and less digitally savvy than their opponents, and, as a consequence, less likely to possess the knowledge, equipment, and resources to thrive online....

The left-leaning groups that favored the public unions were poorer, less well educated, and, though she does not emphasize this as much as she might, more likely to be African American.
The Koch brothers are invoked, but Schradie believes that big money works when there are energized local activists -- in this case, the local Tea Party, as well as survivalists -- who know what to do online with the resources they have.

It may simply be that there's more ony on the right, but it seems to me that the left has plenty of money -- folks like Tom Steyer seem rather well off -- but it isn't going to groups like the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. The simple explanation might be that the givers see potential beneficiaries like the NAACP and conclude that they don't look like themselves -- which is unfortunate because, let's face it, the fat cats on the right don't exactly hang out with survivalists and retirees who cosplay in tricorn hats. I'd say the right is better at getting the money down to the local level, regardless of cultural differences.

But I'd also add that right-wing online (and real-world) activism plays to a base that's already primed for it, thanks to Fox News, talk radio, and previous waves of activism. The average right-winger in America always thinks the enemy is at the gates. This is self-sustaining, and while I'm not sure I want something similar on the left, it sure seems as if our lunch gets eaten on a regular basis because we don't have it.

Which brings me to a post from Axios about the site's tracker of the most popular online stories about the Democratic presidential candidates:
This tracker looks at all the attention 2020 Democrats are generating from stories on social media....

Over the past two weeks, most of the stories about the candidates leading our tracker that generated the most interactions on Twitter (retweets and likes) and Facebook (reactions, comments and shares) came from conservative sites:

* Joe Biden — 2 of the top 5 articles (Breitbart x2)
* Kamala Harris — 4 of 5 (Fox News x2, Breitbart, The Federalist Papers)
* Cory Booker — 4 of 5 (Fox News, The Federalist Papers, The Blaze, Daily Caller)
* Julián Castro — 4 of 5 (Fox News, Washington Times x2, Breitbart)
* Bernie Sanders — 3 of 5 (Fox Business, Breitbart, Fox News)
* Elizabeth Warren — 1 of 5 (Daily Wire)

For Biden, Harris, Booker and Castro, the top story came from a conservative site. The articles run the gamut of conservative attack lines against Democrats.

* Biden: "20 Times Breitbart Reported on Migrant Deaths During Obama-Biden Years and No One Cared" (Breitbart)
* Harris: "Kamala Harris announces $100B plan for black homeownership, tackling racial wealth gap" (Fox News)
* Booker: "Cory Booker crosses into Mexico to escort asylum seekers to US" (Fox News)
* Castro: "Julián Castro, Beto O'Rourke back Nike, saying Betsy Ross flag is 'hurtful'" (Fox News)

The bottom line: While these stories might not be reaching many Democratic voters, they’re shaping the way a big chunk of the electorate looks at these candidates and exposing potential lines of attack for Trump to exploit.
Schradie is probably right that the battle she studied was won by Republicans largely because there was more conservative moneyand energy devoted to online activism -- but it's also the case that conservative voters are primed for that sort of activism all the time, in ways that moderates and even many progressives aren't. They're always ready for battle. We aren't -- and I have no idea how to change that.

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