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Bentley Study Analyzes e-Campaign for 2004 Presidential Elections

April 6, 2004

WALTHAM, Mass.- Two new sets of results from the Bentley study, "The e-Campaign for Presidential Election 2004," provide insight into who the grassroots supporters are and what draws them to the Meetup phenomenon. The study, conducted by Professor of Government Christine B. Williams, Associate Professor of Marketing Bruce Weinberg, and Jesse Gordon, senior analyst for Perot Systems Government Services, surveyed 820 participants from 49 states and the District of Columbia who attended Meetups for presidential candidates John Kerry, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, John Edwards, and scattered others between January and March. Their ongoing survey of political party Meetups is now complete for 160 respondents in 36 states who attended Democratic Party Meetups on March 24.

"Meetup is an organizing tool with demonstrated ability to sustain and accelerate its growth curve as well as adapt to changing events and candidate political fortunes," says Williams. "This study has been the first to document both who these people are, and how they are thinking about and using Meetup. Now we have data that provide insights into how attendees' loyalties and activism evolve over the course of the presidential campaign."

The Bentley study's findings show some similarities across the presidential candidate Meetups of Dean, Kerry, Clark, Kucinich, and Edwards and those of the Democratic Party:

  • Demographically, they are mostly Caucasian, middle aged, middle income professionals who are about 60% female and 40% male.
  • Almost all report that they use the Internet several times a day, and more than half have visited several candidates' web sites as well as multiple political activism sites.

The study also finds some differences among the candidate and political party Meetup attendees:

  • Democratic Party attendees report in even higher percentages than candidates' attendees that they are "strong Democrats," always vote, and have volunteered as well as made campaign contributions in past elections.
  • Compared with the total sample of those who attended presidential candidates' Meetups, Democratic Party attendees hold a less favorable view of Ralph Nader and a much more favorable view of John Kerry.

The Internet is the key to mobilizing this constituency. The largest number of presidential candidates' attendees found out about their first Meetup through the campaign's national web site. Both the national party web site and were important sources of information about the Democratic Party venues on March 24. The study also finds:

  • Over half of those who attended Meetups for Kerry, Edwards, and the Democratic Party were first timers, whereas less than 25% of those at Dean, Clark, and Kucinich Meetups were attending for the first time.
  • Twice as many Dean, Clark and Kucinich attendees than attendees of Kerry, Edwards, and the Democratic Party reported that they first went to a Meetup and then got involved in the campaign afterwards.

Michael Silberman, Dean's national Meetup director, confirms that "Meetups functioned as one of the most successful entryways into our campaign. They brought tens of thousands of new supporters into the campaign in a uniquely personal way, and were a springboard for the birth of hundreds of local and state Dean organizations, local outreach, house party and visibility events."

"Activists from the Dean and Clark campaigns expect Meetups to function as the entry-point to the Kerry campaign, and they will bring their Meetup hosting experience with them," adds Gordon.

Does Meetup have a future?

  • All attendees both expressed high likelihood of attending future Meetups and rated them as highly valuable for: issue advocacy or interest group organizing, political parties, and candidates for national office.
  • All attendees agreed that Meetups are useful, positive experiences that made them feel part of the campaign. They strongly agreed that Meetups effectively facilitate information exchange, social interaction, campaign activities and grassroots organizing.

Bentley's Weinberg sees Meetups functioning differently depending on the nature of the group or its stage of development. "When a candidate, organization or cause is relatively new or unknown, Meetup can be a great tool for attracting and building a base of like-minded and supportive individuals and for generating awareness and knowledge of a message," he says. "On the other hand, when a candidate, organization or cause is established or relatively well-known, Meetup can be very useful in deepening and sustaining effort and execution."

"Meetups are more than just a new tool in this election cycle; I see them being planned into all future political campaigns and becoming a standard tool in the grassroots political repertoire," predicts Gordon.

This arena is not new to Williams. She coauthored the Bentley research study, "The 2000 e-Campaign for Senate." Published in the Fall 2002 issue of the Journal of Political Marketing, the study examined the marriage of politics and marketing to computer technology. Weinberg's research investigates the impact of information on consumer judgment and decision making, the online consumer experience, including Internet auctions, and the listening organization.

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