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Bentley Study Analyzes e-Campaign for 2004 Presidential Elections and Clark Meetups

January 11, 2004

WALTHAM, Mass.- A second set of results from the Bentley College study, "The e-Campaign for Presidential Election 2004," provides insight into who makes up Wesley Clark's presidential campaign grassroots supporters and what draws them to the Meetup phenomenon. The study, conducted by Professor of Government Christine B. Williams with support from Jason Davis of the Clark volunteer network, surveyed 108 participants from 22 states plus the District of Columbia who attended the December 2003 Meetup. A third nationwide survey of all presidential candidates' campaign Meetups is anticipated for February.

"This study is the first to document both who these people are, and how they are thinking about and using Meetup to mobilize a presidential candidate's campaign from the grassroots," says Williams.

The Bentley study's findings show some similarities between Clark and Dean Meetup attendees:

  • Demographically, they are mostly Caucasian, middle aged, middle income professionals.
  • They see themselves as strong Democrats, either liberal or progressive in their ideology, who voted for Al Gore in 2000.
  • They had favorable views of Bill Bradley and John McCain, but not Ross Perot.
  • They are politically active. Most vote in every election. About half have donated money as well as volunteer time to multiple candidates in several elections.
  • They follow the news every day in every medium: newspapers, television, radio and the Internet. Almost all report that they use the Internet several times a day.

The study also finds some differences between Clark and Dean Meetup attendees:

  • Demographically, Clark attendees are older than the respondents to the Dean Meetup survey, have higher incomes, are more diverse racially and ethnically, include more married couples and fewer singles, plus a significant number who have current or past military service.
  • Clark attendees hold a less favorable view of Ralph Nader, and were less likely to have voted for him or to have voted for Bradley in the 2000 Democratic primaries.
  • Clark attendees have a higher level of political activity and larger proportion engaged in political activities of various kinds.
  • Clark attendees are even more avid Internet users than Dean attendees.

The Internet is the key to mobilizing this constituency. The largest number of attendees found out about their first Meetup through the Clark04 or Dean for America web sites. The study also finds:

  • Clark attendees were more likely than Dean attendees to find out about the December Meetup through Internet sources. Just over 20% of both groups mentioned an invitation from someone they knew. In October, Dean attendees also reported more personal invitations to their first Meetup.
  • In both groups, about one-third are attending their first Meetup and about one-fifth have attended more than three Meetups.
  • About half of Clark attendees were already involved in the campaign before they decided to attend a Meetup, while fewer Dean attendees were previously involved prior to attending. Both groups said they would become more involved in the campaign and more supportive of their candidate as a result of the Meetup experience.

Jason Davis notes, "We used the Draft Clark websites to drive attendance at Meetups before the campaign formally began. Now we have successfully transferred that to the campaign. This demonstrates that Meetups can be used both by grassroots networks and campaign staff, and that the two can work together."

A 33 year-old male in the service sector who attended the Somerville, MA venue "wanted to meet other supporters, find out about local campaign efforts, and check out the mood and tone of the campaign." A 64 year-old female who has been temporarily laid off attended the Honolulu, HI Meetup "to learn more about Clark and to find out what I can do besides send money I cannot afford to give to help get him elected."

"Meetup is like a successful dating service. It helps people who have the same interests and goal find one other, and arranges times and places for them to get together," adds Williams. "While the Internet and handle the logistics, people then interact face to face and generate the energy and passion, which are the life blood of successful primary campaigns."

A 67 year-old female from Costa Mesa, CA comments, "I love the concept of making the 'impersonal' Internet more personal and connective. For political purposes it is a great way to bring in new people we've never met." A 43 year-old male from Sioux Falls, SD says, "I like that I could make contact with other like minded people and having the opportunity to brainstorm ideas with them."

Does Meetup have a future?

"Candidates Clark and Dean have embraced the Internet and are making Meetup an important and effective campaign tool in their 2004 presidential bids," notes Williams. "Their results could have as much impact on the conduct of future elections as John F. Kennedy's honing of television for use as a campaign tool in 1960."

This arena is not new to Williams. The October 2003 study analyzed Dean Meetups. She also 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.

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