The Blogosphere Gap
Many conservative bloggers worry about the fact that the conservative blogosphere is much smaller, less vocal, and less powerful than its liberal counterpart. The conservative blogosphere has nowhere near the level of support that progressive bloggers have—the Daily Kos, for example, gets more traffic than leading conservative blogs Instapundit and Hot Air combined. The Daily Kos has enough clout to get top Democrat presidential candidates to attend its YearlyKos convention, while the right-wing blogosphere doesn’t have enough traction to have a convention of any kind. Conservatives wonder: why does the left have such a massive online lead?
One reason is that most young people, when they care about politics at all, tend to vote Democratic. Since the Internet is populated largely by younger people, it is almost inevitable that liberal blogs would have a built-in advantage demographic advantage. As most young people seem to be relatively apathetic politically, this is a somewhat slight advantage, but it certainly explains part of the left’s Internet dominance.
Another, perhaps more substantial reason for this phenomenon lies in the fact that it is always easier to build a political organization when your party is out of power. During the Clinton years, the Right built up talk radio (which, outside of Rush Limbaugh, didn’t really exist before the Clinton presidency), create Fox News, and established the beginnings of the conservative online community by creating sites such as Freerepublic.com, Instapundit, and michellemalkin.com. During that time, the left did little to increase their media share.
Liberals have done the same thing during the Bush years. They have effectively taken over MSNBC (with the exceptions of Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough, it’s hard to think of a conservative on that network), created Air America (which was a flop, but not for lack of funding), and started the left-wing blogosphere. Conservatives have lagged behind—not because of some flaw inherent in conservatism or conservatives, but because movements that lack political power are always more vocal than the incumbents.
A final reason for the rise of the liberal blogosphere may lie in the fact that liberals don’t have a Rush Limbaugh. A liberal searching for an unashamedly liberal point of view has a difficult time of it—the networks lean left, but pretend to be unbiased (likewise for most of cable news), and liberal talk radio has always been almost wholly nonexistent. The only really unabashed liberal in media is Keith Olbermann, and his audience is very small. So liberals (who, remember, are often relatively young and tech-savvy) turn to the Internet, creating massive blog networks in which they can spread liberals views and news. The blogosphere is, in many ways, the liberal answer to talk radio.
But if liberals are so desperate for what talk radio can give them, why didn’t Air America succeed? The answer lies in the fact that the liberal movement is not a coherent political philosophy, as conservatism is, but rather a loose collection of allied causes. Liberals embrace many movements—they support environmentalists, feminists, and anti-war people, to name a few. But few liberals consider themselves all three, and most are content to lobby for their own pet liberal cause. The flexible blogosphere lets liberals of all stripes promote their individual causes under one virtual roof. Liberals dominate the blogosphere because conservatives don’t need it.
Will this Internet gap hurt the conservative movement? Not for the time being. The blogosphere really isn’t very influential. Although the number of people who actually read blogs is very difficult to pin down, the Daily Kos (which is perhaps the most influential political blog) can’t get much more than an average of 50,000 visitors a day—which is impressive, but hardly enough to make a very big difference in an election.
Inevitably, the blogosphere will become a more influential player in American politics, and the right will have to ensure that its share of the Internet is equivalent to that of the left. But at this time, the insignificance of the right-wing blogosphere shouldn’t worry conservatives a great deal.