Right and Left: The Online Gap
Everyone knows that the Right has a significant Internet disadvantage. It’s hardly worth pointing out the Huffington Post’s massive traffic levels, or the fact that the Daily Kos gets many more readers than any conservative blog. (The only conservative site that can even compare is National Review Online, which is as much online magazine as blog). Barack Obama has energized the Internet—he had gotten huge amounts of money from online donors, while McCain has struggled to keep anything like an even footing. On Facebook, John McCain has 177,422 supporters. Barack Obama has 1,192,922, nearly seven times McCain’s number, and the highest of any public figure in the world. (Although it should be noted that many, perhaps most, of Facebook’s users don’t vote, and people popular on Facebook aren’t necessarily particularly well loved in the real world. The Chris Moyles Show ranks third, and it isn’t exactly breaking records out here).
In an interesting Politico piece, Jonathan Martin points out that what online presence the Right does have focuses almost solely on commentary, while liberal sites (such as HuffPo) concentrate on reporting as well. This allows the liberal online media to drive stories, while the conservative media is forced to react. For example, HuffPo brought attention to some of John Hagee’s controversial remarks, which eventually forced McCain to renounce him. This sort of reporting doesn’t happen on conservative blogs—they almost always focus on stories already broken by other sources.
In addition to its superior reporting, the online Left also has a significant edge in political strategy. The Daily Kos holds an annual YearlyKos, where Democrat strategists and politicians meet. The Daily Kos also focuses on tight races, giving embattled Democrats financial and moral support. Conservative blogs have nothing like this—they organize a few rallies, but nothing with any real impact.
In fact, most conservative websites, with a few exceptions, seem a bit dated and behind-the-curve. (National Review Online and the Drudge Report are exceptions). The conservative blogosphere isn’t exactly an interactive place—many conservative blogs don’t allow comments, and there are very, very few with an active comment community. Visiting the Daily Kos or the Huffington Post are interactive experiences—one can both read commentary and exchange views. The conservative blogosphere is generally a one-way information street.
The Left has a massive, nigh insurmountable (at least for the foreseeable future) Internet advantage. So is the Right in serious trouble? Not really. The Internet is really not all that influential. The Huffington Post is by far the largest political blog—and according to Nielsen Online, it gets under four million unique view a month. Bill O’Reilly gets three million viewers a day. Network news gets around six million a night. Rush Limbaugh gets twenty million a week. The Internet has influence—but its influence is insignificant when compared to other media outlets.
The Left’s cyberdominance is nothing to worry about. Eventually, conservatives will start effectively utilizing the Internet, and the web gap will close quickly. The web is a fast changing place; things can change almost immediately. Eventually, the Right will regain a significant share of the Internet.
The reason the Right has not done so yet is because it hasn’t had to. From a media standpoint, conservatives are in good position—they can get news and analysis from talk radio, Fox News, Drudge, or conservative blogs (which, thought they lag behind liberals blogs in terms of traffic, are still influential). There is no pressing need to build an extensive online community—there are more than enough communities for conservatives to join. At some point in the future, the web may become important enough that conservatives will be forced to build an extensive online community—but for the present, domination of the Internet is not crucial.