Addressing the Liberal-Conservative Web Gap
There is a lot of worrying in conservative circles about the liberal dominance of the Internet. It’s hard to argue that that is not the case—the Huffington Post is a major Internet player, and sites like the Daily Kos and MyDD get many more visitors than equivalent conservative sites. And the difference in tone between liberal and conservative sites are striking—conservative websites usually consist of commentary and analysis, while liberal sites take a more strategic, what-you-can-do tone. Basically, the conservative web presence consists of aspiring George Will’s, while the liberal side is full of David Alexrod’s.
This worries many conservatives, who feel that the conservative movement is being left behind by technology. Barack Obama’s web campaign was much better than McCain’s—he got hundreds of millions of dollars from online donors, and created a whole network of like minded people. McCain’s web organization was reasonably good (it released some clever web ads and featured Michael Goldfarb), but was nowhere near as effective as Obama’s. McCain’s web presence seemed to be a secondary part of his campaign, while Obama made the Internet one of the cornerstones of his.
Many, such as Patrick Ruffini, think that the Right needs to shift direction. Ruffini (as anyone who reads The Next Right knows) distains punditry and thinks that conservative bloggers need to think strategically, as opposed to analytically, in order to make up the web gap.
It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems to me likely that the web gap isn’t a product of ideology, but rather of demographics. The Internet population is composed disproportionally of young people. The most popular websites (Facebook, ESPN.com, YouTube) cater to a youthful audience. Internet memes (LOLcats, ninjas, pirates) are the sort of things that are the product of a less mature generation. Even writing styles used by bloggers is characteristic of young people—short, punchy posts, lots of lists, plenty of variety.
And young people tend to be Democrats. So naturally, they gravitate to sites like the Huffington Post and Daily Kos, where they can find similar points of view. The Democrat dominance of the Internet is inevitable as long as it consists mostly of young people.
A similar situation can be found in the case of talk radio. The Republican base consists largely of middle-aged people with jobs and senior citizens. Talk radio fills both of those niches—old folks don’t have anything better to do, and middle-aged people have fairly set schedules. Liberal talk radio will never (at least in the near future) succeed, and not just because it can’t seem to find any talented hosts. The demographics are wrong.
This is not to imply that conservative shouldn’t bother with the Internet—it’s a wonderful resource, and not all Internet inhabitants are Democrats. Sites like National Review Online, Drudge Report, and Instapundit, while lacking (with the exception of Drudge) the impressive hit totals of their liberal counterparts, still have the ability to drive stories and provide analysis. Sites like the The Next Right can be effectively create new strategies for the GOP. The Web can be a useful tool for conservatives—but it’s unreasonable to expect it to be as effective for Republicans as it is for Democrats.
And fortunately, eventually the two sides will even out. As the Internet becomes more ubiquitous, more and more older people will realize its possiblies. And as first-generation Internet users will get older, and some will inevitably slide over to the Republican side. Eventually, most of the population will be online, and then the Internet population will reflect the population-at-large’s political views.