The New Generation of Political
“Political mobilization is seldom spontaneous. Before any large
element of the population can become a part of the American
political process, organizations must be formed, advocates must be
trained, and the material resources needed to gain the attention of
national policy-makers must be gathered.”
—Jack Walker, Mobilizing Interest Groups in America, p. 94
This book is a study of the Internet’s effect on American political organizations. Current research about the Internet and politics holds two competing claims to be true. First, the new media environment has enabled a surge in “organizing without organizations.” We no longer need organizations to start a petition, create media content, or find like-minded individuals. Second, many fundamental features of American politics—from the average American’s lack of political knowledge or interest to the elite nature of major political institutions—remain unchanged by the new media environment. Everyone can now speak online, but surprisingly few can be heard.
I offer a third claim that modifies both of these perspectives: changes in information technology have transformed the organizational layer of American politics. A new generation of political advocacy groups has redefined organizational membership and pioneered novel fundraising practices. They have crafted new tactical repertoires and organizational work routines. “Political mobilization is seldom spontaneous,” and the organizations that mobilize public sentiment have changed as a result of the Internet. The real impact of the new media environment comes not through “organizing without organizations,” but through organizing with different organizations.
Though Internet-mediated organizations have played a prominent role in American politics for a dozen years, we still know very little about their operation.