Note also the link to a poll that includes Ron Paul, at http://www.gopstrawpolls.com/ (where he is doing very well!)
Love & Liberty,
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Ron Paul: How a Fringe Politician Took Over the Web
(online at http://www.wired.com/politics/onlinerights/news/2007/06/ron_paul )
06.27.07 | 2:00 AM
When Texas Congressman Ron Paul entered the race for next year's Republican presidential nomination, few political analysts paid much notice.
Paul has no backing from political bigwigs or any campaign war chest to speak of. As the Libertarian Party presidential nominee in 1988 he won less than one-half of 1 percent of the national vote.
Yet despite his status among the longest of the long shots, the 71-year-old has become one of the internet's most omnipresent –- and some say most irritating -– subjects.
According to Technorati, "Ron Paul" is one of the web's most searched-for terms. News about Paul has an outsize presence on Digg and reddit, two sites that allow users to highlight their preferred content. Paul's YouTube channel has been viewed over one million times, dwarfing efforts from competitors like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. The Ron Paul internet boom has born everything from Belgians for Ron Paul to a reggae music video promoting Paul's views on monetary policy and habeas corpus.
During the 2004 election, a web-savvy campaign staff helped turn Howard Dean's anti-war candidacy into the first online political phenomenon. But the Ron Paul frenzy seems to have sprung from the internet itself. Paul's libertarian message – he is against big government, the war, and pretty much anything that costs taxpayers money – has attracted a group of anti-establishment, tech-savvy supporters who have taken everyone by surprise.
"The people who are actually working for the campaign are a little overwhelmed with what's happening," says Alex Wallenwein, a supporter who organized two of the 362 Meetup.com groups dedicated to Paul.
To many immersed in the political blogosphere, Paul's passionate supporters seem to be everywhere at once. Editors of political websites are inundated with angry e-mails demanding they devote more coverage to Paul. Blog posts that criticize Paul are often followed by hundreds of livid comments from his fans. Most frustrating to those not on board the Ron Paul bandwagon, he routinely ranks first in online presidential polls on sites ranging from CNN.com to niche political blogs.
Conversely, Paul rates in the low single digits in scientific telephone polls and few political pundits afford him any chance of winning the nomination. When the editors at National Journal's The Hotline compiled their well-respected White House 2008 Rankings in May, they put Paul in last place among the 12 Republicans running, tacking on a fed-up message to his fans: "Just please stop e-mailing us."
They aren't the only ones who see Paul supporters as a nuisance. Many users of Digg and reddit are perplexed to see story after story about Paul topping lists of the most popular news. Critics say Paul supporters disregard the spirit of these social content sites by posting messages on blogs that encourage readers to go to Digg or reddit and vote for every story about Paul. One Digg user complained Paul supporters are violating the site's terms of service, which prohibit any organized effort that artificially alters the most popular news list.
Many prominent bloggers complain Paul's supporters have tainted informal, unscientific polls by organizing large-scale get-out-the-vote campaigns through blogs and social networking sites. As a result, the polls are less a measure of which candidate has the most support than whose fans are putting the most time into their voting efforts.
Matt Margolis runs GOP Straw Polls, a popular series of monthly surveys that are posted on numerous blogs in an attempt to gauge how much support candidates have throughout the conservative blogosphere. Margolis originally didn't include Paul in the polls but added his name when his fan base began to grow. Paul now dominates the polls, winning nearly half of all ballots cast in the most recent survey.
Margolis says Paul's success is the result of his supporters' "coordinated efforts to show themselves and their power in these polls." While most readers will vote once or twice and then move on, Margolis says Paul fans are visiting numerous blogs hosting the polls and voting repeatedly, while encouraging others to do the same through messages on MySpace, Facebook and blogs.
"There is certainly a higher frequency of multiple voting among Paul supporters than others," says Margolis. "I was perfectly fine with giving them the opportunity to vote for him. But they make the data of the poll almost useless by their methods."
Many bloggers have expressed concern that Paul's massive online vote totals could only be accomplished through the use of bots that automatically send hundreds of votes. While no one has presented evidence to prove this, several blogs have removed Paul's name from their polls. Not surprisingly, Paul fans have responded with streams of angry e-mails.
Paul supporters say his success is just the results of the wild, wild web operating at its finest, giving voice to a movement that would otherwise find no traction in traditional media. "If we have 20,000 passionate supporters who go and vote in an online poll and Rudy Giuliani can only get 1,000, we're not going to apologize for that," says Jesse Benton, Paul's campaign communication director.
Michael Nystrom, founder of the Daily Paul blog, says, "What I find interesting is that other candidates have more money, but Ron Paul has something money can't buy, and that's this very active online community." Whether or not Paul's online support translates into any real world success, it is clear this candidate has stumbled upon a new brand of internet activism that has the rest of the web scrambling to adapt.
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