Does Dean's poor showing in Iowa mean that all that talk about Internet-based organizing was overblown hype? Or does it mean the Net-watchers were looking in the wrong direction?
A press release from meetup.com, the famous "Internet-based company that helps people self-organize local face-to-face gatherings," takes the second view:
During the month of January, John Edwards and John Kerry saw a dramatic increase in nation-wide grassroots support via Meetup registrations, foreshadowing their come-from-behind victories in the Iowa caucuses. John Edwards received the most significant surge. In the 19 days preceding the Monday night caucuses, Edwards' supporters signing up for Meetup events increased by 44% to 3,949 people from 2,751. This is four times the rate of increase for Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, whose registrations increased 10% and 9%, respectively.
In the same three week period, John Kerry saw a 22% increase in registrations for Meetup events by his supporters. His registrants jumped to 22,076 from 18,140. The day after the caucuses, Kerry's registrations at Meetup soared by 1,000 people, the largest daily increase since he became a candidate. This dwarfed Dean's next day registrations of 386 people and Edwards' additional 242 supporters.
"The Internet can act as an early warning system for candidates and their supporters," said Carol Darr, director of GWU's Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet. "The results in Iowa prove that the Internet is a vital tool in measuring key fluctuations in grassroots support."
Maybe. But when the caucuses met on Monday Dean still looked like the dominant candidate in Meetupland, as the same release confesses:
Howard Dean has always enjoyed a significant lead over the other Democratic candidates in number of supporters registering for Meetup events, an advantage he still commands. On the day of the Iowa caucuses, 180,655 Dean supporters had signed up for Meetup gatherings.
It's not completely clear, but I think 180,655 is the number of all the people who have ever signed up for a Dean meetup, not all the people currently enrolled in meetups for the Dean campaign. In that case, the most interesting question may be how many of those registrants went on to meet up with Kerry or Edwards supporters later. On that point, alas, the release is mute.