In the new Listener, on sale from 28.10.12

by Toby Manhire / 26 October, 2012
How social media and data mining are changing the US presidential race - plus a pre-election road-trip.
A sparkling feature from the Financial Times's Washington-based correspondent Anna Fifield - rumoured to be a New Zealand expatriate - leads the new issue. Digital and social media became an important part of the presidential election four years ago, she writes, but it has taken a more pronounced grip this time around.

Fifield's piece begins:

When Michelle Obama wanted to congratulate her husband for his performance in the third and final presidential debate, on foreign policy, on Monday night, she turned immediately to Twitter.


“Barack’s steady leadership has made us stronger and safer than we were four years ago. That was clear tonight. – mo”, she tweeted a mere 10 minutes after the debate ended, including her initials to signify that this pearl was written by her, not by campaign staff.


And when Barack Obama his supporters to get their votes in early, he also used the microblogging site. “I’m following @MichelleObama’s example and voting early, on October 25. If your state has early voting, join me,” he wrote, including a link to his campaign’s absentee voting page, and signing off the tweet with “bo”.


If 2008 was the year Obama tore up the old electoral playbook, using digital technology to capitalise on his historic candidacy and encourage unprecedented numbers of young people to vote, then 2012 is the year the Democrats have turned the use of technology into an art form.


In the words of Jim Messina, Obama’s re-election campaign manager, “This is light years ahead of where we were in 2008. We are going to make 2008, on the ground, look like Jurassic Park.”


Indeed, both Obama and his Republican rival for the White House, Mitt Romney, are embroiled in a cyber-war. It’s no longer enough to press flesh and kiss babies on the hustings – modern presidential candidates have to connect with voters online as well. Both campaigns have leapt feet-first into social media as they try to eke out every vote in what is shaping up to be an exceptionally close election.


An accompanying piece, by Victoria University's Jon Johansson, relates an election-year road trip. He begins:

n the first decade of the 19th century, Indian Wars veterans Meriwether Lewis and William Clark carried out the first transcontinental expedition to the United States’ Pacific coast.


Their trip, at President Thomas Jefferson’s request, had  two objectives: to study plants, animal life and geography; and to explore the economic potential of the expanse west of the Mississippi.


This year, with a presidential election looming, it seemed  worth driving the return journey: from Astoria, Oregon,  eastwards to St Louis, then up to Chicago.


We wanted to see the land Lewis and Clark saw, to try to  imagine it through their eyes. We would be able to better appreciate their great achievement, which was, as historian Stephen  Ambrose said, to make the idea of the West “something with which the mind could deal”.


Elsewhere in the new issue, Guyon Espiner talks to Labour's nearly-leader David Cunliffe - whom the Listener's virtuoso photographer David White snaps lying seductively on a sandy beach. He insists his failed tilt at the Labour leadership has freed him to concentrate on making a difference.

Diana Balham visits a private bird sanctuary north of Auckland that teaches birds to fly and may boast the world’s first seeing eye duck

The culture pages begin with Ian Rankin, who has brought one of crime fiction’s most memorable characters out of retirement.

That, and all the other staple delights. Plus the actual staples.
When Michelle Obama wanted
to congratulate her husband
for his performance in the
third and final presidential
debate, on foreign policy,
on Monday night, she
turned immediately to
Twitter. “Barack’s steady
leadership has made us
stronger and safer than we were four years ago.
That was clear tonight. – mo”, she tweeted a mere
10 minutes after the debate ended, including her
initials to signify that this pearl was written by her,
not by campaign staff.
And when Barack Obama
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