Monday, March 07, 2005

Now We Are Three (Percent)

Maybe I just don't browse around enough, but so far today, I haven't seen any blogo-references to an interesting little note buried in the Washington Post about a survey on exactly how many people pay attention to us.

[A] new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll...found that nearly three-quarters of the public -- 74 percent -- is "not too" or "not at all" familiar with the sites. Blogs (short for "Web logs") are online journals in which amateur, and sometimes, not-so-amateur, pundits discuss whatever is on their minds, from television shows to political candidates. The remainder of those polled were divided between those who said they were either "somewhat familiar" (19 percent) or "very familiar" (7 percent) with blogs.

Three percent of the respondents said they read blogs every day; 12 percent said they visit them at least a few times a month. Forty-eight percent said they never look at the sites, and 24 percent said they do not have access to the Internet.

(I can't seem to find this survey on the CNN or Gallup sites, but will assume the Post didn't just make it up).

I'm sure the number of people reading, and for that matter, writing, political blogs is going up rapidly. And quite certainly, the percentage of politically active people who read blogs is much higher, and among political journalists, much higher still.

But the overall degree of penetration at the moment should perhaps give pause to those who have made quasi-totalitarian claims about the collective importance of blogs and other internet-based political activity to politics in general, and to Democratic politics in particular.

The "netroots," significant as they are, simply are not synonymous with the "grassroots" of the Democratic Party, particularly if "grassroots" means the broad universe of elected officials, activists, and rank-and-file voters around the country. And in judging particular claims to speak for the "grassroots," we should remember this ain't horseshoes, where "closer" wins the contest. Even the largest and fastest-growing activist groupings are basically islands in a very large sea. That's why we have primary and general elections, as opposed to online referenda or early-nineteenth century style party caucuses to figure out what the true "grassroots" want, and that's why public opinion surveys, infernally misleading as they sometimes are, still matter.

I write this knowing that for some bloggers, "disrespecting the netroots" is the political Sin Against the Holy Ghost, the one truly unforgivable act. But the political potential of the netroots, and more importantly, the political prospects for the Democratic Party, require some perspective, and at least a bit of the humility which "netroots" advocates rightly demand from everybody else claiming to speak for Democrats. Nobody other than Democratic voters has the standing to decide who is and isn't a "real Democrat." While we can argue back and forth about who's right and who's wrong, and whose advice should be accepted or rejected, we'll never be a majority party again if we forget about the 74% of Americans who don't know a blog from a frog.
-- Posted at 2:54 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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