The Imperfect Politics of the Internet

Despite what you may have read, the Internet hasn't yet become the be-all, end-all for political campaigns.

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[Related: How Jared Polis Won the Internet]

Posts with ample "likes" and a candidate with lots of fans mean a larger pool from which to draw donations. TheObama team'45 million likes during the 2012 campaign helped convert small donations into huge sums. Of the approximate $1 billion Obama's team raised this election, about $690 million came in digitally, according to Time. In 2008, it raised about $500 million online.

Get-out-the-vote efforts are also effective forms of mobilization on the Internet. A large study on the effects of Facebook on Election Day turnout in the 2010 election found the site was a very effective get-out-the-vote tool.

The self-described "61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization" found that users who saw a randomly distributed "I Voted" banner with pictures of their friends who voted underneath it were four times more likely to vote themselves.

The Obama campaign's tech team leaned heavily on that peer pressure strategy. It sent direct messages to influential Twitter followers and sent Facebook messages to people telling them which of their friends hadn't voted, according to one profile. That was part of a greater strategy in 2012 that resulted in an unexpected increase in turnout of young voters, the predominant users of social networks.

[Related: Obama Makes Last Minute Plea to Reddit Users]

That success, and the continuing improvement of technology in campaigns, will likely mean more and more money dedicated for digital use in future elections.

"The Obama campaign and Democratic super PACs spent 20 to 25 percent of their money online this year, and for Republicans, that was somewhere around 10 percent" Ruffini says. "But in four years, it's going to be for every 2 dollars you spend on TV, you're going to want to spend 1 dollar online."

To reach those levels, campaigns will have to find a way to do more than mobilize supporters, says Ruffini.

"The next big nut to crack is persuasion," he says. "It's going to have to get good, because fewer people are watching TV."

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  • Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at scline@usnews.com.