Blame the Nerds and Geeks

14Jun08

Where does the fire come from? The blaze of energy that has shot Barack Obama into contention for the presidency?

It comes from the geeks and nerds. What sociologist Richard Florida calls the “creative class.”

the “creative class” includes people working in the media, advertising, online, music and film industries, as well as designers, artists. and other, often freelance, creative workers who overwhelmingly supported Obama.

This subculture, working at home on their Macs, perhaps, while listening to NPR, can leverage the organizational and fundraising tools of the internet to exponentially increase their influence.

Florida estimates that the rapidly growing creative class makes up around 12 per cent of the US population, or 15million people, but insists that their political influence far outweighs their numbers.

What makes them so powerful?

The benefit for Obama of having this creative class onside is almost inestimable.

For a start, there were high profile music videos like Will.i.am’s star-studded Yes We Can – a YouTube sensation, watched online by more than eight million viewers — and I got a crush on Obama by a singer calling herself Obama Girl, both of which generated reams of free coverage for Obama.

An even more important key to Obama’s victory was his success in using the web to fundraise, attracting more than a million small donors. While the policy differences between Clinton and Obama were not that huge, the idea of a candidate not in the pocket of corporate lobbyists added to Obama’s appeal among the online community, creating a virtuous circle of support.

Barack is the cool candidate, the one who is young, has written two bestsellers, and who pretends to represent a new kinda politics. But is that enough to swing an election? Florida thinks it possible.

“He can bring in the African-Americans, the young, as well as the creative types in unprecedented numbers,” he says. But he doubts Obama’s ability to win over the white working class, since “the creative class anticipates the future, while the working class tends to seek protection from it”.

The same may also hold true for older voters, for whom Obama’s rhetoric of change can feel like a threat.

But Barack gets the media, doesn’t he.

Nevertheless, Obama will certainly have the majority of old-style creative industries on his side, including most of Hollywood and the advertising industry, both of which are attracted by his shiny newness. Both industries will have a hand in the key battle to determine the image of the presidential candidates.

I think Florida has something here. Much campaign analysis has focused on old school paradigms that don’t take into account this structural change in American culture and the electoral influence this new class of voter represents.

While pundits have looked endlessly at how the Democratic race was split along race, gender or education lines, Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto who has written a bestselling book The Rise Of the Creative Class, was more interested in “looking into how creative-class people were voting in this primary season.
On issue after issue, they preferred Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton or John McCain by wide margins.”

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