Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

S. Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D.


Internet, Social movements, Politics, Elections, Howard Dean


The project examines the effects of Internet use by the social movement organization (SMO) Dean for America/Democracy for America (DFA). This study describes the relationship between Internet usage and SMO beliefs, organization, causes, reasons for joining, strategies, reactions, and effects. Dean for America started out with few resources or supporters, and was seen as an unlikely contender for the 2004 presidential campaign. From its humble beginnings, it skyrocketed from being virtually unknown to frontrunner status in the span of a year. After Howard Dean withdrew from the race in February 2004, Dean for America transformed itself into Democracy for America, which corresponded with a shift in focus from the presidential election to local elections and a variety of local progressive causes. DFA's belief in the necessity of being politically active generally prevents Internet discussions taking the place of offline activism.

Their organizational structure allows groups and members to initiate their own activist projects without relying upon a hierarchy. DFA was caused by the discontent of a politically progressive, Internet-savvy population being channeled into blogs and Meetups (that is, offline meetings arranged by based on a shared interest). These innovations led to grassroots support and fundraising that would have been impossible without the Internet, which in turn led to media coverage and high member morale. However, Dean for America was largely derailed by negative framing of Dean by political rivals and mainstream media. The failure of the Dean campaign did not mean the death of DFA as some predicted, but it did mean a drop in membership due to disillusionment. Because politics is a domain of specialized knowledge, DFA's membership growth has been slow due to having a limited base to draw from.

DFA was effective in making critique of the Iraq War more mainstream and in making the Internet a more serious consideration in electoral politics, but also shows that existing systems of power that Internet-using SMOs enter into social relationships with have a mediating influence on their ability to effect social change.