A record-breaking 46 percent of Americans have used the Internet to get political news and share their thoughts about the campaign this year, according to a survey released today by the Pew Research Center.
And while Sen. John McCain may have been the first major presidential candidate to harness the power of the Internet for fundraising in 2000, the survey finds Sen. Barack Obama is winning the online political war in 2008.
"People are using technology in more intense and enthusiastic ways for him," Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Center's Internet & American Life Project, said of Obama.
The survey found 65 percent of wired Obama supporters said they got political news and information on the Internet this year compared with 56 percent of McCain backers.
Online Democrats are outpacing wired Republicans in contributing money online, using social networking sites for political reasons, watching online video and signing up for campaign emails — largely because more tech-savvy young people are Democrats.
The latest Pew survey said younger online political users tilt in favor of the Democrats in general and Obama in particular.
Those findings are of no surprise to Chris Hughes, 24, one of Obama's brightest foot soldiers in his online political campaign.
"Our Web presence has just been a very high priority for this campaign from Day One," Hughes said from his office in Obama's Chicago headquarters in a telephone interview with ABC News.
Four years ago, Hughes was a Harvard sophomore, helping his two roommates develop what would become Facebook Inc., the popular social networking Web site.
But when he learned Obama was running for president a year and a half ago, Hughes left Silicon Valley and put his Facebook career on hold to focus on what he calls "online grassroots organizing" for the campaign.
"Barack Obama and his past as a community organizer has meant that he'd internalized the real power of everyday people to change the political process when they get involved," Hughes said. "He's understood from the very beginning that the Internet makes it easier for everyday people to find ways to support the campaign, to get involved."
Hughes is part of a 20-person new media team led by Obama campaign Internet director Joe Rospars, a key Internet staffer for Gov. Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid.
He's focused on connecting Obama supporters on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and primarily, on my.barackobama.com, where people can learn about Obama, create campaign events, and share thoughts about the campaign with each other and the campaign.
But unlike Facebook, Hughes said Obama's Web site is "less about building up a community of people" and "more about investing those people who already support us with the tools for them to reach out in real life and real communities to their friends, their family, their neighbors to bring them into the campaign."
Hughes lately has been working to coordinate online a "Day of National House Parties" for Obama on June 28.
"The idea here is that we're finally done with the primary, and it's time to bring together people who might have been Clinton supporters, independents or disaffected Republicans, and the best way to get them into the campaign is to have Obama supporters reach out to them directly and have them at their house."