An interesting comparison from the Economist, regarding the election campaigns in Germany:
The Bavarian event was genuine, in a way that stage-managed American politics cannot match. There is a lot that is creepy about an American campaign event. Arriving early at Bush rallies, I would watch aggressive and chilly young Republican aides in smart suits kneeling on gymnasium floors with fistfuls of different felt tip marker pens, and large rectangles of white card. Frowning with concentration, they would then write things like "South Dakota Loves W" in deliberately babyish writing, or pick out the words "Hello Mr President" in red, white and blue lettering. The styles and slogans would be carefully varied, and the end results were impressive: a stack of signs that looked as though supporters of all ages had lovingly written them out on homely kitchen tables. Then, when the crowd arrived (all of them invited and vetted as bona fide Bush supporters) any of them who had forgotten instructions not to bring signs of their own would have them politely confiscated. Then they would be handed one of the ersatz home-made signs by one of the chilly, bossy young munchkins from campaign HQ. On television, it all looked very sweet.
I'm surprised I hadn't thought of this before; looking at those homespun, aw shucks signs you see in a lot of American campaign rallies, they often seem too good to be true, amateur expressions of devoted support expressed in heartfelt, but slightly naive terms. The idea that these signs are actually the purest and most cynical expression of astroturf is rather shocking to me. I suppose the problem might be that a lot of "amateur" signs might, in fact, look too professional; after all, if you're a supporter, you want to put in as much effort as possible into your signs, not just scrawl a barely-literate message onto some white card with a Sharpie. It suggests that those events which look most "amateur" (I am of course thinking principally at this moment of the 9/12 protests and other teabagger events) might, in fact, be the most cynically professional.
But it suggests you can't really trust any of these events, something I'd hate to do, because I really admire the fact that so many people in America are engaged in politics. (A hell of a lot aren't to a shocking degree as well, but that's by the by.) The sheer amount of work that goes into electing candidates by millions of people is something that most British or European parties probably look at with some degree of envy, where political party membership declines and parties more and more rely on a full-time managerial class to run their campaigns, instead of dedicated activists.
My experiences in campaigns here in Britain have been relatively sedate. I've done some campaign work for Labour in local council elections (grudgingly, out of a sense of familial obligation and a kind of nostalgia for a Labour Party with fighting for), and helped with some issue-based campaigns for the Scottish Socialist Party, a rather more left-wing organisation. Both times have rather paled in comparison with the mass-mobilisation of resources that occurs in America; a few leaflets put out, a few people spoken to in depth, petitions signed, in one unfortunate case handing out voting cards to people outside a polling station in the blazing sunshine until I passed out from sunstroke. As a massive elections geek, and someone deeply impressed by the breadth of American campaigns, I'd like to hear people's campaigning stories here; what drew you to campaigning, what happened, how did you stay motivated?