It would be ignorant to think that social media does not play a crucial role in the life of 21st century Americans. With more than 955 million users on Facebook and 4 billion videos watched a day on YouTube, the numbers are hard to argue. The important question is what percent of those staggering numbers are restricted to watching funny cat videos and playing childish games, and what percent use these wonders of modern technology to gain pertinent knowledge, share a view or a goal, and accomplish something beyond poking around on an ex’s Facebook page.
“In theory, digital technology allows leaders to engage in a new level of “conversation” with voters, transforming campaigning into something more dynamic, more of a dialogue, than it was in the 20th century.”
Specifically, we must look at the effect these fairly new technological mediums have on politics, the choices we make when choosing who we want to represent us in Office, and perhaps more importantly, how those looking to be elected use these mediums on the electorate. For the purposes of this post, lets examine the current president, Barack Obama.
To begin, let us look at the 2008 presidential election which was one of, if not the most, groundbreaking in American history, boosting a 64.1 percent turnout rate making it the most participated in election in the last 100 years. Obama would coast to victory by an astounding margin and in the process change some of the fundamental processes involved in campaigning.
During the election in question (2008), Obama collected millions of Facebook “likes,” whereas McCain never received more than 650,000. Obama also received many times more website traffic and more play in about every technological medium. These technologies, though integral in many people’s lives, are heavily populated by the young (almost half of all Facebook users are between 18 to 30 years old). Interestingly Obama would received 66% of the under 30 vote.
In the current election, as he was in the 2008 election, Obama and his campaign have been four times as active as his opponent on nearly twice as many platforms and again holds a substantial lead in Facebook “likes’. He also holds a strong lead in the younger demographic.
It goes without saying that getting the under 30 vote is important but social media is not just for the young. Using media is nothing new for politics and politicians; be it through the mail, with posters and badges, or through television, campaigns have been won and lost due to smartly crafted slogans or ruthless attack ads. However, in recent years the Internet has become the spearhead of 21st century campaigning (Romney,Paul, Obama). Websites like these are becoming crucial in fundraising by giving people easy access to donating even as little as a dollar and an easy way to keep up with the goings on of the complicated campaign trail. Perhaps more important than these websites are the social media tools which in many cases provide people with a more intimate view of the candidates.
“It’s mindblowing to think about how the times have changed. No longer does a candidate have to rely solely upon street teams going door-to-door to gather support. No longer do they have to count on TV ads resonating over time. In today’s world, anyone can quickly hop over to Obama’s YouTube channel and have instant access to a library of videos about the candidate and the campaign efforts. Over 77,000 subscribers and 15 million channel views. Maybe relatively small compared to TV ad reach, but remember, YouTube is FREE and the call to action is a click away! With one new upload, the team has instant engagement of 77,000, incredible viral potential and the Insights to measure, analyze and adjust their tactics as needed to continue to increase online engagement.”
Just like checking up on an old friend, anyone can go to a politician’s Facebook page and see what they have been up to. In only a few minutes, an interested party can see what city Obama is currently in, check out a few photos of him and his family, or even see that he enjoys playing basketball in his free time. These pieces of information—as topical at they are—brought these politicians down to earth, politicians, who in years past, were mostly just seen as well demagogue.
In the 2008 election, (sometimes referred to as the “Facebook election”), the Obama campaign made this a focal point. Hiring a former Facebook executive as a campaign consultant and promoting his social media pages in commercials and at campaigning events, he gained millions of followers. Obama was not alone in his use of these social and technological mediums. In 2008, McCain, and today Romney, also made an effort to gain online followers, but for them it just never clicked. This is where social media goes beyond being just a platform—like a poster—and becomes a tool like a surgical scalpel. As a guy, Obama, has a lot more to connect him with the youthful vote and the everyday person than his competition; he is athletic, significantly more vibrant himself than his competition, and in many ways seems more at home with the tools of today than they are. People want to connect with their candidate. It has been said that a big reason for Bush Jr.’s success was his likability (he looked like a good guy to have a beer with); the same kind of thing can be said for Obama. The youthful vote can connect with him, he is seen as a contemporary, not the typical grey-haired dinosaur. The working class could connect with him because he is a family man. True, there are things that come out in Obama’s speeches and TV ads, but through his online presence, people saw more of him and it worked for him better than his opposition. Obama may not be the guy you want to have a drink with, but who wouldn’t want to play Obama in a game of Words with Friends?
Obama’s prowess as a modern man transcends politics; he became an icon of hope not just because he talked about politics and wanted to make the world a better place (still to be determined if he really did anything), but because he was an icon. He was the “cool” candidate; a vote for him was a social movement not a vote for a president. People could get behind him. His shirts are cool, his image is trendy, and why not? He has more than 20 million followers on Facebook and come on, politics be damned, he likes playing basketball.