Social Networking’s Role in the American Political Campaign

When reflecting on the way the media presents the American political campaign the rising role of social networking is clearly a prevalent component. Social networking has created a public sphere in which society easily, willingly and frequently accesses. Using social networking in this manner allows user generated content to be produced and gain support. The nature of the American political campaigns has been altered in response to this new public sphere. They have responded to social media’s rising influence in society, which is evident in the portrayal of the campaigns, from both official and unofficial sources.

The campaign is vital because of voluntary voting laws in America. The 2008 campaign saw a combined cost of over $5.3 billion (US), but less than 57% of American’s voted. The media’s role is to inspire the public to exercise their right vote is as much as it is to win the public’s vote. Essentially the role of media coverage is crucial to the American political campaign, however, the nature of the media is changing. Broadcasts, rallies and speeches were utilised years ago, but the rapid increase of modern technologies left facets to be exploited, especially social networking sites, which are now finding prevalence in the candidates’ campaigns. Citizen journalism is difficult to control, so official sources are joining the widely accessed mediums. Because we can now challenge ideologies, prove presidents wrong and know when promises are reneged we see a power shift in campaigns. As politicians attempt to control the informed public mediums and tactics began to change, epitomised by Obama’s running for re-election announcement. While traditionally made from the white house Obama’s 2012 campaign was launched via twitter and the URL http://ofa.bo/bWjHd7.

Obama’s 2008 success did not just come from the success of his campaign but the successful advertising and involvement, by readily accessing voters and supporters though social networking sites. “The Facebook Election” was compared to Kennedy’s utilisation of television as a means to gain constituents. “Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee,” said Huffington. While Dean’s 2004 campaign used the internet to raise money, Obama’s 2008 campaign successfully used media for advertising, support, to defend himself, and to quickly and easily communicate with voters. The Facebook election was revolutionary in its use of social networking to report and partake in the election campaign using phone messaging, online advertising, and YouTube videos. His online media presence and “powerful techno-demographic appeal” (US NEWS) allowed him to connect with younger citizens, who made up a majority of his support. The power with this form of media presentation of the campaign was in the fact that everyone could participate, creating passive-assertive followers.

YouTube provides official and unofficial content on a popular, accessible media platform. Official content online allows reinforcement and acts as free advertising. Obama has 14.5 million hours of official videos and “to buy 14.5 million hours on broadcast TV is $47 million.” (Trippi) YouTube is accessed in audiences’ own time, rather than television ads which are seen to interrupt viewing. This medium, because it is sought out and is shared through social networking channels increases the feeling of involvement. Obama’s “The Road We’ve Travelled,” changes a documentary into assertive participation with links to fundraising, Facebook and Twitter without having to leave the Obama page. Moffatt (Romney campaign) says YouTube has “found a niche in politics” because of its ability to translate a message visually and quickly.

The returned Iraq veteran’s address: “Dear Mr Obama having spent 12 months in Iraq theatre I can promise you it’s not a mistake” which has been viewed more 11 million times and is a perfect example of unofficial content and the ability for public response. Citizen Kate and Obama Girl, though less serious still express public views of the campaign process. YouTube channels, blogs, websites, twitter hashtags and Facebook pages exist dedicated to some aspect of the American political campaign. It is this user generated content that citizens are contributing to the media’s portrayal of the political campaign. There are numerous examples readily and easily consumed by the public. YouTube provides an alternative mode of entry into political campaign and it is this alternative public sphere that draws different audiences, inadvertently adding them to the campaign.

There is an increasing awareness of the role of social networking sites in changing media portrayal of issues. This alternative public sphere comprised of platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter creates a different perspective of reporting the campaign by intertwining official and non-official sources. User generated content and citizen journalism in the campaign, and has allowed a passive-assertive following. Social media’s rising influence in these electoral campaigns is essentially due to the ability to translate a message visually and quickly engage with numerous voters and support.

YouTube, You Too?

YouTube joins social networking in influencing the American Campaign.

YouTube has been seen to hold a significant role in the modern American campaign. It provides official and unofficial content on a popular media platform that is easy to access and easy to share. YouTube allows any source, to have potential in today’s technological environment to shape the course of the campaign and potentially politics overall.

By placing official content online it allows for a reinforcement of message. The campaigns also see YouTube as free advertising. Obama’s official campaign videos collected more than 14.5 million hours of viewing. “To buy 14.5 million hours on broadcast TV is $47 million.” (Trippi) Clips can be viewed multiple times, and in the audiences own time, rather than television ads which are seen to interrupt viewing time.  Moreover, they have to be sought out or sent to by a friend, which increases the idea and feeling of involvement.

Zac Moffatt (Romney campaign digital director) feels that YouTube has “found a niche in politics” because of its ability to translate a message visually and quickly. Obama’s The Road We’ve Traveled,” is on a new YouTube platform that turns watching the documentary into an assertive participation though support and fund-raising with links to Facebook and Twitter without having to leave the Obama page.

Top viewing sites during the 2008 campaign included the video with the returned Iraq veteran’s address to Obama: “Dear Mr Obama having spent 12 months in Iraq theatre I can promise you it’s not a mistake.” The clip which has been viewed more 11 million times is a perfect example of how the public used YouTube to respond to the campaign. Citizen Kate is another example of the public getting involved with the campaign through YouTube.  Obama Girl is another highly viewed channel, and less serious and more comical but still expresses public concepts of the campaign process. However, even these unofficial contributions affect the followings of the campaigns.

Public involvement has also come with the production of content mixed with pop culture. The remix of Obama’s speeches “Yes We Can” combined official policies with pop icons. There are numerous examples. They are readily and easily consumed by the public. It is this less serious content in an alternative public sphere that draws in different audiences, but inadvertently added them to the campaign. It provides other modes of entry to involvement with the political campaign to the official videos.

Either way, official or unofficial, serious or light-hearted, the use of YouTube has spread the American campaign across the nation easily and has provided a source of national involvement, as well as leaking into foreign shores.

The 2008 “Facebook Election”

The 2008 election saw a dramatic change in the traditional campaign strategies. The new media platforms and technologies were exploited readily for the first time, with much success. Barrack Obama’s success didn’t just come from the success of his campaign but the successful advertising and involvement of his campaign. This, the first campaign to access voters through social networking sites, has been dubbed “The Facebook Election”.

 

Barack Obama’s campaign for presidency has been compared to that of John F. Kennedy. Just as Kennedy used television to market himself to the voters Obama exploited new medium to get his message out. “Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee,” said Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post).

 

Obama’s campaign changed the role of social networking in politics. While Dean’s 2004 campaign used the internet to raise money from thousands he failed to as successfully exploit the possibility of using the web to gain constituents. Obama’s 2008 campaign did exactly this. He was successful in using media and technology to his advantage in all facets of the electoral process. He used it for advertising, to gain support, to defend himself, to support arguments and to quickly and easily assess communication with his voters. He did use the social networking to raise money. Almost $160 million US was raised online, most being donations of under $200.

 

One of Obama’s strategic advisors was Chris Hughes, Facebook cofounder. It is Hughes who is commended as the architect to the Obama online campaign.  His Facebook page had thousand of “likes” and his twitter address had thousands of followers. He used phone messaging tactics, online advertising, and created YouTube videos. Online support groups were established and fan threads were followed. In comparison his 72 year old counterpart McCain was never techno-literate.

 

The then 47 year old had a “powerful techno-demographic appeal” (US NEWS) that proved invaluable to him in the campaign. Exit polls revealed that Obama had won nearly 70 percent of the vote among Americans under age 25.  The power was in the fact that everyone could participate.  And everyone could participate from the comfort of their own houses and bedrooms. And as is the way with the internet it was easy to feel involved and onboard.

 

The Facebook election was revolutionary in its use of social networking and exploiting all areas of online participation. Obama’s success was greatly because of the support he gained from the youth of America, and his connection with them was through the technology they were already comfortable with. He created a following of passive-assertive followers, because the technology allowed everyone to be involved without having to get up to get involved.

Introducing the American Campaign

While the debate about Australia’s political status as a constitutional monarchy continues to rage we look toward the distant shores of America to see an example of a republic. The evidence it presents can be used to fuel either side of the debate. If we examine America as a case study of a republic the best time to judge its strengths and weaknesses is at a time of vulnerability. So with the election looming this year we can observe all aspects of the Government and all the tireless campaigns under its time of greatest scrutiny and cynicism.

America as a republic has a different electoral process than Australia as a constitutional monarchy. While America can be viewed as a more fundamentally form of government you cannot admire the advantages without conceding or chastising the flaws, for nothing is without faults. It is often acknowledged that the American campaign process is one such flaw.

The role of this campaign process is vital because of the voluntary voting laws in America. The 2008 campaign saw a combined campaign cost of over $5.3 billion (US), the most costly in history with a 27% increase from the 2004 election. With less than 57% of the American population voting in 2008 the aim to inspire the public to exercise their right vote is as crucial an aspect as winning the public vote. This chaotic campaign even makes its way to Australian shores with aspects of our media inundated with both serious and light-hearted views.

The media plays into these campaigns intensely, for the communication of each senator’s campaign is distributed through media. The posters, billboards and newspaper and magazine articles were once the most common tool for the campaign, as were speeches and rallies. While print media is still a potent part of the modern campaign in recent years candidates have made use of emerging technologies and media platforms. The use of the media to broadcast rallies and speeches to influence voters was utilised years ago, but the rapid increase of modern technologies has left many facets to be exploited. The 2008 election saw many of these used, especially by the successful Barrack Obama campaign. The 2012 campaign promises to once again access those new aspects of the media, and go beyond it in its aim to gain public support for each running candidate.

In the upcoming weeks I plan to explore the use of social media networks to engage with voters; the revolutionary 2008 Obama campaign; the role of YouTube as free online advertising and the changing dynamics of the political atmosphere during campaign time due to the media.