Social Media and Political Campaigns

November 17, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Jared Monmouth
jmonmounth@smu.edu

In 2008, America witnessed one of the most unusual and historic presidential elections in our nation’s history: there was a viable African-American candidate, a viable female candidate, and social media was used to an extent that had never been seen before.

Now in 2011, GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain hope to replicate this media strategy that made Obama’s campaign so successful three years ago.

While the use of popular social media has expanded to all ages, the youth voters (ages 18-29) are among its most frequent users. It was this same vote that favored Obama over McCain back in 2008 by over 35 percent, according to polls done by pewresearch.org, and was one of the key factors in Barack Obama’s victory.

SMU political science professor Joseph Kobylka says he doesn’t pay much attention to social media but did realize its importance.

“It seems that the candidate that is able to take advantage of it the most will win. Young people don’t tend to give much money to campaigns, but you can get them to vote,” said Professor Kobylka.

Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas, released a video on his YouTube page titled “Proven Leadership” that is more like a movie trailer than the usual campaign ad, and has had over 2 million views. In it, Perry labels Obama as “President Zero”, as in zero job creation, and stresses that he is the one who can bring jobs back to America. Two other recently released videos by the Perry campaign have likened Mitt Romney to Barack Obama and highlighted his supposedly fickle nature on health care reform: the clips have over 300,000 views collectively. Perry, who also has a Facebook page with over 168,000 likes(friends), is focusing on ads to help strengthen his campaign.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has a Facebook page with over 1.1 million likes. The page is frequently updated with photos of himself on the campaign trail, along with awareness statuses highlighting the current state of the economy during the President’s tenure and the occasional campaign ad. Romney also has a twitter account with 150,000 followers and tweets much like his status updates. According to polls on ohmygov.com, Romney leads all GOP Candidates in terms of money and overall social media support. Romney pulls 50 percent of nearly all GOP money, 45 percent of the Facebook audience for Republicans, and has had an 80 percent gain in popularity on Twitter.

Amie Kromis, a junior Public Affairs major at SMU, agreed with the recent social media polling.

“I think Romney has impressed me the most. He has run for president twice already so he’s been building up his social media ‘empire’,” Kromis said.

Herman Cain, a businessman from Atlanta, hopes to get the nation’s economy back on track with the implementation of his proposed “$999” Plan. He has recently taken a surge in the polls, passing Perry and catching up to Romney, emerging as a legitimate candidate for the 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination. With 136,000 followers on Twitter and 300,000 likes on Facebook, The “Cain Train” Campaign as its been dubbed by supporters, has also made good use of social media. Cain recently released a video on YouTube that is making waves in the media and has been called both “brilliant” and “horrible”. In the video Cain’s chief of staff talks about Herman and why America should vote for him, while he smokes a cigarette. The clip has over 1.4 million views.

“Romney is supposedly the most visible and popular, yet he’s not substantially ahead. Cain’s the only one who’s consistently brought up his website during the debates and I think it’s working,” SMU junior Anthony Krow said.

Krow noted that the use of sites like YouTube and Twitter are necessary in today’s political world, but in the end it comes down to what the candidates are saying.

These candidates are not alone in wanting to find success with their campaigns through the popularity of the Internet. President Obama hopes his 2012 campaign will be just as successful as his previous one.

In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign centered around brilliant speeches, the frequent use of the words “hope” and “change”, Facebook, and YouTube. Obama’s team didn’t even officially endorse videos like “Obama Girl” and “Yes We Can”, yet they still collectively garnered over 80 million views on YouTube and helped Obama’s rise in overall popularity. He has over 23 million likes on Facebook and an unrivaled 10 million followers on twitter. But since 2010, Obama has gradually gone down in national approval rating and is struggling to regain the momentum and popularity he had back in 2008.

“What he and his staff were able to do during his campaign was nothing short of amazing,” Vincent Powell, a former student at University of North Texas, said “It will be interesting to see if he can do it again.”