The Digital Campaign
Whether its used for online shopping or reaching friends and relatives on social media, the internet has become an integral tool in our society. It’s use has found its way into the Political scene which in turn has changed the face of the traditional campaign. It’s use has become more and more evident as more candidates use this powerful tool to reach their constituents. It is a trend that will continue for many campaigns to come because of its proven effectiveness in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
The internet allows political campaign committees to use a rather inexpensive medium to post commercials and interviews on websites, blogs, and YouTube for voters to view as they please. In fact in 2008 Clinton, Edwards, Obama, and Sam Brownback all used Web videos to announce their candidacies(Haynes, 2009). These candidates recognized the potential impact that this medium could have and pushed to use it as often as they could. Polls show that three-quarters (74%) of internet users went online during the 2008 election to take part in, or get news and information about the 2008 campaign(Smith, 2009). The potential viewers and the reach of these video advertisements have risen drastically. A good internet campaign has the potential to garner countless valuable votes. This poll does not just pertain to the 18-25 years old demographic, it reflects the population as a whole. The availability of this technology not only increased the use of these websites by campaign committees but with it brought in a new audience. By late October of that year, 39 percent of voters had watched some sort of campaign-related video online, according to the Pew Research Center, up from the 24 percent who said in December, before the primaries began, that they had watched political videos(Schwabb,2008). This trend continued into the 2012 election but everything was on a much bigger scale. YouTube grew to show three billion hours of video per month to the eyes of its users, with clips also being embedded upon countless web pages. (Hayward, 2012)
Posting videos isn’t the only way that candidates were able to generate a buzz around their campaigns. Along with posting videos, political blogging has also taken centre stage with expressing a candidates views and political stance on certain issues. Much of what people see on these websites solidifies their view on the candidate and their political ideology, this in turn decides whether they vote for them or not. The process doesn’t end with just posting their blogs on a public forum, their blogs have the potential to reach more people than they originally intended. This is due to the fact that people share these blogs on their own private blogs or on other public websites. The most popular means to share posts were through email (52.5%), digg (50.8%), Facebook (47.5%), del.icio.us (44.1%), tumblr (37.3%), Reddit (35.6%), twitter (35%), Yahoo (30.5%), Google (27.1%), MSM (20.3%), MySpace (20.3%), Technorati (16.9%), and Newsvine (11.9%) (Allen,2010). The result is a greater reach of the candidates exposure to voters. There is a risk with releasing this information to the public because in the end people’s motives change when there is money involved. As advertisers move onto the Web even more, bloggers may become more concerned with audience numbers and this may affect the nature of their “reporting.” As a result survey experts can begin to see more manipulation of information- more astro-turfing of the blogosphere where campaigns and their supporters attempt to create buzz that feels like grassroots support but is in reality simply manufactured (Haynes,2009). This manipulation of information would be the result of spinning news, or the manipulation of information to make the speaker seem like they are saying the truth when in reality it is a bunch of lies.(Rodman, 2012)
Social media and blogs also played a major role in the 2012 election. In 2008 Obama did not have much of a challenge from Mccain on the online circuit but in 2012, Mitt Romney’s team put up a much better online fight. For example, both campaigns had online teams pumping out Twitter messages during the debates, with Obama’s team issuing a considerably higher volume of messages(Smith,2009). Since 2008, the use of Twitter has also grown dramatically, it became a major source of communication between the candidates and the public. For example, Mitt Romney’s digital director, Zac Moffatt, told The Washington Post that a few hours after a topic gathered steam on Twitter, the campaign turned to Facebook to see how it was resonating in the larger universe of public opinion(Blumenthal, 2012).
Besides gaining recognition, another important part in running a successful campaign is being able to get donations to keep funding all that the candidate wants to do. The internet and social media is also a very useful tool to achieve this goal. In the 2012 election Obama’s campaign team used the internet the best when it came to fundraising. In a report released after the election it was revealed that from Oct. 18 until the Election Day on Nov. 6 the president raised $88 million and spent $176 million. That far exceeded the $66 million raised by his rival Mitt Romney and the $107 million spent by the Republican presidential nominee during the same period (Blumenthal, 2012). Most of the money was spent on television ads, but the bulk of the money to buy those ads was initially generated by digital efforts, including email, social media, mobile and their own websites (Scherer, 2012). Obama’s campaign donations were not all gained through large donations, it was in fact composed of small $50-$100 donations given by normal everyday citizens. Motivated by their support for Obama, some fans took the initiative through the Internet, and Obama’s MyBO social networking site in particular, to raise money for Obama on their own, as well(Scherer, 2012). For example, some of Obama’s supporters created a page called “Obama Minute” through which they planned to raise one million dollars in a minute. Though they did not reach one million dollars, they did raise $250,000 for the President.
Along with name recognition and fundraising, the internet and social media sites are a helpful tool for data crunchers to determine where their demographic is and what is the best way to reach them. Google search data and YouTube views provide important tools for measuring public interest (Hayward, 2012). By collecting data on the number of clicks on certain videos and blogs, campaign researchers are able to see what is trending and what they should focus on pushing more. This is a powerful tool to help focus on a target audience and save money by allocating their media attention to a specific group instead of sending it out randomly. Using the digital consulting firm Blue State Digital for constant data collection, Obama’s supporters received e-mails with specialized content based on their state or congressional district, their interests, demographics, donation history, or past pattern of actions on behalf of the campaign (Leuschner, 2012). In the 2012 election, the size of followings on Twitter and Facebook were compared. Obama had far more Twitter followers; Romney picked up almost three times as many Facebook “Likes” during the debates(Hayward, 2012). Of course this isn’t a definite guarantee that they may get that vote because voter attitudes can change, especially with those who identify as independent. This style of data collecting was also beneficial the day the votes were cast to determine where a candidate stood. After people casted their votes, polls showed that, 22% of registered voters let others know how they voted on a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter(Rainie, 2012).
With the access to virtually everybody on social media, these campaigns still have to comply with the rules set by Media’s Ethics. They have to make sure they are careful with the video advertisements that they put out into the online world. They simply cannot slander their opponent with claims that are not true. These committees have to be sure to keep in mind absolutist ethics. They need to have a clear-cut right or wrong response to every ethical decision that they have to make (Rodman,2012).
In conclusion, as technology has evolved the face of the political campaign has evolved alongside it. We have seen it play an integral role in both the 2008 and the 2012 elections by helping both candidates raise funds, predict demographics, and to gain name recognition. By being able to appeal to the masses and by analyzing data recorded from social media sites future candidates will be able to best mold their campaigns. There can only be speculation on how important these new venues will be, but if previous elections are any indicator it would be safe to say that they will play a pivotal role.