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Social Media Takes Center Stage in Election 2012, with Obama in the Lead

by Ali Watkins | Temple University

F Posted in: Election 2012, News and Politics P Posted on: September 5, 2012
barack obama social media Image courtesy of Twitter, @BarackObama

The crucial 2012 election has seen a year of aggressive tactics, with the candidates utilizing both new and traditional media. But amid the din of damning television ads and backhanded bumper stickers, campaign personnel from both camps have started playing tit for tat on a new battlefield: cyberspace.

We saw hints of it in 2008 — more aesthetic websites, campaign text message updates, and the slow awakening of the smartphone app. But even if 2008 was an echo of things to come, no one could have foreseen the absolute tech explosion that has, in large part, driven the the campaigning tactics of this year’s critical election.

An August 15 study by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism took a look into the new cyber strategies, analyzing the campaign’s social media usage during the period of June 4 – June 17. The study found that both sides of the ticket are utilizing social media far more than those in previous years, with both candidates active on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites, as well as mobile software. The Obama campaign had a significant lead over its competitors when it came to the use of social media, by some measures; while the Romney campaign tweeted an average of once per day, the Obama campaign was tweeting like a lark, with an average of 29. Where Romney blogged once, Obama blogged twice, and the current President had twice as many YouTube videos as Romney.

In terms of social media response, the Pew Research Center found another tremendous gap, with Obama leading Romney in Facebook likes and Twitter retweets by a landslide, as seen by this Pew infographic.

But neither campaign has stopped at the platforms of Twitter and Facebook. Both have taken recent steps in to the exploding world of Smart Phone mobile apps, said a recent TechPresident article. The Romney camp had a well-intended attempt at an app to announce Paul Ryan as a running mate, and digital director Zac Moffatt announced at the recent Convention that an “Events” app is in the works to handle ticketing and merge certain social media platforms. Moffatt has also hinted at an app for donations and a text message option, a development that mirrors an application created for their opponents.

Some voters may see this social media explosion simply as another vehicle for propaganda. At first glance, it’s easy to think that candidates are the only ones reaping the benefits of followers, Facebook friends, and smartphone users. But look again, and social media has played a far broader role in this year’s election by helping to further define and stratify the American voting public.

Just take a look at the innovative, cooperative effort of Facebook and CNN’s latest election tool, analyzed by Mashable’s Sam Laird. The election tool, found at CNN.com/FBInsights, displays everything from color-coded maps to gender and age-specific campaign preferences. And they do it all by tracking Facebook comments, posts, and tags. So if you’d like to see how many females aged 18-24 in Pennsylvania are talking about Paul Ryan, you can find it all with a click of a button. George Orwell might call it Big Brother-esque. But when it comes to political analysis, the tool is a goldmine.

So for tech-savvy Millenials, what do these innovations mean? Do they attract young voters or appeal to the college crowd? It’s difficult to say. It’s easy to see the connection between Twitter-addicted iPhone-toting college students and social media presence, but at the same time, millennials have continually expressed disillusionment with the political process. Unfortunately, that impression doesn’t change with a SmartPhone app.

As mentioned by Camille Tuutti in Federal Computer Week, it might be the ways in which this social media is being used that are not necessarily appealing to voters, young or old.

“Both of (the campaigns) are using the websites, text messaging and social media more to simply broadcast messages than to truly engage with voters,” the article noted. “For the most part…the presidential candidates are using their direct messaging mainly as a way to push their messages out.”

For a generation that desperately wants to be heard, engagement will be key. As candidates continue to explore the potential of social media, young voters can only hope that, at some point, both campaigns will start using the platforms not just to speak, but to listen.

Ali Watkins Ali Watkins Ali is a journalism student and bona fide political junkie at Temple University. In her spare time she rows for the Temple Women's Rowing team and writes for the Temple News.

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