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Can Social Media Impact The 2016 Presidential Election as Much as Obama’s 2012 Campaign?

Culture

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There are swathes of undecided voters who simply don’t know what to think, especially amongst the young. Although young people are the second biggest voting demographic, they consistently have the lowest turnout on election day.

How do you get to the highest office in world politics? That’s the question that every young Senator, Mayor or Billionaire wants to know the answer to.

Unfortunately for them, only a tiny minority of them will even come close to the oval office, but for those who do, they’ll have to pull out every trick in the book to convince the American public they’re up the job.

In the past, TV debates, posters, leaflets and live speaking events were just some of the opportunities they had to get their message across. While all of these still exist, one method has, over the past ten years, started to blow them all out of the water.

73% of Americans are now on social media and that’s an upward trend that shows no signs of stopping. The last US election was prominent for its innovative and effective use of social media campaigning.

With all this year’s prospective candidates spending time and money on digital campaigns, though, voters now expect engaging social content as a given. So, how important a role has social media played in past elections and can it really help propel a candidate towards The White House?

How can it be used?

Social is in its purest form, a platform. A method with the potential to reach millions of people, and in politics, that’s half the battle. Platforms lend themselves well to imagery too w which can be hugely more effective than dry, disengaging text. It’s cliché to say a pictures says a thousand words, but imagery can really help a campaign in ways that nothing else can. 

Not only can candidates use images of the campaign trail to give insight on their successes, but they can share snappy campaign imagery, videos, and concise campaign messages in a way that appeals visually to a generation of users who have an average attention span less than that of a goldfish

When it comes to social media, you have to take age in to account to. While a large majority of Americans use social, virtually all of 18-34 years olds use it. 98% admitted in a recent study that they had used a social platform at least once in the past month, so if, for example like Bernie Sanders, your demographic includes a large chunk of young non-voters, social can help you reach out to them.

2012 Election and Barack Obama

The current President, Barack Obama, used social media to significant effect in the 2012 presidential election. His spend on the digital side of the campaign actually ended up growing to around $47 million, ten times that of his Republican rival Mitt Romney. As a result, Obama posted a lot more online and not only that, got his returns with huge interaction numbers.

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In a sample taken from June that year, Obama had accrued almost double Romney’s Facebook ‘likes’ (1,124,275 v 633,597). His victorious Facebook post in the afterglow of his presidential election was a simple image of Obama and his wife with the caption ‘Four more years’.

This has still had the most interaction of any one post in history, with over 4.4 million likes on Facebook to date. Over the course of the month he also managed to get almost 20 times the amount of retweets on Twitter, which is surely because he posted 404 times, compared to Romney’s 16.

2016: The Hopefuls

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Donald Trump: Courting controversy

Trump has always been a fan of social media and actively uses it to promote his television show The Apprentice. The medium suits his campaign style perfectly, with his often controversial sound snippets that are easily shareable.

Much of Trump’s campaign is built around ‘virability’ and he shares a lot of videos on Facebook. His inflammatory use of Twitter has always been a trademark of the man and goes a long way to explaining his huge online audience.

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Trump has more followers than any of the other candidates on either side by a mile. He dwarfs both his Republican rivals on every front. Even if you were to combine Ted Cruz’s and Marco Rubio’s entire social following, they wouldn’t even reach close to the 6.3 million Twitter followers he has.

Trump has more followers than any of the other candidates on either side by a mile. He dwarfs both his Republican rivals on every front. Even if you were to combine Ted Cruz’s and Marco Rubio’s entire social following, they wouldn’t even reach close to the 6.3 million Twitter followers he has.

Bernie Sanders: Youth influence

Sanders’ social media feeds are evidently mainly run by younger interns, as the ‘BS’ signature is hardly ever left after posts. This seems to have been a smart move by the Senator as his posts have led to great interaction. He’s also seen a boost in Facebook page likes, seeing a 20% increase in the past 30 days, more than both Trump and Clinton.

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One of the most liked Instagram photo of this year’s candidates, so far, was an image taken from Bernie Sanders’ Instagram. It features the candidacy hopeful on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Sander’s use of Instagram is intriguing, as it’s not something he’d used prior to the campaign. However, it’s again testament to the work of his young campaign team, who have an insight in to young culture that stuffy campaign advisors often don’t.

Hilary Clinton: Celebrity Endorsed

Has a very engaged following and also benefited greatly from celebrity endorsements on platforms like Instagram. Most notably got in a selfie with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and received full backing from the couple. Other stars including Lena Dunham and Amy Poehler have also publicly backed her.

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If we look at this year’s candidates, Hillary had by far the most engagement on one post on Twitter to. Her post, which shared a link to an interview with One Direction where they discussed climate issues, was retweeted nearly 60,000 times

A shoehorned mention of One Direction may have been obvious and shrewd, but because it was relevant, it worked. Her post managed to capitalize on the band’s substantial social media fame by involving them in political and environmental issues that she is already very vocal about as part of her campaign.

Can it really help change people’s minds on politics?

You never know what might change someone’s mind. Something like an image, as we’ve seen time and time again, can change the world. In general, social media tends to be very insular. Voters will go online to meet other likeminded people and express their views, which are often, but not always too entrenched to be swayed by a single Facebook post.

Although interaction is great, it’s not always a sign of success. The amount of followers you have is certainly not directly attributable to the amount of support you have. Especially on Twitter, users often follow users they may not agree with just to keep up to date with what they’re saying.

However, social can give you a significant platform to share your views and ideas. There are swathes of undecided voters who simply don’t know what to think, especially amongst the young. Although young people are the second biggest voting demographic, they consistently have the lowest turnout on election day.

If presidential candidates can take advantage of social media and get their message in front of this lost generation, then it can be an important tool that will help them make their way to The White House.




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