The Evolution of Social Media and Political Campaigns

September 1, 2011

Molly OLeary

With the 2012 Presidential election right around the corner, candidates are gearing up to hit the road and kick off what is expected to be one of the highest voter turnout elections in United States history. Social media will play an integral role in getting out the vote in 2012, mainly due in part to […]

With the 2012 Presidential election right around the corner, candidates are gearing up to hit the road and kick off what is expected to be one of the
highest voter turnout elections in United States history.

Social media will play an integral role in getting out the vote in 2012, mainly due in part to social media outreach. Although the 2008 Presidential election may go down in history as the first “official” social media election, 2012 candidates are more educated than ever on the power of social media and plan on connecting with voters (both young and old) through a variety of social media platforms.

In 2004, political campaigns began to realize the important correlation between internet usage and reaching voters.  One of the main focuses during this election was the use of blogs.  Both John Kerry and George W. Bush actively took to blogs to reach their voters, writing about their campaign views and plans for the United States moving ahead.

In 2008, candidates took to facebook, myspace, youtube and twitter to get their message across and reach as many voters as possible. Although social media was still somewhat “new” to political campaigns, Barack Obama managed to dominate the social media platform.  According to a snapshot that was taken on November 3, 2008 (Election Day) Barack Obama had 380 percent more supporters on facebook and myspace, 905 percent more views on Youtube and 240 times more followers on twitter than John McCain. This alone can arguably be one of the main reasons, along with historically high new voter registration statistics, that won Barack Obama the election.

In the 2010 midterm elections, social media played a major role in how voters received and shared information about the election.  To get a better sense of exaclty how effective social media was, below is a chart issued by PEW Charitable Trust highlighting political social networking activites by age group:

Since 2008, twitter has become a social media game changer for political campaigns. With twitter receiving on average 460,000 new accounts per day, more people will turn to this social media platform for up to the minute campaign news. Although not very popular four years ago, Barack Obama now has almost 10 million followers (in ’08 he only had 112,474) and this number is expected to grow in the next year.  @BarackObama recently announced that he will be tweeting regularly while on the campaign trail. In addition, he will be utilizing foursquare and facebook where he plans to check in and share tips with voters along the campaign trail.

Social media has been so influential that the @Whitehouse even has its own Department of Social Media. Recently, President Obama made history by hosting the first ever Twitter Townhall. During the event, President Obama made the first live presidential tweet ever and the highest trending topic that day on twitter was #askobama. Below is footage of President Obama making history:

While the use of television was a huge way to reach voters for the likes of John F. Kennedy, social media will be the driver for 2012 candidates as they begin to launch their campaigns to the White House. Come 2016, social media will continue to evolve and dominate voter outreach efforts. Who knows, with additional technology advancements and support from Congress we may just be able to cast our vote online by then!