Ah, I love election years. As a writer, I'm drawn to the drama of it all, the plot twists, the backroom deals, the political preening and strategizing, the populist appeals to outrage toward the status quo, and of course the sometimes-surprising election results themselves. But most importantly, I love election years because they require MY participation. Which is exactly why I think social media has naturally become a more integral part of political campaigns in recent years. Got apathy? Treat that with some motivational tweets supplied by your local representative. Got outrage? Palliate it by venting on your Congressman's or Senator's Facebook page. Social media cuts out the six degrees between me and the politicians who represent me, effectively giving me the illusion of social intimacy, of being a "friend."
The stakes are high this November, with one political party seeing all the signs pointing to their disastrous ousting, and the other feeling mighty confident of their impending ascendancy. Not surprisingly, how each side has been leveraging social media reflects their current political standings. Republicans now outnumber Democrats in terms of social media use, whereas before the reverse was true
. Now, the Repubs are abuzz on the Twittersphere, motivated and building up their forces, while the Dems are trailing them considerably
, seemingly cementing their all but inevitable short-lived return to power. (House Repubs recently held a New Media Challenge
, which over a six-week period successfully elicited a total 40,000 social media fans; next up are the Dems with their own challenge, which one would predict, based on the current evidence, will not deliver the same results). This is all somewhat surprising, given that just years ago we had Barack Obama's almighty social media campaign that turned the country Dem-blue. Now, that memory's been replaced by the more recent and very successful Senate campaign of Scott Brown
, who managed to bring a historically reliable blue state into the red column.
What's the allure of social media in the first place for politicians in particular? Well, aside from providing a dynamic platform for instant interaction and communication with their constituents, it gives off the illusion of hipness. It emanates youth and takes off wrinkles from those politicians' wizened faces. With Obama and Brown, social media seemed a natural extension of their campaigns, the political young bucks that they were/are. But Gingrich or Pelosi? Not so much. (I often can't help but feel like I'm witnessing the invasion of the fuddy-duddies whenever I see the likes of them trying to get a grasp of the "Internets"). But that doesn't mean they shouldn't take advantage of social media's cosmetic effect. We all remember when we were kids and had cool uncles and aunts, "old-timers" we admired for their being "with it." Same goes for those old-timer politicians. (The youth correlation however does not always hold true, for example with the "30 Something Working Group
," which consists of young Democratic Congresswomen/men [read: Under 40...ish] who seek to engage younger voters: The group's site has not been updated since 2008, and I see no traces of the group's Facebook or Twitter accounts, other than those of individual group members'
, all making the group rather tragically un-hip).
And as much as I hate to extend the youth metaphor and conjure up those high school days of jocks and cheerleaders, social media is also a popularity tool. Just look at the correlation between the number of Facebook fans and the eventual order of parties in the recent UK election
: David Cameron's Conservatives with 100,000 fans, Nick Clegg's Liberal Dems with 90,000, and the embattled Gordon Brown's Labour with about half of the Tories' numbers. It may seem a coincidence, but it's all very telling nonetheless. Bottom line: The more exposure and word-of-mouth you have through these means, the higher your chances of energizing your base and getting more votes cast in your favor.
But despite any of this, social media is not the end-all be-all for political campaigns. Social media is not Popeye's spinach, instantly boosting the power of one party over the other. Social media only amplifies
what is already currently the winning argument and gives the losing side at least a fighting chance. The Dems have been in the unfortunate position of repairing a frail structure, so naturally the Repubs have the upper-hand, just as the Dems did when their rivals were in their shoes in just the recent past. This is why, if you've wondered whatever happened to those presumably tech-savvy millennials who were to keep the country more center-left for decades to come, there's so little energy from Obama's base: Not many from the Dems' side is engaging them, or even trying (case in point, Nancy Pelosi, who has no Twitter account
, and is finding herself being outpaced on the social media field by John Boehner from the other side of the aisle). Just like that seemingly unstoppable BP oil spill
, the least the Dems can do is be on the offensive in their weakened and overburdened state. Just by so doing, they would at least have a better chance at retaining control in November. Fighting back is better than just sitting back and letting the GOP tweet away.
What do you think? How riled up (in either a good or bad way) have you gotten as a result of social media outreach from politicians vying for your vote? What are you thoughts on the way the Tea Party and the recent presidential campaign on health care reform have both leveraged social media?