Enhanced Political Participation?

ABSTRACT:    Social media has played an incredible role in how politics is run today. It is now not possible to win any election without the use of social media. It is a way to connect with voters and allow them to have a voice, all at once. While focusing on Facebook and the Democratic campaigns of 2008 and 2012, this post will discuss how social media plays a role in how politics is run and why Facebook campaigns are effective. The reason that the democrats have excelled in this area of campaigning will also be included. All in all,  the importance and influence of social media on politics and both its positive and negative effects will be explored.

One of the biggest phenomenons of the past two presidential elections in 2008 and 2012 was the expended use of social media. The two candidates of 2012 prove that social media is and will continue to be an essential part of gaining votes. Some critics such as Claire Miller argue that social media has diminished rather than enhanced political participation. However, this is certainly not the case. The increased use of social media has encouraged more political participation and positively transformed the campaign process.

The concept of appealing to the general public is definitely not a new phenomenon, especially in Presidential races. The average person uses websites such as Facebook, YouTube, twitter, and Instagram in order to stay in touch with the world, and politicians are beginning to notice. The growth popularity of these websites shows no sign of slowing. According to the Emily Adler in the business insider, Social media is the primary reason that people use the Internet. To take that point even further, Facebook is the most popular of all of the social media sites. It was open to the general public and 2006 but didn’t gain popularity until 2009. It seemed that by 2010, every person above the age of 15 seemed to have one.

The mass use of social media encouraged advertising companies to use the Internet for mass communication. Slowly, a number of businesses began to make “pages” that could be liked. This became a sort of primitive advertising, until Facebook started putting up ads in the newsfeed. Many times, these ads were chosen my “Adchoices” a site that tailors ads to what you have searched in the past. It was only a matter of time until politicians seized the opportunity and started using social media.

By using sites such as Facebook, the two presidential candidates of 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain were able to express their views concerning the country to the public quickly and easily. Obama proved to be more efficient with this form of communication than McCain. However, both used social media websites to express their views and rally public support. This was the first year that this form of technology was used in elections to rally support and raise money. All in all, the candidates in 2008 and later enhanced political participation by their mass communication of their ideas.

Age emerged as a substantial factor in voting participation at the same time that social media emerged. It was in 2008 that the discussion of social media first began to emerge as an important factor in elections. Statistically, 2008 was the first time that “all candidates, both presidential and congressional used social media” (Dutta, Frasier). Barack Obama’s campaign was the first to utilize Facebook as an effective way to gain support from the general population. The Obama campaign understood that statistically many democrats in the country were younger, and therefore more likely to be on Facebook. Because of this phenomenon, the campaign strategy made sure to include social media in the forefront on communication with the voting public.

On the other hand, in 2012, the republican candidate Mitt Romney was not very effective comparatively in utilizing social media to communicate with voters. Statistically, the members of the Republican Party are not an active on social media as the Democratic Party. This could account for the difference in spending between Obama and Romney in 2012. The digital spending is primarily used for communication with the voters. In this way, spending money online for campaigning was very effective in communicating with voters.

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Another major enhancement of social media on political participation is basic peer pressure. The candidates of the 2012 election used Facebook to encourage people to register to vote. These get out the vote drives online posted when a friend or follower registered or even just liked the page of a particular candidate. Personally, I thought that seeing my friends participating in the election encouraged my to join as well. I found myself liking pages I never would have looked at before. This peer pressure can be quantified with the statistic that the 2008 election was characterized by an increase in the number of young voters. Young people population Facebook more than the older generation. Peer pressure and encouragement by friends and followers attributes to this increase in young voter political participation.

Conformity is always easier socially than being different. For that reason, people are more reluctant to express their opinion to others when not online. Being online creates a sot of filter where the people do not see the results of their words. Because of this, people are more likely to express their political opinions that go against the people around them when they are online. In public, then they are face to face; it will be harder for them to confront the differences in opinion. Relating this idea back to politics, the vocal debating that used to occur before has now diminished to a few very radical and heated debates on a Facebook post.

As stated before, Obama has now appealed to this new social media oriented generation. In order to express their support for a candidate now, Facebook users simply like the campaign page or post a message on their timeline. It has become so easy for the average citizen to express their support for candidates publically. This new form of political expression is very controversial. This link contains a video that shows how social media is used in campaigns.

There are an ever-increasing number of social media tools and a rapidly growing user base across all demographics.  (Debt). The simplicity with which any person with internet can express their opinion and support a candidate was unparalleled before the arrival of social media. Anyone from the rural Midwest to the urban northeast could post to Facebook and express their opinion. They each could like the page of their respective candidate and show their support online. This was not necessarily the state of affairs before social media. People used to be skeptical that their voice mattered at all. Now, there are people who rely solely on the twitter commentary of who they follow to know what is going on in the televised presidential debate.

It can be seen that the use of social media can change the overall view of a candidate in the public arena. With thousands of tweets being sent per minute commenting on the debates, people can come together to change the overall perspective of the candidates to those who are not watching. There are many people who don’t watch the debate but follow what is happening on twitter. In these cases, what people say on social media is directly influencing votes.

All in all, the fact that people are more informed about the candidates, are encouraged by their peers to participate, and have a voice in the election all point to an increase in political participation. All of these up and coming advantages draw new members to participate in political elections and enhanced political participation in general. There are critics, as there always are, such as Claire Miller who is skeptical of the above statement. However, statistics show that after the increased use of social media in 2004, voter turnout increased from 54.2% to 60.4% (bipartisan library). This again points to the fact that social media has indeed increased political participation.

http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=facebook

http://www.youradchoices.com/

http://www.businessinsider.com/social-media-engagement-statistics-2013-12

http://www2.uncp.edu/home/acurtis/Courses/ResourcesForCourses/SocialMediaInPolitics.html

http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2008/11/19/barack-obama-and-the-facebook-election

http://www.debt.org/faqs/americans-in-debt/economic-demographics-democrats/

http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow/story/293078/election-2012-how-social-media-will-convert-followers-into-v

http://mprcenter.org/blog/2013/01/how-obama-won-the-social-media-battle-in-the-2012-presidential-campaign/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/upshot/how-social-media-silences-debate.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=0

http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/2012-voter-turnout/

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