Social Media in the Political Landscape

Written by 5ivecanons Staff

The 2012 presidential election came to an end on Tuesday night and surprised many political analysts with the deciding factors breaking down within just a few swing states.

The term “ground game,” buzzed around the mainstream media, but how much of that game was digital? What, if any, impact does social media have on political elections? Let’s find out.

Use of Social Media

On January 19, 2004, before Facebook or Youtube were created, presidential hopeful Howard Dean became one of the first politicians to harness the power of the web.

Dean reached out to a group no one else had approached before: bloggers. He used the site not only to gain popularity and organize volunteers, but also to raise funds for his campaign. In fact, he raised more funds than any of his democratic opponents.

Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign communicated to the younger generation via social networks so well that under-35 voters outnumbered over 65-voters, and while it would it be illogical to exclusively accredit Obama for this feat, it seems that Obama understood that the internet could connect, engage and lower the cost of branding an image.

The 2008 campaign saw more people vote who were under 35 than over 65

While leaders such as Obama have benefited from using social channels, others have been forced from office.

The Arab Spring or Arab Revolution, a series of revolutionary protests and demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen that began in December 2010, is widely credited to have been organized, publicized and updated via social networks. According to Dubai School of Government, “nearly 9 in 10 Egyptians and Tunisians surveyed in March said they were using Facebook to organize protests or spread awareness about them.” These protests led to the dethroning of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

The Stats

Now that we’ve seen the use of social media in the political domain, let’s review some data gathered about the medium’s effectiveness as a source of news and influence.

      According to a survey taken by the

Pew Research Center:

  • 74% of self-proclaimed liberal are using social networking sites,
  • 70% of self-proclaimed moderates are using social networks
  • 60% of self-proclaimed conservatives are using social networks
  • Almost 50% of liberals surveyed said social media is important for keeping up with political news,
  • About 33% of moderates and conservatives said social media was important for keeping up with news.

Compared to Republicans and Independents, Democrats are more likely say that social sites are important for debating political issues and recruiting others for political matters – possibly a reason why Republican and Independent candidates have fewer followers in social sites.

Understanding The Numbers

The survey suggests that those on social sites are not engaging actively with political content. 84 percent of respondents claimed little to no political content on recent status updates, comments and links even during election year.
However, with election day approaching, both parties will undoubtedly increase political messages on social media sites.

However, what can be said about the impact that social media has on political views? The Pew study suggests that there is not much of an impact.

Nine percent of respondents reported that they have become less active in a political issue due to political posts on social media, and only 25 percent reported being more active in a political issue because of social interactions.

Finally, with only 16 percent of respondents admitting that their social media activity has changed their view about a political issue, a skepticism over the content on social networks has emerged.

Social Media is Changing Politics

However, we cannot rule social media out as a political tool. As New York Times reporter David Carr wrote, “The juxtaposition of a networked, open-source campaign and a historically imperial office will have profound implications and raise significant questions. Special-interest groups and lobbyists will now contend with an environment of transparency and a president who owes them nothing. The news media will now contend with an administration that can take its case directly to its base without even booking time on the networks.”

It is this shift towards transparency and power in the public’s hands that make social platforms so powerful.

On other words: The public, specifically voters, will no longer go back to being voiceless and they will expect two-way conversation that respond to their needs. So which candidate will be willing to listen to the voice of the people via social networks? See for yourself, tune in to the media and to the people this week to find out. Also, look for the next blog post that dissects user-generated content and its impact on the candidates’ platform, perspective and approval rating.