Internet Use in Campaigns: Presidential Campaigns v. Legislative Campaigns

After reading Hernson, Stokes-Brown, and Hindman’s article “Campaign Politics and The Digital Divide: Constituency, Characteristics, Strategic Considerations, and Candidates Internet Use in State Legislative Elections,” I couldn’t help but contrast the importance of Internet use to the results of the readings that we had done on past presidential elections’ use of the Internet. While presidential candidates, like Barack Obama, may have needed the Internet as an essential part of their campaigning strategy, it is far less vital for legislative candidates to use the Internet due to certain contributing factors.

To begin, I don’t believe that the Internet is a vital resource in legislative elections because there are many factors that affect an Internet campaign’s ability to be the most effective way to get out a message. I think that the effectiveness of getting out a message is an important consideration in legislative elections that may not be as important in presidential elections. The reason that I say this is that legislative candidates have a far smaller amount of resources to invest their campaign. While presidential candidates are able to receive a large amount of support and contributions from people all over the United States, legislative candidates really only are able to draw support from, for the most part, their smaller number of constituents. If the effectiveness of Internet is, in fact, a factor in determining whether or not an online presence is necessary, then I do not think Internet is necessary. There are many reasons that Internet campaigning may not be the best media outlet for reaching out to voters in legislative elections. There are limitations such as the fact that certain demographics may, generally, be more likely to use the Internet than other demographics. Hernson et. al points out many examples of these limitations. For example, they noted that certain age groups tend to use the Internet more than others. If it’s found that the Internet is only successful at reaching young, educated voters in a district, then it may not be worth the resources of the candidate to put into this type of media if they already have that demographic’s vote secured or if their constituency doesn’t have a large number of those people. They would be better off going to a more traditional method, such as television, so that it could reach a wider range of voters who they are trying to appeal to. Due to the limitations of the audience that the Internet may actually reach in legislative elections, I would say that the Internet is not a necessity in legislative elections; and, in some cases it may even be a waste.

For the same reasons that I believe an Internet campaign is not necessary for legislative elections, I argue that it is necessary and effective in presidential elections. Barack Obama’s campaign, for example, demonstrated how critical a social media campaign can be for presidential candidates. Through, “The Social Pulpit: Barack Obama’s Social Media Toolkit” that we read for last week, Lutz walked us through the various strategies that Barack Obama’s public relations team employed to further their Internet strategy. This shows a huge advancement than the simplistic brochure-formatted websites we had initially seen in 1996. There was a strategic formulas made which factored in things such as website traffic, YouTube viewers, Facebook friends and online staff, etc . to make their online strategy efficient and effective at reaching potential voters (Lutz, 2009).  I believe that in a presidential race, Internet/ social media is worth the investment for a few different reasons. First, unlike a legislative election, presidential candidates do have the funds to put together an expansive social media campaign, which can reach out to a variety of specific demographic and social groups. In fact, social media is probably a cheaper way than other methods to reach as many people as they do. Second, unlike legislative candidates, presidential candidates do not need to necessarily weigh in whether or not certain demographics are viewing their page, because they are basically under the impression that they need to be appealing to ALL demographics. Presidential candidates are not just looking at the population of one state or county, but at the entire nation. In a presidential race, people of all different ages, races, education levels, etc. are actually accessing the information that a presidential candidate puts out so it would never really be going to waste. Where a legislative candidate may not need to be concerned about appealing to a certain race, for example, a presidential candidate probably will need to be concerned about any group.

For the above reasons, I believe that the Internet is not needed in a legislative race and it is needed in a presidential race.

Discussion questions:

Do you think that social media plays a different role in legislative races as opposed to presidential races?

Do you think legislative candidate’s use of social media would actually be able to mobilize young voters to vote for them, or even be more interested in the campaign? 

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