The Role of Social Media in Lower-level Elections

As the Internet increasingly becomes integrated into the campaigns for Presidential elections, the impact of the Internet on lower-level elections becomes an interesting question. In Campaign Politics and the Digital Divide, Herrnson, Stokes-Brown and Hindman examine factors that influence what candidates use the Internet in their campaigns and how these candidates use it to gain support. In this study, it was found that age, socioeconomic status and race were all things that influenced whether or not a person uses the Internet. In relation to elections, candidates who are targeting African Americans or Latino Americans are generally less likely to use the Internet in their campaigns compared to candidates targeting wealthy, educated, white men. Challengers, in contrast to incumbents, are more likely to use the Internet. While the factors behind Candidates decisions to use the Internet in their campaigns is very interesting, Nielsen’s argument regarding specific types of Internet use shines more light onto the potential strengths and setbacks of the Internet in relation to campaigns.

Nielsen argues that specific mundane Internet tools like email and search engines are much more incorporated into mobilizing practices than emerging and specialized tools like social networking sites and campaign websites. In terms of mobilizing practices, the effort behind getting volunteers for political campaigns, mundane tools encompass the benefits of the Internet in campaigns. In contrast to emerging tools like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook, mundane tools play a key role in the campaigning process because they save campaign members a lot of time as they become an important tool in spreading information about elections and allow more people to become involved online. Thus, as more and more political candidates integrate the Internet into their campaigns, they should focus their attention on mundane tools in relation to attracting and communicating with volunteers. As Neilsen points out, emerging and specialized tools have the potential to become mundane tools in the future. As people become more and more comfortable with the Internet, they can find ways to make emerging and specialized tools more relevant in terms of online campaigning. Facebook, for example, which is currently an emerging tool, has the potential to be a crucial tool for campaigns if people can figure out how to make it less of a one-way flow of information.

If mundane tools are much more successful than emerging and specialized tools, should campaigns focus most of their attention on emails and search engines? How can campaigns take advantage of emerging tools like Facebook and YouTube?

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2 Responses to The Role of Social Media in Lower-level Elections

  1. emdobrow says:

    I agree with Neilsen that the emerging tools such as SNS could become more relied upon by campaigns in the future. I do believe that campaigns should presently put more effort into mundane tools because they are successful, despite how fascinating SNS are. After we had our Skype interview with Lauren in class on Tuesday, she mentioned that mundane tools are the main digital means of connecting with constituents for two reasons. One of the main reasons is that the main targeted generation is that of our parents whom are less likely to be influenced by content or ads on SNS and more likely to act politically or contribute financially from an e-mail. Second, the privacy laws of the SNS do not offer political campaigns access to information that could enable follow-up contact by the campaign and subsequent action by the constituent. As our generation is more reliant upon SNS for information, it would behoove campaigns to allocate more resources to Web 2.0 tools.

  2. andgoldberg says:

    This discrepancy mirrors that of early campaigns (ex. Dean Campaign) in which they were “wary” to try out a new digital approach to political campaigning. During this time, campaign managers realized the efficiency of traditional campaigning (public debates, TV ads, door-to-door visits) but did not yet realize the capabilities of fundraising and collaboration the new Internet contributes to society. At this very moment in time, we are extremely comfortable with both traditional and early Internet campaigning. The only medium we are still wary of is Web 2.0 aka the social media phenomenon. In the future, expect to see more companies utilizing social media outlets on a larger scale as they will be more comfortable with the technology. I believe this comes from the fact that many will learn from the mistakes of others to ultimately perfect their approach on social media campaigning.

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