The Impact of Social Media and The Web on the 2012 Presidential Election

If there is anything social media and the employment of the web have taught us, it is that it has leveled up the process of conversation. The communication route has become faster, with a second or less response time, and it has become wider, spanning all time zones across the world. It is because of this that the 2012 US presidential campaign has upped the ante of digital usage. Particularly Twitter, with a few social media like Facebook and YouTube trailing far behind, it has shown a far more consequence than presidential debates. Social media and other digital mediums have made it easier to reach out to voters because of the appeal of the two-way conversation. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have also tapped the web as a way to send out their words and campaign platforms.In a study done Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, it was revealed that, “In theory, digital technology allows leaders to engage in a new level of ‘conversation’ with voters, transforming campaigning into something more dynamic, more of a dialogue, than it was in the 20th century.”

Obama in 2008
In the 2008 US Presidential campaign, President Barack Obama was the first to make the most of the web and social media. Unlike in the past where websites were just being used as an online place to store campaign speeches, promo materials and gallery of photo ops, President Obama has taken advantage of the two-year old Twitter. Making him seem the ideal new leader for the new era.

Back then, Republican candidate John McCain has famously admitted his lack of online savvy and has barely exploited the web for its potential sending staff to scout about the web for him. Although there is no direct evidence that going internet social has what won Obama the 2008 election, it was revealed by Pew Research Center that majority of the voters in that last election were the youth who have, since 1972, grown apolitical.

Romney’s Online Presence
Romney, like his predecessor McCain, has yet to fully make use of the web. As opposed to Obama who not only continued his strong online presence as in 2008 but has also made a few more changes to his technological campaign, Romney’s web actions are a far cry. In Twitter, Obama’s daily tweet average 29 while Romney’s is only one. This came as a surprise for a lot of political analysts as they would have imagined the Republican learning the strength of social media by now.

Lindsay Hoffman, writing for Huff Post, said, “I figured, given McCain’s low online profile compared with Obama in 2008, that Romney would have created a more visible and active presence.”

In demographic targeting, while Obama is clear cut on his constituents such as the youth, African American and women, in July Romney was yet to come up with one on his website. Eventually, though, his website has 10 but still lagging far behind Obama’s 18 constituents targeting.

Digital Presence
In the PEJ study, what’s interesting as well is how easy to pinpoint the areas that are closest to the candidates’ heart through their digital presence. By categorizing their social media posts, it came up with a clear-cut definition of their platform. While Romney’s focus is on the economy and employment Obama has been more philosophical about the importance of middle class.

The stark difference between the ‘08 presidential campaigns and today in topic interest is also interesting to note. While four years ago subjects ranged from veterans, agriculture, ethics and Iraq, today there are more pages on tax-policy.

The shares and retweet of the candidates’ posts also reflects what’s important to the voters these days. Obama’s tweets about immigration, women’s and veteran’s issues were found to be very popular. Romney, on the other hand, had more shared posts about health care and veterans than his focal campaign on the economy.

Some could say this is the new age of journalism. Faster, more user generated, accessible. But this could simply be a new age.