Presidential Campaigns And Technological Advances

June 7, 2024   |   Tags:
Presidential Campaigns And Technological Advances

Authored by Adeline Von Drehle via RealClearPolitics,

The Biden campaign is looking for a meme manager.

We laugh, because it’s outrageous. Yet even a candidate older than the computer itself understands that a changing technological landscape calls for new campaign tactics. It is a tale originally told on radio waves.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president who harnessed technology to speak directly to the American public. Throughout the Great Depression and World War II, Roosevelt delivered staticky messages about the state of the nation and world affairs via a handy new tool: the radio. As the story goes, Americans across the country would assemble in their living rooms with loved ones and listen to their president like children with a bedtime story. Roosevelt spoke with familiarity, communicating self-assurance and clear policy initiatives in times of crisis. His fireside chats kept him in high public regard throughout his presidency and as he ran for reelection three times.

Years later, television gave us the infamous presidential debate of 1960 between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Prior to this first televised debate, most Americans never had a chance to see candidates in any sort of personal way. It gave citizens an opportunity to form an opinion based on the appearance and demeanor of the candidates. The platform was perfect for the young, handsome Kennedy, and painted a less favorable picture of the recently-ill Nixon. Prior to the debate, Nixon led by 6 points in the poll. Six weeks later, Nixon lost the presidency by one of the narrowest margins in history. The debate had changed the landscape of presidential campaigns, as clunky black-and-white boxes brought elections into Americans’ living rooms.

By the 2000 election, websites were a crucial part of campaigning, in large part because they were the easiest way to get individual donations. While Sen. John McCain lost his primary race, he was a pioneer in digital promotion. McCain shamelessly plugged his campaign’s URL in practically every nationally televised interview he did, gathering a record-setting amount in donations from everyday Americans –$1.5 million in just three days.

In 2004, Howard Dean’s campaign shredded and rewrote the digital campaign playbook. Dean’s campaign webmaster was a trailblazer, dabbling in the new art of search engine optimization. The early 2000s social media platform MeetUp was the driving force of the Dean Campaign, bringing together supporters and volunteers. His team filmed grassroots campaign events and posted them on his campaign website well before the advent of YouTube. Thanks to the forward thinking of a few young techies, Dean became a viral loser.

“We were the Wright brothers,” Dean’s campaign manager Joe Trippi told Politico back in 2012. “We had great ideas, and we were doing it in a very primitive way with what was possible.”

Another revolution came four years later, in 2008. Led by a tech-savvy cavalry, Barack Obama’s campaign defined the kind of virality politicians now so desperately chase. Obama used the social platform MySpace to directly interact with his supporters. He had 2.5 million Facebook friends – more than four times as many as McCain – and 115,000 Twitter followers to McCain’s 5,000. YouTube allowed Obama’s speeches and ads to reach millions of viewers for free, saving his campaign millions of dollars in ad spending. The Obama campaign is also the reason we now receive texts from political figures asking for donations, though at the time the initiative had the additional charm of novelty. All of this allowed the Obama campaign to raise a record-breaking $750 million in fundraising and forgo public funding, the result of an almost-entirely-online effort.

“[Obama’s] staff were super savvy at using MySpace and Facebook and YouTube. He was young, he was eloquent, and I think he had a message that resonated with the digital culture of the time,” Jennifer Stromer-Galley, author of “Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age,” told RCP. “I think those things really helped set him up to be a spectacular digital candidate.”

During the 2012 election cycle, candidates turned to platforms like Twitter and Facebook to participate in virtual town halls, offering an opportunity for Americans to text questions to some of the most powerful people in politics. The Obama reelection campaign also created sophisticated analytical models that personalized messaging using online data generated by social media activity, changing the landscape of targeted ad campaigns.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump upended the game in 2016 with his Twitter presence and livestreaming efforts. Trump “went live” during the third presidential debate, uploading the feed to his website and allowing people to provide real-time commentary and analysis. Trump’s campaign took on an improvisational aura as his team struggled to keep up with its candidate’s Twitter rants – a tactic which shot Trump to stardom even while it caused him strife. The most powerful tool the Trump campaign had at its disposal was the man himself, whose divisive rhetoric, filter-less posting and meme-ish nicknaming was perfectly suited to both social media and the political moment.

“Trump’s ability to attract news attention through social media is not predicated on a specific platform, but on his ability to engage social media users,” explained Yini Zhang, a professor studying social media and communication technologies at the University of Buffalo. “It’s unrealistic to expect others to have the same results, but Trump’s actions might provide a playbook for other candidates.”

Today, candidates are teaming up with micro-influencers and memelords to access their audience in new and innovative ways. Campaigns must work overtime to ensure their content invites people to give their thumbs a rest, if only for 30 seconds. Trump remains committed to his platform, Truth Social, while Biden has spread his wings to almost every social space besides TikTok, which both candidates continue to avoid over fears of Chinese interference

Like all things, campaigns will continue to change alongside our technological and political landscapes. If candidates hope to survive, they must meet the rest of the country where we are: increasingly online.

Tyler Durden Fri, 06/07/2024 - 13:45


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