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The Use of the Internet and Social Media in U.S.

Presidential Campaigns: 1992-2012 _______________________ A Project Presented to the Faculty of the Undergraduate College of Arts and Letters James Madison University _______________________ in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts _______________________ by Katherine Elizabeth Leuschner May 2012

Accepted by the faculty of the Department of Media Arts & Design, James Madison University, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts. FACULTY COMMITTEE: HONORS PROGRAM APPROVAL:

Project Advisor: John Guiniven, Ph.D., Professor, Media Arts & Design

Barry Falk, Ph.D., Director, Honors Program

Reader: Dolores Flamiano, Ph.D., Professor, Media Arts & Design

Reader: David Jones, Ph.D. Professor, Political Science

Table of Contents Acknowledgements.. 3 Introduction.. 4 Functions of New Media Use...5 1992..5 1996..6 2000..8 2004.10 2008.17 Summary.29 Analysis: Grassroots...30 Analysis: Public Interest.34 Projections on Upcoming 2012 Election39 Summary.42 Conclusion..44 Works Cited46

Acknowledgements I would like to thoroughly express my appreciation to my panel for the diverse and constructive support they have provided throughout this processI consider myself extremely lucky to have chosen such an encouraging and dedicated panel. I want to thank Dr. John Guiniven, my project advisor, for guiding me from the outset, setting high standards, and providing me with endless encouragement. I would also like to thank Dr. Dolores Flamiano, one of my readers, who went to great lengths to ensure my thesis stayed on track and helped develop my analysis sections in particular. I also want to thank Dr. David Jones, another one of my readers, for providing a crucial political science perspective, without which my thesis would not have been as strong. I would also like to thank the Honors Program for awarding me with the Madison Achievement Scholarship all four years that I have attended James Madison University. Lastly, I would like to thank the wonderful librarians in Carrier Library who were consistently able to assist me and were dedicated to solving any problem I might bring to them, always with an encouraging smile.

Introduction It is undeniable that new media has increasingly affected the sphere of politics over the past two decades. For our purposes, the definition of new media encompasses the Internet and later the emergence of social media sites. Essentially, the major components that comprise social networking sites include the ability for users to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bound system, have a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view their list of connections as well as those made by others within the system (Boyd). Online social networks therefore enable users to articulate and make visible their real-life social networks. Since the 1992 U.S. presidential election process, candidates have gradually recognized the power of the Internet to further political ambitions of fundraising, engaging and interacting with the public, organizing and mobilizing supporters, gathering voter data, reaching the youth vote, and disseminating information. The emergence of social media in the early 2000s is the movement that really facilitated candidates use of the Internet to connect with voters. I am exploring the different functions new media have played since the 1992 election until the 2008 election. I will provide an analysis of the use of the term grassroots to describe Barack Obamas social media campaign because I believe the highly strategic mechanisms behind the campaign call for a more critical assessment of whether the term is appropriate. Furthermore, I will evaluate the affect that social media in politics has had on the public interest. Finally, I am observing what trends might appear in the upcoming 2012 election with regards to new media.

Functions of New Media in Presidential Elections Since the early 1990s, when Tim Berners Lee and a colleague designed the World Wide Web and a group of young university students created the Web browser Mosaic, the Internet as a new medium has developed into a prominent aspect of American life and a notably important tool in presidential campaigns (Poe 214-215). Then, in the mid-2000s, social media emerged with the appearance of LinkedIn and MySpace in 2003, the prevalence of blogs and creation of Facebook in 2004, the founding of YouTube in 2005, and the launch of Twitter in 2006, all of which further facilitated new interactions with potential voters (History of the First Blog Ever Created; The History and Evolution). Some of the functions of new media worth recognizing include their potential for fundraising, engaging and interacting with citizens, organizing and mobilizing voters, gathering voter data, reaching the youth vote, and quickly disseminating messages to constituents. These functions, although primarily an advancement in communication techniques between candidates and voters, sometimes have negative aspects associated with them that are important to explore as well. Each U.S. presidential campaign since 1992 has increasingly utilized the new media available and has allowed these tools to have a growing role in their campaign strategies. 1992 In 1992, it was Bill Clintons presidential campaign that first utilized the Internet to communicate with the electorate (Hendricks and Kaid 4). However, overall the Internet played a minor role in this election process. In fact, Richard Davis, author of The Web of Politics: The Internets Impact on the American Political System, notes that Clintons use of the Internet solicited little notice from journalists or the public, few of whom would have been connected

online at the time (87). Therefore, considering that the Internet was an extremely new form of media and not yet commonly embraced, Clintons use of a website was innovative in 1992 even if its sole purpose was the dissemination of information to constituents. Dissemination of Information Clintons campaign took advantage of the Internet by creating a website that contained candidate biographies, their positions on policies, and the full text of speeches given by candidates (Hendricks and Kaid 4). He has referred to himself as the president at the dawn of the Internet age and emphasized that only around 50 websites existed online at the time when he took office in 1992 (Korjen). Although his was the first website produced by a presidential candidate, it did not allow for engagement with citizens. In fact, web browsers did not actually exist at this time and Clintons online campaign was effectively limited to text-centered applications (Klotz 67). Overall, Clintons communications strategy still largely relied on traditional means of reaching the public through television, mass mailing, telephoning, etc. and only used the Internet as an information-sharing portal (Anderson 2). This basic use of the Internet was innovative for its time but only allowed for one-way communication and lacked interaction with constituents. 1996 Political campaigning on the Internet began in 1996 as the Internet entered general awareness and more candidates and citizens embraced the new medium. According to the Pew Research Center, more than one in five citizens were online at this time and Americans began looking to the Internet as a source for gathering news (News Attracts). Other sources report that as many as one-fourth of Americans were online by 1996 (Klotz 67). Although the

presidential candidates failed to utilize the Internet in an engaging and interactive manner, the new medium did begin to gain recognition as a source for fundraising as well as a platform for disseminating information. Fundraising In the 1996 presidential election, fundraising developed into a minor campaigning function of the Internet. The Clinton campaign was one of the only campaigns to take advantage of this opportunity, and they managed to raise $10,000 through the Internet (Hendricks and Kaid 4). Although a very small amount of money raised compared to campaigns to come, it still served as an important milestone. Dissemination of Information According to Victoria Carty, author of Wired and Mobilizing: Social Movements, New Technology, and Electoral Politics, a number of candidates in 1996 created relatively simple websites to provide campaign material electronically that would typically have been printed on leaflets; thus, they were essentially electronic flyers (78). A lack of interactivity was evidenced by candidates websites only linking to pages within their own site instead of providing hyperlinks to external resources (Hendricks and Kaid 46-47). In other words, candidates still utilized the Internet in a one-way manner and their websites did not provide engaging features that could enable two-way communication with citizens. Bob Dole, the leading Republican candidate in 1996, brought the Internet into the limelight when he referenced his website during his closing statement in the presidential debate. An insight into the awkwardness of embracing the Internet as a new campaign tool, Dole forgot the final period in his web address and instead directed voters to www.dolekemp96org. While

most voters recognized the need to add the second period before org, Doles website ended up crashing because its server was unprepared for the amount of traffic his closing statement generated (Klotz 68). Although candidates websites attracted attention from voters, the lack of engagement still posed problems. According to the Pew Research Center, as many as 10% of voters reported receiving some information about the election from the Internet, but only about one-in-four of these people said they found the information very helpful (News Attracts). Seeing as voters had no easy method of communicating what type of election information they would consider helpful to obtain on the Internet, and many of them reported dissatisfaction with the information received, candidates in future elections would search for a more meaningful level of engagement. 2000 The 2000 presidential campaign finally established the Internet as a major source of election news and information, especially considering that 50% of Americans were now online (Klotz 67). Candidates took the Internets function as a fundraising tool to a new level, which proved particularly useful to candidates that did not have traditional financial backing from party supporters. The Internet also expanded its role as an information portal for election news. More importantly, some candidates started to recognize the potentiality of the Internet as a force to organize and mobilize voters. Fundraising While Republican frontrunner George W. Bush had the financial backing of many traditional supporters, John McCain decided to tap into the Internet and accept donations online. After all, using the Internet for fundraising was an option particularly useful to underdog

candidates willing to experiment with new strategies. Matt Fose, McCains Webmaster, explained in an interview that McCain said, Well, do whatever you need to do. Lets try new things. If we fail, we fail. We dont have anything to lose. (Davis, Elin, and Reeher 57). By using the Internet for fundraising, he received an average of four donations per second online adding up to more than $2 million in just a week (Davis, Elin, and Reeher 57). At the same time, a phone campaign only brought in $67,000 and Fose explained that they could not have bought enough phone lines to take in the amount of donors that the Internet was able to facilitate (Davis, Elin, and Reeher 58). Recognizing the power of the Internet to fundraise allowed McCains campaign to continue through several more primaries before conceding to Bush. Similarly, Democratic underdog Bill Bradley was able to collect more funds online than frontrunner Al Gore in early January 2000a comparison of $1.3 million to $800,000 (Davis, Elin, and Reeher 57). However, Gores campaign team did detect the Internets value as a fundraising tool and raised $2.7 million over the Internet by the end of the race (Hendricks and Kaid 4). The candidates that acknowledged the benefits of the Internet as an important device for raising funds managed to acquire a strong source of financial backing for their campaigns. Overall, the amount of online donations raised in 2000 far surpassed those of previous elections, but would appear an insignificant amount compared to future campaigns. Organization and Mobilization Besides merely generating donations, McCains campaign also acquired volunteers over the Internet. In fact, volunteers signed up at a rate of almost three per minute for various activities (Davis, Elin, and Reeher 57). Bill Bradley, who eventually conceded to Gore for the Democratic nomination, also used the Internet by e-mailing 500 people before the New

Hampshire primary, notifying them of a meeting in New Hampshire. Because of this effort, 250 supporters showed up to the meeting (Murray 20). These few instances of Internet organization and mobilization expanded the role of the Internet in presidential campaigns, but also foreshadowed greater efforts to come. Dissemination of Information While only 4% of Americans went online for election news in 1996, this number rose to 18% during the 2000 election (Kohut and Rainie). Approximately 43% of those who went online for election news in 2000 said the online information affected their voting decisions, which was an increase from 31% in 1996 (Kohut and Rainie). This shows that while the Internet grew in breadth, it also amplified its importance by affecting voters decisions on the election. As news outlets proliferated on the Internet, people shifted from seeking political information solely on candidates websites and began referring to websites of major news organizations, as well (Kohut and Rainie). Specifically to this election, citizens turned to online news updates to stay informed on the recount in Florida rather than waiting for a daily paper to arrive or the evening news to come on (Murray 21). Overall, the 2000 election would not necessarily be remembered for its integration of the Internet and politics, but rather for its extremely close race that resulted in a recount of electoral votes and a winning candidate that had received less of the popular vote than his opponent. 2004 Even though the 2008 election is known as the first to embrace social media, many social media sites had existed by the 2004 election. Scott Heiferman created Meetup.com in 2002 (Sankar). Then, MySpace and LinkedIn were launched in 2003, the same year that Google

acquired the Blogger technology and the first version of Wordpress was available for download (Williams, Alex; About Us; History of the First Blog Ever Created). During the 2004 presidential election process, candidates began to utilize new media for fundraising, engaging and interacting with citizens, organizing and mobilizing voters, gathering voter data, reaching the youth vote, and disseminating messages. It was in 2004 that the Internet became an integral component of political campaigning as candidates increasingly took advantage of new media tools. Fundraising Many consider Howard Deans campaign in 2004 the first Internet campaign success, as he was the first presidential candidate to create a blog as part of his communications strategy, soon followed by candidates John Edwards, John Kerry and George Bush (Carty 79). He was also the first politician to run for president who used the Internet as a powerful fundraising tool (Clayton 21). Although he lost the Democratic nomination to John Kerry, he and his team created a network of websites and blogs that generated a dedicated Internet following who he successfully encouraged to donate to his campaign (Rice 4-5). In fact, a Democratic Party primaries record was set when 280,000 supporters contributed $40 million over the Internet to Deans campaign (Singel). John Kerry, winner of the Democratic ticket, continued to follow Deans example and raised approximately $8.3 million in donations through the Internet (Schifferes). Considering only four of the candidates running for presidency in 2004 even had blogs, Dean can be considered an important leader of the blog movement and Internet fundraising in politics.


MoveOn.org was created in the late 1990s as a website that focuses on education and advocacy regarding important national issuesa quintessential grassroots mobilizing effort (Carty 58). Although not usually advocates for a specific candidate, the members of MoveOn.org primarily support the Democratic Party. For the 2004 election, the website raised over $30 million for Democratic candidates (Carty 62). Therefore, MoveOn.org represents a prime example of the importance of the Internet in political fundraising. Engagement and Interactivity Going beyond the previous one-way flow of static information presented on candidates websites, by 2004 candidates were utilizing a variety of tools to engage with potential voters, such as hyperlinks and multimedia (Hendricks and Kaid 47). Other features that can be considered interactive include e-mail sign-ups, online polls, campaign contact information, and features of the website itself that communicate a sense of engaging presence to visitors (Warnick et al. 3). Besides just candidates main websites, an increase in citizen-to-candidate and citizento-citizen interactivity also existed through blogs, online discussion forums and other information communication technologies. The benefits of such interaction are apparent because, according to Warnick, Xenos, Endres and Gastil, interactivity increases recall of candidate issue stances and time spent on candidate websites (Warnick et al. 1). Also, offering interactive features on a campaign website may improve evaluations of candidate attributes, including sensitivity, responsiveness, and trustworthiness (Stromer-Galley). In addition, Sundar, Kalyanaraman and Brown make an argument that interactivity may also increase the likelihood of Internet users to agree with a candidates policy positions (30). Many of the 2004 candidates recognized these important outcomes, which led them to take Internet interactivity with potential supporters seriously and improve their website offerings.

Organization and Mobilization The Howard Dean campaign pioneered new ways of engaging supporters online and was the first to use the Internet to organize thousands of volunteers (Carty 79). Arguably, his most effective method was the use of Meetup.com, a social networking site that allows individuals to connect virtually in order to find people near their geographic locations with common interests and meet up with them at a physical location. By the end of 2004, the Dean group on Meetup had 140,000 members and citizens held 800 meetings across the country in December alone (Dodsen). Even Dean himself went to an early Meetup held in New York City in 2003, where over 300 enthusiastic supporters waited to greet him (Wolf). When volunteers organized through the Internet met up in actual locations, they were able to take part in physical actions to promote Deans campaign, such as door-to-door activities, letter-writing campaigns, and the distribution of flyers (Wolf). For instance, when Dean solicited followers through the Internet to write letters to voters in states that were key to his Democratic nomination, more than 100,000 handwritten letters were written within two months (Dodsen). A couple of issues with Deans campaign include the fact that the technology at the time did not allow the campaign to retain control over the Meetups and the decentralized network of supporters never merged with the traditional Democratic power structure or leadership (Carty 80). These two shortcomings were aspects that Obama made sure to address in his 2008 campaign. Also, some have criticized Deans use of Meetup as preaching to the converted and failing to reach out to new constituencies such as African-Americans and voters in the Deep South (Dodsen).


According to Michael Turk, the Bush-Cheney e-campaign director in 2004, Republicans were also able to mobilize their supporters in every precinct around the country using e-mail lists and data mining (Schifferes). Because the technology used predicted voter preferences, they were able to identify potential Republican supporters and then send their volunteers detailed advocating instructions on who to visit along with issues that each potential voter was likely to be most concerned about. Even local maps of the areas and walking routes were provided to these volunteers. Williams, Trammel, Postelnicu, Landreville, and Martin found that the 2004 candidates use of interactive elements, such as hyperlinks, multi-media, and web platforms were essential for political mobilization efforts (Williams et al. 180). For instance, nearly every Bush campaign e-mail message provided recipients with a way to forward the content simultaneously to five other people. This use of new media allowed candidates to notify voters of particular events and have those citizens pass the messages along to others who could have interest in them; thus, the use of online technology was able to enhance mobilization efforts. Although the Republicans were utilizing new communication technologies, they definitely took a more cautious approach. Either way, neither Republican nor other Democratic candidates were able to embrace the new media for mobilization efforts to the same extent as Dean. One explanation for this could be that Dean was an underdog in the election and therefore more inclined to take risks with new technology than frontrunner candidates. Gathering Voter Data Microtargeting, developed by TargetPoint Consulting, was a new technological voter identification tool first used by Bushs campaign team in 2004. Previously, the Republican Party lacked in successful voter identification because traditional methods, such as personal and


telephone canvassing, were not producing quality voter lists (2004 Presidential). Therefore, they had an inability to tailor campaign messages to individual supporters. With microtargeting, a voter model is created using consumer and polling data to determine the issues that voters care about most (Stutts). According to Michael Turk, the Bush-Cheney e-campaign director, they based the prediction of voter preferences on commercial data on car ownership, magazine subscriptions, and the like (Clayton 22). Then, Phillip Stutts of the online political magazine Human Events explains: The model would state that John Smith has a 75% chance of being pro-life and voting for candidates who support pro-life policies. Thus, a candidate would target that voter on pro-life issues (through door-to-door, volunteer phoning and direct mail get-out-the-vote efforts). Through Bushs $3.25 million contract with TargetPoint Consulting, he had the ability to identify and target potential voters with pinpoint precision and even take Democratic voters away from Kerry with specifically targeted messages (Edsall and Grimaldi 1). Therefore, Bushs use of innovative microtargeting technology yielded successful results and contributed to the overall advantage he maintained over Kerry. Reaching the Youth Vote Young voters tend to be the early adopters of new technologies, yet have also been notoriously inactive when it comes to politics. According to Yahoo! writer Emily Britton, a 2002 study conducted by the Washington Post found that if current trends continued, the number of people 65 and older who vote would exceed younger voters by four to one. Many expensive promotions, such as the Rock the Vote campaign that enlists celebrity advocates, have aimed at

increasing the percentage of young voters showing up to the polls, but utilizing the Internet may be a way to reengage this demographic at a fraction of the cost. Katherine Murray believes the Dean campaign in particular formed his Internet strategy to engage young voters; a strong tactic since one-in-five young people said they regularly received campaign news from the Internet (7). Overall, nearly half of all 18-29 year olds went to the polls in 2004, a 9% increase from the 2000 election (Young Voters By the Numbers). This shows that connecting with younger citizens on a platform they are already familiar with can possibly help to engage them in politics. Dissemination of Information With the common use of the Internet, citizens began to have a vast array of information available to them without having to search too rigorously or wait for scheduled broadcasts or speeches. The online political news consumer population grew from 18% in 2000 to 29% in 2004, with a 7% increase in the number of people who cited the Internet as one of their primary sources of political news, as well (Rainie). According to Katherine Murray, the Internet introduced a wider and more accessible library from which voters can search for information before going to the polls (5). Therefore, candidates needed to utilize the Internet to disseminate desired messages to voters before Election Day. A Pew Research Center study found that the Internet, a relatively minor source for campaign news in 2000, is now on par with such traditional outlets as public television broadcasts, Sunday morning news programs and the weekly news magazines (Perceptions of Partisan 4). Notably, the public in 2004 that looked to the Internet for campaign information did so mostly through websites of established news companies like CNN and the New York Times.


2008 With the launch of Facebook in 2004, the founding of YouTube in 2005 and the creation of Twitter in 2006, social media were used much more extensively in the 2008 presidential election than previous campaigns (The History and Evolution). All candidates used technology extensively including web pages, blogs, social networking sites, photo and video sharing sites, texting, and e-mailing. In fact, as a demonstration of the growing importance of such avenues, seven out of sixteen candidates who ran for presidency announced it on YouTube, and all opened YouTube accounts (Carty 80). These technologies allowed for even greater fundraising, engagement and interactivity with publics, organization and mobilization of supporters, gathering of voter data, opportunities to reach the youth vote, and dissemination of messages. Fundraising Candidates recognized the power of the Internet as a fundraising tool and utilized it to new extents in the 2008 election, while the addition of social media held an important role in fundraising strategies, as well. For instance, YouTube channels created by candidates allowed viewers to contribute funds directly to campaigns via Google checkout (Heffernan). Also, pages on candidates Facebook and MySpace accounts directed people to the donation page on their websites (Clayton 147). Obama was particularly successful in fundraising through the Internet during the 2008 election campaign. He declined public financing for the primaries and general election in order to take full advantage of the network of donors he had built online (Clayton 147). Much of the money he raised came in micropayments of $50 or less from a total of 3.95 million individual donors, which resulted in a total of $750 million for his campaign (Luo). Half a billion of this

was raised through the Internet (Hendricks and Kaid 4). Some fans took the initiative through the Internet, and Obamas MyBO social networking site in particular, to raise money for Obama on their own, as well. For instance, some supporters created the Obama Minute on MyBO with the goal of raising $1 million in a minute at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, April 21, 2008, which ended up raising $250,000 (Clayton 141). This event demonstrates the power of the Internet and social networking sites with regards to harnessing voter enthusiasm for fundraising. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton did not focus on the Internet for fundraising and fell behind Obamas numbers; while tied in the first quarter, she only raised $27 million for the second quarter compared to Obamas $32.5 million (Clayton 96). She relied primarily on traditional large donors who are limited by law to donate no more than $2,300 per election cycle, while Obama received micro-donations from far more numerous supporters so his sources did not max out like hers (Clayton 96). Ron Paul made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination, but utilized the Internet in a phenomenal fundraising strategy. On December 16th, 2007, he collected $6 million on the Internet, which was the most ever raised over the Internet in a single day (Clayton 138). Looking at relative underdogs like Obama and Paul, evidence exists that the Internet allows outsiders, who may not have the traditional support like other candidates, to quickly generate financial support. Engagement and Interactivity During the 2008 election process, using new technologies and melding them with traditional outlets offered new opportunities for engagement and interactivity with potential voters. An improvement from the 2004 election, 100% of e-mails sent by McCain and Obama

employed some type of technical and textual interactivity, including the following: basic hyperlinks, embedded hyperlinks, banner/image links, video, search function, audio, calls for participation/action, inclusive language, and more (Hendricks and Kaid 49). The inclusive language by saying we instead of just I in messages, along with the calls for action, made voters feel that their involvement mattered. However, a downside and huge step backward from the 2004 campaign was that a lack of an e-mail forwarding tool existed so recipients were unable to pass messages along to others as easily (Hendricks and Kaid 53). YouTube took a huge initiative by meeting with nearly every candidate at the start of the campaign season and encouraging them to start YouTube channels (Clayton 145). Also, YouTube created YouChoose, a section of the site devoted to showing candidates videos and providing a platform for people to engage in dialogue with candidates through video responses, comments, and ratings (Carty 80). MySpace also participated by hosting online town halls with presidential candidates where members could watch a webcast and submit questions. They also created an Impact channel that housed all of the candidates official MySpace pages, and launched a month-long pre-primary poll that allowed members to vote on candidates (Carty 80). Also, in 2008 a merge existed between old and new media to provide further engagement. For example, ABC made a deal with Facebook to provide debate information; CNN, YouTube, and MySpace teamed with MTV to present a presidential dialogue series; and MoveOn partnered with America Radio to bring the first ever virtual town hall meeting for Democratic candidates (Carty 80-81). Also, YouTube and CNN teamed up to present a debate where people submitted questions on YouTube and they were answered through CNN. According to Hendricks and Kaid,


the YouTube/CNN debate was a prime example of how new media empower individuals to voice views or concerns instead of just watching debates as is traditional (Hendricks and Kaid 169). Obama was the candidate most actively engaged in social media. He hired Joe Raspers, who worked on Deans campaign in 2004, and Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes to lead his social media team (Carty 81). They managed Obamas presence on fifteen different social networking sites and created his own social networking site: My.BarackObama.com, also known as MyBO (Carty 81-82). On some sites, Obama was very engaged, like his LinkedIn page where he solicited opinions about how the next president could help small businesses and entrepreneurs (Holahan). However, he was not particularly successful at interacting on Twitter and used it primarily to post campaign information instead of engaging in an interactive dialogue with followers. Hendricks and Kaid conclude that on Twitter, the Obama campaign did not produce interactive content, did not reply to any followers, and used the account strictly as a one-way information push (16). Despite failing to fully harness Twitter in an engaging manner, Obamas presence on numerous sites promoted interactivity with constituents. Trying to compete with Obamas MyBO, McCains social media team created McCainSpace, which was part of his primary website (Clayton 143). Unfortunately, McCainSpace was nearly impossible to navigate and was virtually abandoned a couple months before the general election (Stelter). Overall, just having the social media tools does not suffice; one must know how to use them to engage with the public in order for them to be effective. According to Douglas Schoen, author of The Political Fix: Changing the Game of American Democracy, from the Grass Roots to the White House, social networking sites dramatically transform the way that citizens interact with the government by giving every


American their own citizen home page (207). Also, some researchers suggest that Web interactivity can enhance younger users self-efficacy, which can also lead them to feel more inclined to vote or engage in other political activities (Hendricks and Kaid 65). These are a couple of examples why candidates have recognized the worth of new media, particularly social media, and its value of engaging with potential voters. Organization and Mobilization The Internet has facilitated the organization and mobilization of supporters because it provides a platform where physical boundaries dissipate, like-minded citizens can easily find one another, and real-life actions are encouraged. The flattening of boundaries in turn facilitates collaborative decision-making, coalition-formation among organizations, lowers the obstacles to grass-roots mobilization and organization, and speeds up the flow of politics (Carty 17). The most important part of the Internets role as an organizer of supporters is its potential to translate online support into real activism. The website MoveOn.org, where an online network of like-minded users can interact, is a prime example of how the web can assist in mobilization. MoveOn illustrates how new digital network configurations can facilitate permanent campaigns and how online organizing and networking often leads to political activism in real communities as web-based ties and social relations often spill over into the material world (Carty 69). Meetup.com is another example because users can join online groups of people who have similar interests in their geographic location and members are then encouraged to meet up in real life on various occasions. The Obama campaign decided early on that they would use the Internet to organize supporters in order to counter Hillary Clintons influence with the inner circle of Democrats

(Clayton 137). The community he built online engaged in a high level of political participation, including writing e-mails and letters to delegates, attending events, making phone calls and going door-to-door (Clayton 137). Obama used his presence on social networking sites to lead supporters to his official website where people were then channeled to specific activities and causes that were deemed most important to fulfilling the campaigns electoral strategy (Lutz). The campaign motivated supporters by creating a system where they could earn participation points that would be visually displayed on MyBO (Stelter). By showcasing their involvement, MyBO generated competition for supporters to actively involve themselves in the campaign. In June 2008, after Clinton dropped from the race, the Obama team activated an e-mail list to rally her supporters by asking people to host Unite for Change parties in their neighborhoods, which resulted in approximately 4,000 parties that melded new and old supporters (Stelter). Also, supporters could apply online to volunteer to spend six weeks over the summer to train, and then return to their communities to organize get-out-the-vote drives in conjunction with other onthe-ground fieldwork operations (Carty 83). In addition, a My Neighborhood button existed on MyBO that allowed visitors to see people and events in their immediate vicinity. Furthermore, MyBO allowed volunteers to create city- and statewide networks that could later be tapped by professional staff to organize down to the precinct level; Maryland was able to mobilize 3,000 volunteers in only three weeks because of groundwork laid by groups like Baltimore for Barack Obama (Dickinson 65). Obamas focus on mobilizing voters was also occasionally evident in his use of Twitter when his team would publish tweets such as Encouraging everyone to register & vote. Visit http//VoteForChange.com for registration, absentee & early vote info (6:26 p.m. September 23, 2008) (Hendricks and Kaid 14-15). According to Rolling Stone writer Tim Dickinson, with the development of an online army, Obama was able to summon enough


volunteers to more than negate the advantage Clinton had in traditional campaign structure (65). The strong support he built online arguably held an important role in his election to presidency. As Carty points out, there exists substantial agreement that the Internet has certainly enhanced the capacity for political mobilization among groups of individuals (57). Overall, Obama in particular understood the power of the Internet as a method of organizing and mobilizing voters. Because of this, he implemented strategies that perfected past candidates techniques and surpassed those of his competitors. Gathering Voter Data Through the Internet, it is possible to gather an abundance of information on users from web analytics. Data collection can also take place through other technologies, such as e-mail and text messages, as well as face-to-face data collection. These methods can then be used to analyze the effectiveness of programs and assist in improvements for future strategies. According to Carty, the unprecedented scope and scale of data collection, which combined generated data with national voter databases amassed from public and commercial sources, was another hallmark of the Obama strategy (83). Volunteers updated computer databases from face-to-face organizing movements, which complemented polling data (Delany 10). This provided information on the effectiveness of canvassing efforts on the ground, while MyBO systematically gathered data on how supporters used applications on the website. Obamas campaign tracked the success of every e-mail, text message and website visit, capitalizing on the analytics available (Lutz 10). Multiple versions of ads and e-mails were created to test what worked best, and data from these tests were used to make real-time improvements to the outreach programs. Therefore, as the campaign progressed, the

effectiveness of the e-mail campaign increased and conversion rates similarly improved (Lutz 10). Using the digital consulting firm Blue State Digital for constant data collection, Obamas supporters received e-mails with specialized content based on their state or congressional district, their interests, demographics, donation history, or past pattern of actions on behalf of the campaign (Carty 85). Therefore, the data collection that Obamas team gathered on voters paid off because they had the ability to gain crucial information on key demographics and specialize messages to supporters. Because of the vast amount of information users share about themselves on social networking sites, a wealth of accessible online information could was available for microtargeting political messages. Based on public profiles and information freely posted by users, candidates could easily track crucial information on citizens beliefs, interests, and party preferences, without having to spend as many resources to find such information through telephone and door-to-door polling. Google Analytics is a free program that can provide a vast amount of information on the people that visit candidates websites, such as where they live, how they found the website, what browser they used, what they clicked on, how long they stayed on the site, and more. While candidates can obviously benefit from the proliferation of user information online, privacy issues arise with citizens not wanting to be targeted through the personal information that exists about them on the Internet. Reaching the Young Vote Although social networking sites were not really utilized in the 2004 election, they were crucial tools for reaching young voters in 2008. In reaching young Americans, the Internet and other electronic communications are very effective because it is where this demographic spends


a lot of their time (Starks 46). Social networking sites in particular provide campaigners realtime access to millions of potential young voters from nearly every demographic. The increasing importance of an online presence to reach young voters is evident from a 2008 Pew Research Center study, which found that 42% of voters under 30 regularly learn about the campaign from the Internet (Kohut). This is a significant increase from the 2004 election, when only 20% of young people reported routinely receiving campaign news from the Internet (Kohut). As Chicago Tribune journalists Parsons and McCormick point out, Obamas message of change was ideally suited to the new medium of the Internet, with its appeal to young people and independents. After all, the Millennials are the generation that came of age completely at home with the new media that are reshaping our politics (Leyden). Since many of his followers were digital natives, Obama used digital methods to reach out to them with sound clips of speeches and his Yes, We Can video on YouTube (Clayton 137). Many young voters embraced Obamas message by creating Facebook pages, such as Students for Barack Obama, and forming Generation Obama chapters across the country that held fundraising events, organized volunteers, conducted registration drives, and helped turn out the vote (as quoted in Carty 82). Among first-time voters in a study conducted by Hendricks and Kaid, the Internet had displaced TV as the most prevalent source of campaign information in 2008 (76). Therefore, in order to engage the youth vote it is important for candidates to reach out to them through their medium of choice: the Internet. Obama recognized this, and the eligible young voter turnout on Election Day in 2008 rose to 52-53%, 3.4 million more young voters than in 2004 (CIRCLE).


Dissemination of Information The extensive use of the Internet and social networking sites has allowed for candidates to easily send out desired messages to targeted publics and for citizens to receive real-time information more than ever before. The goal of candidates social networking sites was to use each contact as a communication hub within that persons own social circle (Carty 81-82). After all, people trust those whom they already know or share a personal connection with; thus, if one person believes in your message, then they can spread it to their contacts more easily than you since that persons contacts have had previous connections with him or her. Social networking sites also have the important role of linking back to a main website where specific information exists that the candidate wants supporters to know. This holds value because a website is a more controlled, one-way source than social media but often has more informative substance. New media have allowed for a novel way of getting messages out instantaneously instead of going through traditional media outlets. As Schoen asserts, the Internet has dramatically improved citizen access to information and enabled candidates to directly engage the public without the distorting filter of the mass media (171). For instance, on January 20, 2007, Clinton announced on her website the formation of a presidential exploratory committee and posted a video announcement that stated, Im in and Im in to win (Liasson). Also, Obama decided to buck decades of tradition when he identified Joe Biden as his running mate through a text message sent to his supporters and journalists simultaneously (Schoen 206). Although journalists who traditionally held the right to break important campaign news to the public might not have appreciated the new method of disseminating information, the public benefited from receiving quick news straight from a candidate without customary mediators.


YouTube took the initiative to assist in disseminating campaign information from the outset, by contacting candidates and creating the YouChoose channels. As Schoen points out, YouTube allows candidates the ability to inexpensively and efficiently record and broadcast their meetings with citizen groups, their public appearances, and their floor speeches (207). Instead of solely relying on costly television ads that can quickly drain a campaign budget, candidates can upload videos to YouTube free of cost and with a chance for high exposure. Also, YouTube videos that citizens can seek out for themselves, or may see posted by friends on other social media sites, allow potential voters to watch them on their own time and feel more in control of the information they receive. In contrast, expensive campaign ads that are pushed on viewers when they appear on television can lead to a more negative sentiment from potential voters. A writer for the Seattle Times laments on the annoyance of political ads prior to Election Day, Another week or so and it will be safe to turn on the TV again (Shady, Negative Television). Recognizing the importance of YouTube in distributing information, Obamas 2008 campaign ended with 1,821 videos posted to YouTube (Heffernan 22). Other candidates took advantage of the new medium, too, but not quite to the same extent. McCain, for example, posted 330 videos to his channel (Heffernan 22). Twitter similarly involved itself in the campaigning process to facilitate the distribution of information. As Hendricks and Kaid point out, Twitters quick, fast-paced, and mobile ability make it an ideal channel for real-time information sharing (12). Since approximately 11% of all online U.S. users reported using Twitter around the time of the 2008 election, the social networking site hosted an Election 2008 page to instantaneously display election-related tweets from candidates, political parties, political groups, and all other users (Hendricks and Kaid 12-13). During the campaigning process, Obama posted 261 tweets, aimed almost

exclusively at disseminating campaign information to supporters, and had 115,000 followers (Hendricks and Kaid 14-15). McCain launched his Twitter page relatively late, only two months before Election Day, and therefore only tweeted 28 times and had 3,000 followers (Hendricks and Kaid 16). However, both candidates increased their following to over a million Twitter users after the election. The largest social networking site, Facebook, had 65 billion page views per month in 2008 and members averaged 20 minutes per day on the site, making it a prime platform for rapidly spreading messages (Von Drehle). Obama took advantage of this outlet by sending an automatic news feed from the Obama campaign page to the profiles of his Facebook friends, which were in turn seen by the recipients friends (as quoted in Clayton 142). This allowed for a vast number of people to see the news and messages that he desired citizens to receive. Negative consequences existed because of the real-time and widespread distribution of information made available by new media, as well. Because news on the Internet is cheaper to circulate, easier to initiate, and can reach people faster than traditional media, it has given life to damaging stories such as the controversy with Obamas former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (Clayton 148). The fast-paced circulation of rumors and half-truths even threatened to derail Obamas candidacy, and his campaign team had to devote resources to FightTheSmears.com in order to dismantle them (Clayton 148). Prior to the Internet, most of the visible political attacks were conducted by or sponsored by the candidates themselves (Hendricks and Kaid 83). However, during the 2008 campaigning process, many citizen bloggers wrote highly visible posts attacking candidates (Hendricks and Kaid 83). Although potentially very damaging, the blogosphere does tend to balance itself and supporters almost always respond to unjustly negative posts by defending the candidates under attack.

Summary Overall, the growing importance of new media in presidential campaigns deserves recognition. From the Internet to texting to social networking sites, the different forms have gained attention for their power to assist candidates with fundraising, engaging and interacting with potential voters, organizing and mobilizing supporters, gathering voter data, reaching the youth vote, and disseminating messages. Some candidates have embraced these outlets more quickly than others, but all seem to realize that they must have some degree of online presence in order to stay up to date in their campaigning. Even Obama, who used social media more extensively than all other candidates, had room to grow in his strategies. Every candidate seriously running for the U.S. presidency will undoubtedly utilize social media, and we will see an increase in the level of candidates engagement in these media by the 2012 election.


Analysis: Grassroots Indisputably, Obama was the most active candidate on social networking sites during the 2008 presidential election. Citizens and experts often refer to his social media campaign as a grassroots uprising built from the bottom-up by a population eager to embrace change. However, a more critical analysis might reveal that his campaign was indeed top-down and that its main goal for using social media still centered on fundraising and strategically using online tools to lead voters to believe they had control of the election process and therefore support his election to presidency. I want to explore whether Obamas embracement of social media during the 2008 presidential election was a grassroots phenomena or if it focused on profits and Obamas best interest. Many sources convey optimism over Obamas use of social media as a grassroots effort. Dewey Clayton, author of The Presidential Campaign of Barack Obama: A Critical Analysis of a Racially Transcendent Strategy, claims that Obama assembled a grassroots movement from the bottom up that changed the face of Democracy in America and that his foot soldiers were the hundreds of thousands of virtual network citizens who were drawn to Obamas national community of purpose (136). Clayton appears to take the stance that Obamas supporters were inspired by his cause and rallied themselves behind him online, not that Obamas social media team intentionally targeted them. Illana Bryant, a writer for Adweek, asserts that Obamas campaign was led from the bottom up, not the top down because his MyBO social networking site enabled people to create their own groups and events, allowing for a self-organizing system. She pronounces that the Obama HQ provides the tools for these people to meet, organize, fund-raise and canvass voters, but does not dictate the content or intervene with the peer groups. In my opinion, the mere fact that the political headquarters provided the tools in

the first place calls into question the claim that citizens have as much control as they may perceive. According to Irregular Times, a politically critical blog with numerous authors, a grassroots campaign is built from the bottom up, by the rank and file, and is not centered on fundraising. In fact, a true grassroots campaign only receives donations as an unintended consequence of its actions (JClifford). Obama had sections on Facebook and MySpace that directed people to the donation page on his website; he managed to raise $500 million through the Internet (Hendricks and Kaid 4). His out of the ordinary method strayed from typical campaign fundraising because instead of relying on a smaller amount of larger donors, much of the money raised came in micropayments of less than $50 and the number of individual contributors totaled over 3.95 million people (Clayton 147). However, despite the fact that he utilized an unorthodox means of fundraising, it appears that a major element of Obamas social media use focused on accumulating money to support his election campaign, which goes against the definition of a grassroots effort. Victoria Carty, in her book titled Wired and Mobilizing: Social Movements, New Technology, and Electoral Politics, asserts that Obamas campaign was very strategic in its social media plan and that citizens had less control in the process than they might have perceived. Like myself, she believes his campaign warrants a more critical assessment: Contrary to many popular accounts that portrayed Obamas strategy as relying almost exclusively on a volunteer-driven and bottom up organizing campaign, a more critical gaze reveals that the campaign was actually very much structured within a hierarchical system that was used to further institutionalized political


ends. During the Obama campaign citizens were selected as the targets of political communication, and interactivity was structured from top down through the work of political intermediaries, i.e., professional campaign consultants (75). Carty gives insight into the workings behind the strategizing of Obamas campaign, which was orchestrated by a digital consulting firm called Blue State Digital (BSD) (84). This company uses a carefully architected technology suite that integrates tools for fundraising, advocacy, social networking, constituency development, and content management through a unified interface (Overview). BSDs work on the Obama campaign drove hundreds of millions of dollars in online donations, tens of millions of voter contacts . . . Blue State Digital played a crucial, widely acknowledged role in the election of the president (Obama For America). It appears from BSDs own description of their role in Obamas campaign that it was not built from the bottom up by average citizens, but instead strategically initiated by experts who carefully monitored results and had specific goals related to fundraising and voter acquisition. Dictionary.com defines grassroots as the common or ordinary people, especially as contrasted with the leadership or elite of a political party, social organization, etc.; the rank and file. Knowing that Obamas social media team consisted of experts who intentionally used these tools to organize and mobilize people, it does not appear that it can bear the title grassroots since it was not initiated by the common people and was very much a strategy of an elite political party. Through my research, I have concluded that a political grassroots campaign only deserves such a title if an outside organization of average citizens creates the initiative and decides collectively to embrace a particular candidate. The candidate cannot plan to motivate the group to support him or her in any manner other than naturally inspiring them to embrace his or her cause. One example of a grassroots organization is MoveOn.org. It was created in the late

1990s by computer entrepreneurs Wes Boyd, Joan Blades and Eli Pariser as a website that focuses on education and advocacy regarding important national issues; a quintessential grassroots mobilizing effort (Carty 58). Besides having their own website, the group has an active presence on various social media sites. Members often organize online pro-peace movements and send online petitions to Congress (Carty 46). Although not usually advocates for a specific candidate, the members of MoveOn.org voted in June 2008 to endorse one for the first time ever when Obama received 70% of the vote through an e-mail poll of its members (Carty 66). After the election, MoveOn reported that nearly one million volunteers put in over 20,841,507 hours of time into canvassing, registering voters, and making 2.6 million get-out-thevote calls (People-Powered Politics). This case does demonstrate a grassroots campaign in my opinion because a group of ordinary citizens decided to take on Obamas cause as their own and utilize new media to create and organize their own events in support of him, not necessarily following those set up by Obamas team. The online support initiated by groups of citizens involved with MoveOn can be considered grassroots because it was created entirely by individuals not managed by Obamas team, but instead inspired to embrace and support his cause because of the value they saw in it. On the other hand, the efforts initiated by Obamas personal social media team cannot be considered grassroots because they stemmed from the candidate himself and the campaign intentionally utilized this new medium to fundraise and generate support for his election to presidency. Overall, it realistically would not make sense for any candidate to ignore the fundraising potential and other self-fulfilling benefits of new media. However, because of the contradiction to the definition of grassroots, I do not believe that any political effort orchestrated by a candidates team can label itself as a grassroots campaign.

Analysis: Public Interest Using the public sphere model, I want to evaluate whether or not Obamas social media campaign catered to the public interest even though it focused on fundraising and Obamas personal interest in gaining presidency. While I do not believe that his social media campaign deserves a grassroots title, value lies in exploring whether or not it accommodated the public interest. According to the public sphere model, an entity must focus beyond profits in order to thoroughly serve the public interest (Croteau and Hoynes 21-22). To do so, Obamas use of social media must have promoted diversity, avoided homogeneity, and provided substantive information in an innovative manner. Also, on a broader scale, I want to investigate whether the use of social media sites in recent politics in general has been for the better or worse for the public interest. As Croteau and Hoynes point out, citizens can only truly begin to understand their society and make informed decisions through exposure to a wide range of perspectives (34). By looking at Obamas YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, a definite lack of diversity exists because the information presented merely supports Obama and does not provide contrasting views. This is expected, since he uses them as platforms for promotional dissemination of information in support of his own campaign and would not want to lead potential voters to his competitors sites. People who look to reinforce their own belief that Obama embodies what America needs as a president are the ones who are friending and following him on his social networking sites, thus enabling homogeneity. Providing political information that can assist voters in their decision on who to elect as president definitely falls into the category of substantive information. Citizens who wanted to


explore Obamas current actions, stances on issues, future goals, and even personal life could turn to his social media sites. Furthermore, utilizing social media was a new and engaging method of disseminating information. After all, citizens could interact in dialogue taking place on Obamas social networking sites, receive real-time information, and repeatedly watch his videos on YouTube. Whether or not Obamas use of social media purely catered to the public interest is questionable. Even though he provided substantive campaign information in an innovative approach through social media, he did not provide a diverse array of information with opposing sides that would have better served the public. He clearly had ulterior motives for providing such information and engaging with the public on his sites, like acquiring donations and votes, as any candidate would. However, even if his ultimate goals were more selfish, benefits to the public did arise through his use of social media because it allowed citizens to gain substantive knowledge in an innovative manner. On a broader scale, an analysis of the emergence of social media in politics in general might reveal a more positive effect on the public sphere. The public sphere model argues that information should circulate freely with varied ownership of outlets and be publicly accessible for citizens to use to communicate with each other (Croteau and Hoynes 22). Social media certainly facilitates the circulation of information, as evidenced by videos and news stories spreading virally across the Internet, as well as rumors and gossip. Also, social networking sites are often start-ups created by a small group of innovative individuals. Google is currently the only potentially monopolistic force, with its acquirement of YouTube and attempt to compete in social media with Google Offers and Google+, but users still prefer Facebook and other


independent sites. Social networking sites provide an ideal platform for ongoing public dialogue, with two-way communication amongst citizens, as well as between candidates and voters. The utilization of social media sites by political candidates in general does allow for opposing sides and criticism to emerge that enhances the decision making of citizens. Every major presidential candidate in the 2008 election engaged on social media sites to at least some degree, while many of their advocates and opponents were guaranteed to exist online. If supporters do not care to find information that opposes their own beliefs, they likely only desire to stay on their preferred candidates sites. However, because social media is such an open form of communication, users can engage in dialogue on any social networking sites, even their opponents, which can lead to the presentation of different sides on issues. For instance, if one candidate uploads a video to his or her YouTube account that promotes one side of a particular issue, those who oppose that position can freely comment and point out their side of the issue in response, which in turn can be viewed by anyone online. According to the public sphere model, media must also provide resources for citizens to have meaningful participation in democracy in order to serve the public interest (Croteau and Hoynes 23). Social media taking part in politics does allow citizens to have greater access to information regarding candidates and elections. Many sites also serve to organize and mobilize supporters into real world action because they facilitate the spread of messages that include steps that the public can take to involve themselves in campaigning activities. Ultimately, using social media might encourage citizens to take part in democracy in the most vital wayby voting. After all, social media does cater primarily to younger voters, and 3.4 million more young voters came to the polls on Election Day in 2008 than in 2004 (CIRCLE). Since social media largely


appeared during the 2008 election and has continued to gain prevalence, we might see another increase in young voters in the 2012 election. Another important question, with a less definitive answer, is whether politicians through their use of social networking sites view people as citizens or consumers (or voters, in this case). Social media do serve to provide campaign information in an engaging manner and benefit the public. However, the public is definitely targeted through these sites for the purpose of acquiring their votes and oftentimes donations. The answer, I believe, lies somewhere in the middle. Politicians want citizens to gain knowledge of political issues and candidates, but ultimately do need these citizens votes. The public, on the other hand, can easily acquire knowledge on political campaigns through social networking sites, but also understand that a candidates ultimate goal is to accumulate the most votes on Election Day in November. A potentially mutually beneficial relationship exists; citizens should, however, remain conscious of candidates motives and not assume that politicians use of social media equals handing more power over to citizens. In conclusion, nearly all candidates recognize the benefits of social media as a tool for their campaigns to easily disseminate information to and engage with the public. More importantly, this online connection can reach potential voters and lead to greater mobilization and fundraising efforts. While social media campaigns enacted by candidates themselves should not be considered grassroots and citizens should warily think of them as so, they do provide benefits in the public interest. Although ultimately used by politicians to further their efforts toward presidency, social media do provide informative substance, generally present a diversity of opinions, cultivate public dialogue, and provide necessary resources for citizens meaningful participation in democracy. As long as the public acknowledges that the relationship built

between candidates and voters online operates as a mechanism to acquire votes and funds, a mutually beneficial relationship can exist where politicians provide an outlet for citizens to embrace and involve themselves in a cause they believe in while they in turn support candidates through actions, votes, and financial donations.


Projections on Upcoming 2012 Election In the past few years since the 2008 election, social media has continued to expand substantially. According to Chris OBrien of Mercury News, Facebook had 100 million users in August of 2008 but now serves over 850 million users, while Twitter has increased its following from 6 million users to 500 million users (OBrien). A study conducted by MGD Advertising reports more conservative numbers by only including Internet users 18 and older who access the Internet at least once a month (The Social Campaign). Their report concludes that Facebook increased its following from 44.3 million users in 2008 to 143.3 million in 2012, while Twitter expanded from 3.4 million users in 2008 to 24.1 million in 2012 (Dugan). In any case, both sources report dramatic growth in users on these social media sites, supporting predictions of their rising importance. According to MDG Advertising, the number of people who use the Internet to engage with political campaigns has likewise increased, with 82% of all adults receiving most of their election news online, compared to just 26% in 2008 (The Social Campaign). This remarkable increase demonstrates the growing force of new media and its potential to influence U.S. presidential elections. Numerous changes have taken place in the short period of time since the previous election, such as the prevalence of smartphones and apps. After all, by the time of the 2008 presidential election, the iPhone had not even existed for an entire year and only 10% of American adults owned a smartphone (OBrien; Entner). As of July 2011, a Pew Internet study reported that 35% of American adults owned a smartphone (Smith). Along with this trend, the social networking site Foursquare launched in 2009, which allows users to share their current locations with friends by checking in via a smartphone app or text message (Lacy). Pinterest, a social networking site that began in 2010 and has recently seen a large increase in traffic, allows

users to build virtual pinboards and organize items of interest found on the web (Email a Pin). The Google team launched a new social networking site as well in June of 2011, which follows a similar format to Facebook with the exception of a hangout feature that allows for video chatting (Google History). While many other media innovations have surfaced over the past few years, smartphones, Foursquare, Pinterest and Google+ are just a few that have grown to particular importance and have found their way into political communication strategies for the 2012 election. Realizing the importance of the growing social media phenomenon, all major candidates for the current election have established a presence on these sites to at least some degree. According to blogger Alissa Skelton, a recent PRMarketing study reported that the candidates teams post to their official social media accounts an average of two to five times per day. The Obama campaign has once again taken the forefront in utilizing a wide variety of new social networks, especially considering he is able to devote more time and resources than Republican candidates since he does not have a primary Democratic opponent (OBrien). While Obama has posted photos to Instagram, shared songs on Spotify, spread information on Tumblr, produced iPhone and iPad apps, and hosted a Google+ hangout, he has continued to focus primarily on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (OBrien). Even during his first term, Obama utilized Twitter to interact with citizens by conducting a Twitter Town Hall in summer 2011 where he responded to questions posted from followers. A video of the event was aired live on multiple Internet platforms, including YouTube. As of March 2012, Obama boasts an impressive 25,590,142 Facebook likes and 13,044,916 Twitter followers. Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have likewise participated in social media to varying degrees. Romney has not spread his social media

strategy across all platforms but instead focused on the three most prominent ones: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. A big social media success for him thus far was when he released his jobs plan on Twitter, offering a free copy on Kindle for people who re-tweeted the link (OBrien). His jobs plan ended up on Kindles Top 10 download list for a week, demonstrating the importance Twitter had in disseminating information because citizens responded by downloading the information that Romney desired to propagate. Even Romneys wife, Ann, has set up a personal Pinterest account with board topics such as Campaign and Patriotic. On Facebook, Romney currently leads Republican candidates with 1,533,679 likes and 381,233 Twitter followers. According to a Wordpress Blog Magazine, Ron Paul is the Republican candidate that receives the most positive attention on social networking sites and is also the most searched for candidate on search engines (BJ). A recent Business Wire press release also explained a study by Sociagility that ranked candidates social media presence and determined that Ron Paul had the highest score among Republicans, with especially high interaction and trust scores (Ron Paul Tops). The study claimed to predict results for the first social primary in Iowa; however, Pauls votes ended up trailing behind those of Romney and Santorum (Cook). This indicates that although Paul currently holds the second highest likes and followers among Republican candidates (911,457 Facebook likes and 142,611 Twitter followers), this may not necessarily predict his status as a competitor for the Republican nomination. Newt Gingrich has experienced some of the potential negatives that can come with social media strategies. According to Emily Steel, a blogger for the Wall Street Journal, in January more than half of conversations taking place online about Gingrich revolved around a negative ad campaign toward Romney. This could depict a lack of a strong media strategy since citizens conversed more about an attack ad endorsed by the Gingrich campaign than any of his actual

platforms or stances on issues. Also, in August Gingrich endured allegations that the majority of his Twitter followers were not real. In fact, an anonymous former Gingrich staffer told Gawker that the candidate had purchased most of his followers through follow agencies that create fake accounts (Taylor, Did Newt Gingrich Buy). In his defense, it was discovered that the problem originated by Twitter adding Gingrichs profile to a Suggested User List (SUL), which promoted a range of accounts in 2009 and 2010. Topsy, a social media search company, conducted an analysis on all politicians listed on the SUL and concluded that nearly all political accounts on the SUL have the same levels of inactivity among their followers as Gingrich (Taylor, Exclusive). Either way, the inflated numbers explain why Gingrich currently has 1,448,575 Twitter followers, 158% more than Romney. In this respect, Facebook appears to present more accurate numbers, considering Gingrichs Facebook page has a reasonable count of 296,143 likes. Rick Santorums position as a candidate for the Republican nomination has risen over the past few months, along with his presence on social networking sites. According to a post by MSNBC, February 2012 saw Santorum as the primary candidate talked about on social media (Johnson). However, their analysis suggests that although people converse about Santorum more, the sentiment leans toward negativity, driven primarily by his strong conservative stances on social issues. Overall, Santorum still lags behind the other candidates with 180,983 Facebook likes and 171,178 followers on Twitter. Summary In the few years since the previous election, social networking sites and other new media have extended their reach in the election process. Although Obama remains clearly ahead with


his social media strategy, Republican candidates Romney, Paul, Gingrich and Santorum have recognized the significance of consistently maintaining a presence on social media. With new innovations constantly appearing in the changing field of media, Chris OBrien of Mercury News contends that, the extent to which campaigns are using social media and digital media in this campaign is going to make the 2008 election look like the social media Dark Ages. Candidates have undoubtedly become more social media savvy since the 2008 election; Obama has increased his Twitter following by 1,1243%, and none of the candidates have abandoned major sites like McCainSpace in 2008. Despite its proven worth, the power of new media in predicting election results and transferring online fans to physical voters at the polls will remain to be seen at the upcoming election this November.


Conclusion Throughout our history as a country, various new media innovations have surfaced and consequently disturbed the political process, requiring candidates to adapt and determine what role the new medium could possibly play in their campaigns. The Internet and the social media that have developed from it are no exception. Over the past two decades, we have witnessed U.S. presidential candidates recognize the important functions of the Internet in politics. Since 1992, candidates have gradually embraced it as a tool for fundraising, engaging and interacting with the public, organizing and mobilizing supporters, gathering voter data, reaching the youth vote, and disseminating information. These functions expanded even further from early 2000 to present day with the proliferation of social media sites. While the use of new media in presidential elections clearly provides important advantages to candidates, citizens and the public sphere also benefit by having an easy method of acquiring diverse information on the election, a platform for organizing and gaining resources for meaningful participation in democracy, and a means to engage in public dialogue and interact with candidates. However, citizens should remain conscious of candidates underlying motive for using social media: to ultimately gain enough votes in order to win the presidential election. To avoid any misguided beliefs that candidates use social media for the primary purpose of handing power over to citizens or building friendships with voters, social media campaigns enacted by a candidates team should not employ the title grassroots. By avoiding the use of this term, citizens can more readily recognize their role as voters to candidates and a mutually beneficial relationship can exist.


In conclusion, it is difficult to predict how the Internet will change in the future or what new uses will be discovered for it that could benefit the realm of politics. We can already see how the use of new media has morphed since the 2008 election, and can only envision what lies ahead. One thing for sure is that the elections to come will use media in a way that is unimaginable to us today because even newer innovations will undoubtedly surface and once again alter our presidential election process.


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