News / 2016 USA Votes

    Candidates Turn Social Media Follows into Votes

    Candidates Turn Social Media Followers into Votesi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    January 22, 2016 11:29 PM
    From Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Snapchat – the varied world of social media makes it easier than ever for American presidential candidates to connect with voters on a personal level. VOA’s Katherine Gypson looks at how social media are changing the campaign conversation.
    Candidates Turn Social Media Followers into Votes

    Ted Cruz loves Twitter.  At Cruz 2016 presidential campaign headquarters in Houston, Texas, members of his team talk about the senator's attachment to his smartphone and the campaign's emphasis on social media.

    "He is probably the one person I know who will sit and scroll through and read tweets more than I do, and it's my job," said Josh Perry, the social media director for the campaign.

    Cruz is one of many in the 2016 presidential campaign taking advantage of the unique ways social media can break down traditional boundaries among candidates and voters.

    Voters are increasingly turning to their smartphones to read political news and follow political figures, according to a 2014 Pew Research survey.  Those numbers are highest among young voters, who value making personal connections with politicians.

    "Without social media, you're ignoring millennial voters," said Chris Wilson, director of research and analytics for the Cruz campaign. "Sen. Cruz is someone who is very active on social media, he's someone who is just as likely to be playing Candy Crush on his phone as reading the National Journal."

    Perry, the 27-year-old who runs the day-to-day operations of Cruz's Twitter feed, agrees.

    "If you tweet at Senator Cruz, there's a decent chance he'll read your tweet on his phone," he said.

    Perry said he is surprised by the level of voter excitement in this election cycle.

    "For the longest time, you knew they existed and they advertised to you and that was it, there was no kind of way for you - unless you were in the campaign headquarters - to play a role in supporting the candidate."

    Senator Cruz even uses CruzCrew, a smartphone app the campaign developed to allow supporters anywhere in the country to volunteer for the campaign.  Users compete to earn points for campaign activities ranging from liking the senator on Facebook to Tweeting about him and sharing photos.

    App users are also invited to share their contacts, allowing the campaign to match up those shares with voter files.  The process, said Wilson, has allowed the campaign to "identify over a million voters in the early states." 

    Personal becomes public

    Presidential candidates know the battle for social media followers can ultimately translate into fundraising.

    "With an app, you're open all the time, you can reach people all the time and you can locate them," said Michael Cornfield, a professor at The George Washington University.

    Cornfield runs the PEORIA Project, a study of how candidates in the 2016 election are getting their message out through mainstream and social media.  He found the Cruz campaign leads Republican candidates in translating social media follows and conversations into visits to his website.

    On Twitter and Instagram, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton share similar numbers of followers in the millions while on Facebook, Ben Carson comes out ahead.

    "Ben Carson is a master at Facebook," said Cornfield. "He goes on to Facebook every night and he exchanges messages with his supporters.  Others, like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are using email.  So the Internet has a multiplicity of channels."

    Cornfield notes that Sanders has achieved success by inheriting and then expanding upon a digital political network that progressives have been using for at least 10 years.

    WATCH: VOA talks to the Cruz campaign about Tweeting

    VOA Talks to the Cruz Campaign about Tweetingi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    January 21, 2016 8:33 PM
    VOA spoke to the Cruz campaign in Houston, Texas about the challenges of Twitter in the 2016 US election

    Tweeting a movement

    The 74-year-old Vermont senator may seem an unlikely figure to inspire a passionate social media following with popular hashtags like #FeeltheBern. But Ben Spielberg, a 27-year-old Washington, DC-based supporter of Sanders, said the grassroots-inspired campaign's focus on issues usually left out of the political mainstream is a perfect fit for open discussion on the Internet.

    "Unlike traditional media sources, really anybody can have a voice and they can tweet something compelling or if there is a hashtag that's trending, they can be heard," said Spielberg.

    Spielberg blogs daily about politics and tweets to help build support for Sanders.  Spielberg said he makes an effort to engage with opposing viewpoints on Twitter, building a discussion for a broader movement on social change.

    "There's tons of activity around his tweets, that stuff does permeate the mainstream media and then, I think, makes it into the national consciousness," he said.

    Spielberg said he thinks that discussion will continue online even after the campaign ends.  "People will still be tweeting about and holding whatever politician is elected accountable."

    The lasting impact of social media in the 2016 campaign may come after Election Day from the newly engaged group of voters who feel personally invested in the politicians representing them.


    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora