News / 2016 USA Votes

    Candidates Turn Social Media Follows into Votes

    Candidates Turn Social Media Followers into Votesi
    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
    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.
    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora