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Social Media teaches Grand Ole Party new campaign tricks Add to ...

Just two years ago, most people believed anyone who knew anything about technology and politics was a Democrat.

It wasn't just because Barack Obama had Scarlett Johansson's e-mail address on his BlackBerry. He also had a YouTube channel with more than a thousand videos, 13 million names on an e-mail list and his own social networking site (MyBo). Mr. Obama's volunteers mobilized voters using text message. Online fundraising peaked at more than $500-million.

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But how quickly things have changed since John McCain disclosed that his high-tech vetting process for his vice-president was, "Well, basically, it's a Google."

One of the great takeaways from these midterm elections has been how Republicans, fuelled by the Tea Party, have been able to leverage social media in a way that has left their Democratic opponents in the digital dust.

Republican members of Congress have, on average, twice as many Twitter followers as their Democratic counterparts. They tweet more often. Their videos are more viral on YouTube. Republican candidates routinely outpolled Democrats on Facebook in races for the Senate, House of Representatives and state governor.

Clearly, social media has emerged as a deciding factor in politics. In the midterms, candidates with a greater number of Facebook fans than their opponents won more than 70 per cent of races for Congress, according to figures released yesterday.

So why have the Republicans emerged as more effective with social media this time around? Some analysts believe social media inherently lends itself to tapping into voter disaffection, or a hunger for change. In other words, it is easier to criticize something on Twitter than it is to defend the status quo.

Only a month earlier, Toronto's right-wing candidate Rob Ford tapped into that same frustration during the city's mayoral race, spreading his "stop the gravy train" slogan far and wide through social media. While Facebook and Twitter might not be the best forum for complex thoughts, he proved that the simplicity of a succinct message, digitally delivered en masse, can strike a chord with voters.

Twitter

Who: John Boehner, the Speaker presumptive.

Background: Mr. Boehner, 50, grew up poor in a Roman Catholic family of 14 in suburban Ohio. He has spent the past two decades in Congress. As Speaker of the House, he could leverage social media in new ways.

How: Mr. Boehner has been dubbed the "Twitter King" with more than 68,000 followers. He sent out more than 1,500 tweets over the course of his campaign, typically tweeting five or 10 times a day. His uses Twitter to his political advantage by engaging his supporters: Re-tweeting his followers comments and drawing his supporters and opponents into a conversation.

Example: An exchange between Mr. Boehner and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who was mocking Republican "disarray" on tax policy.

Gibbs: "Disarray = Boehner vs Cantor, Boehner vs McConnell & McConnell vs McConnell - why hold middle class tax cuts hostage to these disagreements" - PressSec

"REPUBLICANS ARE UNIFIED" - @GOPLeader

Facebook

Who: Marco Rubio, Senator-elect from Florida

Background: Mr. Rubio, 39, is the son of Cuban exiles who grew up in Miami. The Tea Party-backed candidate pulled off a stunning win in a three-horse race, garnering 50 per cent of the vote - in part by leveraging the power of Facebook, where he has nearly 140,000 fans. That's several hundred fewer than the entire Democratic Party.

How: Mr. Rubio uses his Facebook page as an organizational hub for his supporters. His page includes an "action centre," where supporters can download a virtual badge, get a bumper sticker or order a yard sign. They can also opt to write a letter to the media or join a phone campaign. His status updates are both personal and political. He often asks supporters questions to spark online conversations.

Example: Mr. Rubio helped get out his vote by directing people to a Google tool on his Facebook page that helped his fans find their nearest polling station. He also won points for posting a video of himself getting grilled by a Grade 7 "reporter" while on the campaign trail.

Youtube

Who: Rand Paul, Senator-elect from Kentucky.

Background: Mr. Rand, 47, an ophthalmologist, is a high-profile member of the Tea Party movement with libertarian leanings.

How: Mr. Paul is a social media junkie. His Twitter page has 8,700 followers, even after he switched to a new user name. His Facebook page boasts more than 84,000 fans. But it's the telegenic candidate's clever use of videos - featuring him trick-or-treating with his kids or talking to his constituents - that really worked to his advantage. It didn't seem to matter how meandering or irrelevant the footage was. Viewers couldn't seem to get enough, clicking by the tens of thousands.

Example: Many of Mr. Paul's campaign ads went viral on YouTube, building momentum for a "money-bomb" - an online fundraiser that raised more than $250,000 for the campaign in just two days last August.

Crowd-sourcing

Who: Eric Cantor, Minority Whip of the House of Representatives.

Background: Mr. Cantor, 47, is the second-ranking member of the house Republican leadership, having been elected Whip in 2008.

How: Last Spring, Mr. Cantor launched YouCut, a do-it-yourself website that lets users vote on what programs they want Republicans to unfund. Democrats were quick to dismiss the site as a gimmick, but in its first six months more than two million people voted for various spending cuts, and the site has become a top political search term on Google.

Example: Mr. Cantor asked users to sift through complicated online expenditure reports for specific agencies to find questionable figures. There were 10,000 responses in several days, far exceeding expectations. In once instance, someone found $800,000 being spent on a fantasy basketball league, according to Matt Lira, Mr. Cantor's digital communications director.

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