Understanding the impact of social media on the electorate is more important than ever – here’s why
The United States has always been a nation of immigrants. With these changing demographics and values, understanding what is driving voters will be more important than ever in the future. One aspect of this is social media and the internet. This article outlines why digitally connecting with voters will be the next political battleground in the United States and offers some conclusions about its implications.
The rise of people power
The internet has made the world a much smaller place, allowing for the sharing of information and ideas across countries and continents at unprecedented rates. The same is true of politics: social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter bring people together to discuss national and global issues. This ‘people power’ has been seen in action on several occasions, such as during the Arab Spring in Tunisia, when social media was credited with helping to drive public protests; or in Turkey, where Twitter proved instrumental in organizing mass demonstrations against censorship of the internet.
This is especially true when it comes to issues people really care about. Take gambling, for example. There’s already a powerful lobby in the United States that lobbies on behalf of real money casino and game houses. But individuals also have an impact on policy. If they can’t enjoy their pastime because politicians are blocking things or drafting legislation to limit it, then they’ll be certain to avoid voting for them on polling day.
What’s more, studies suggest that voter turnout tends to be higher in countries where there is greater access to the internet (Pew Research Centre 2012). In the US, turnout in the 2008 elections was a record-breaking 65.4 percent for those aged between 18 and 24 (United States Elections Project 2011), while overall voter turnout reached 58.2 percent – also a record high (United States Elections Project 2013).
People are more engaged with politics than ever before
People are turning their backs on traditional power structures, especially when it comes to the government. This year’s US midterm elections saw over 85 percent of incumbents re-elected in the Senate and House races, continuing a trend where many voters have lost faith in political parties.
The media landscape is diversified and fragmented
The internet and its accompanying technologies have also allowed more people to publish their views, leading to an increasingly diverse media landscape. The old-style political commentator is being replaced by a much wider range of voices. In the past, everyone would have read the same newspaper or watched the same news channel – now, there are so many ‘new outlets’ that almost every reader has their own personalized media experience. It is very difficult for anyone’s voice or group to claim ownership of the political agenda when such a wide range of voices are involved in the debate.
There is a growing awareness among politicians and businesses of the impact that social media can have on electoral outcomes. If they want to tap into it, they need to be more transparent about their policies and proposals – especially those relating to important issues for voters – and build communities around them. In short, meet people where they are talking politics these days: online.