Could Becoming Social-Media Savvy Really Help the GOP?

A recent article on CNN.com, written by journalist Leslie Sanchez, suggested that Obama”s success in garnering an impressive following of young voters demonstrated that for the GOP to succeed, the party will need to match Team Obama”s savvy use of social media in future elections.  Though John McCain”s team certainly didn”t match the efforts of Obama”s in social media, there is a much more significant reason why McCain and the GOP as a whole won”t succeed in winning over the young vote, which runs to the very core of the party.

CNN reported that on Facebook, arguably the most popular social networking site for college students and young people, Obama claimed 2.4 million followers, where John McCain pulled up the rear with a meager 624,000.  Obama”s own site was significantly more social in content, and John McCain”s team did make an effort to replicate some of the functionality Obama touted for McCain”s own site.

There is one point that I will not contend with Sanchez, that being that the GOP (and the Democratic party) should work towards reaching the young and old through social media. Social media is here to stay, and it would nothing less than irresponsible to not maintain a presence on networks and sites like Facebook, MySpace, Youtube, Twitter, Friendfeed and the like.

However, implicit to Sanchez”s article is the suggestion that if the GOP can match the Democrat”s technological savvy, they can swing a large group of young voters in the party”s favor. I respectfully disagree.

Let us consider the example of Facebook”s role in identifying each candidate”s young constituents during this latest election. A total of 3.24 million Facebook users responded to the survey, an impressive number to say the least. Though there is no way of truly knowing (without getting insider private information directly from the Facebook team) the ages of every single survey participant, I think it is fairly safe to say the majority would belong to what we would call the “young” vote. Millenials, Gen-Yers, or whatever we are called, our age group showed up in a force much larger than has been reported of previous elections.

But I don”t think that McCain or Obama”s involvement in Facebook really swayed many young voters one way or the other. After all, what exactly, aside from joining groups like “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack),” or “1 Million Strong for McCain/Palin “08,” can Facebook users do to really participate and show support? I write notes from time to time, but I don”t think Palin has stopped by to read and appreciate my comments.

Youtube is more dynamic in gauging support for political candidates, in that the campaigns can produce videos to reach Youtube users, and those users can actively demonstrate their support (or dislike) for a certain candidate by responding in videos of their own. Still, the candidates themselves can”t really participate much beyond being seen in videos.

Twitter might be said to be an exception to my previous examples of candidates” inability to connect with supporters. Barack Obama (or his right-hand team) was fairly active on the micro-messaging platform, which is more than McCain can say. However, and I say this from both being a young voter and from being surrounded by an entire campus of fellow young voters, many college-goers don”t deviate from their time-consuming addictions to Facebook and Youtube, with some still frequenting MySpace (though, for what reason I have no clue). Twitter is definitely on the radar and used heavily by those of us who love everything social media, blogosphere and internet, but we aren”t the majority. Suffice it to say that from where I stand, Obama was reaching a slightly different group than the college-going aristocrat pokies online young voter on Twitter for the most part.

So, if each candidate”s participation in the most popular social networks was limited, and there was still a significant amount of support from young voters, it must be seen that the support was largely volunteered by those supportive youths, not in response to the direct involvement of each candidate.

From there, we must ask ourselves exactly why the number of constituents for each candidate was skewed so heavily in Obama”s favor. I think the answer is simple: as cliche as it sounds (and is), young people want change and believe that they (assumedly alongside Mr. Obama) can achieve it.

There are two parts to that equation. First, it is no secret that as people age, they tend towards more conservative stances. Colleges are typically the most liberal institutions, and it is visible in the mentalities of students. Being liberal is popular in college. That is because we are surrounded with fellow liberals who tend to look badly on conservative stances.

In addition, I would argue that the needs and motives of young voters are best catered to by the Democratic party. Obviously, those interests like social welfare programs, lower loan and tuition rates and minimum wage tend to give way to more conservative interests as young voters graduate and start accumulating wealth and assets of their own.

The second contributor to the political leanings of young voters, in my estimation, are the mediums through which young voters get their political information. As I previously mentioned, that includes the influences of those professors we see from day to day, and also various media channels. What college student does not enjoy the entertainment of “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” or, dare I say them, “South Park,” and “Family Guy?” If you think that those last two shows don”t play a part in the way the young voters of America perceive the government, you would be oh so wrong. Every one of those hugely popular “college” shows influence the minds of young voters, and it is safe to say those shows are far from conservative. I won”t say that basing one”s political opinions on the incredibly skewed political stances of those media outlets is wise, but to each their own.

So, as much as it would be nice to paint a picture of proper social media usage being the key to victory for the GOP with young voters, I think it will take a far sight more to win the minds of that coveted demographic. In fact, I wouldn”t rule out the possibility that the GOP as it currently stands, comprised of neo-conservatives and moderate-conservatives, will never really serve the immediate interests (as they will see it) of young voters. But then, this country was never intended to be controlled by two parties that are more apt to scratch each other”s back than cater to the interests of the people. Maybe it is time for a drastic changing of guards…

  • Great post. As someone who is libertarian leaning, I have trouble personally with the overall GOP as it currently stands: arm in arm with the extreme religious right. I think until the GOP splits into the two parties it really already is (extreme religious right and moderate conservative), creating the three party system we’ve been needing as a nation, there is no way it will speak to the majority of the nation’s youth. It may gain members as people age or reach certain life markers, but I agree with Triston that the Dems currently have a platform more appealing to much of the under 30 age group and no amount of social media will change that without also modifying the message behind it to fit the target demographic.

  • Great post. As someone who is libertarian leaning, I have trouble personally with the overall GOP as it currently stands: arm in arm with the extreme religious right. I think until the GOP splits into the two parties it really already is (extreme religious right and moderate conservative), creating the three party system we’ve been needing as a nation, there is no way it will speak to the majority of the nation’s youth. It may gain members as people age or reach certain life markers, but I agree with Triston that the Dems currently have a platform more appealing to much of the under 30 age group and no amount of social media will change that without also modifying the message behind it to fit the target demographic.