In my last blog post, I discussed how young people in the United States, particulary those ages 18 to 29, are participating more in political activity because of the influence of social media. I talked about how young people are sharing videos, such as political skits from “Saturday Night Live” with their friends, prompting discussion and perhaps changing the traditional role of political participation in the United States.  In this blog post, I’d like to expand on the emergence of participatory politics and also delve more into how it ultimately affects the way presidential candidates now communicate with young voters.

In the article, “Digital Media Shapes Youth Participation in Politics,” the authors discuss how a growing number of young people are participating in politics in more of a non-traditional way, “not guided by traditional institutions like political parties or newspapers.” Instead,  young people are engaging in participatory politics, addressing issues of public concern in a more interactive and peer-based way online. In fact, the authors of the article found that 41 percent of all youth participated in participatory politics, whether that be by starting a political group online, writing a blog about a political issue (what I’m doing now!) or forwarding a political video to social networks (Kahne, Middaugh).  Of course, I have to mention the two biggest social networks: Facebook and Twitter. I’d add that joining a Facebook political group or tweeting thoughts about a political issue are also forms of participatory politics.

Seeing as my last blog post focused on how political comedy shows really encourage and influence young voters, I’ve found the common theme across all types of content online that gets young people talking and discussing political issues is humor. We all remember Clint Eastwood’s speech to an empty chair. Well, within two hours, over 78,000 tweets went out about the moment and the Twitter account @InvisibleObama was born (Resnick). The presidental and vice-presidental debates were a whole other cannon for memes. Memorable moments include: Romney claiming to have had binders full of women and loving Big Bird; Obama telling Romney that we no longer have horses and bayonets; and who could forget Joe Biden telling Paul Ryan “That’s malarkey!”

So, how have politicians responded to these memes or political comedy skits? Obama utilized them to his advantage, especially when it aided in making Romney into a bigger joke. Obama’s response to the Eastwood meme?

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 8.06.05 PM

Obama’s response to Romney’s Big Bird comment?

So what’s the pay-off for politicians to engage with young audiences? Obviously, getting young people to participate in politics is one thing but does that always translate to votes? The answer is yes, with studies finding that those who engaged in at least one act of participatory politics were twice as likely to report voting as those who did not (Kahne, Middaugh). With 21 percent of voters being ages 18-29, politicians, at least most of them, have realized that mobilizing youth online can translate to a substantial number of votes (Kennedy).

Mobilizing young voters to engage in participatory politics goes beyond responding to internet memes and hashtags. It’s become part of the campaign plan, as we’ve seen in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. In 2008, Obama used social media as a major campaign strategy, a tactic that was pretty unheard of for any presidential candidate before him. By the end of the 2008 cycle, Obama had over 2 million supporters on Facebook compared to his opponent, John McCain’s 600,000. In addition, he dominated Youtube channels and revolutionized the use of mobile devices in campaigns, even creating an app for the campaign. It should be noted that Twitter hadn’t taken off at this point. However, as Dutta puts it, compared to McCain, Obama stole the show. Obama’s use of social media clearly translated to participatory politics by youth because Obama won nearly 70 percent of the vote among Americans under 25 (Frasher, Dutta).

There was a similar story in 2012. Obama spent $47 million while Romney only spent $4.7 million on digital campaigns. Obama had twice as many Facebook likes, and with Twitter being the phenomenon it is today, Obama had nearly 20 times as many retweets as Romney (Rutledge). Consequently, Obama received 60 percent of the youth vote (Kingkade).

It’s incredibly interesting to think about how participatory politics will evolve in 2016 and how candidates will respond. Obama has really been the ring-leader in using social media during campaigns and he’s been the most notable political figure to embrace the humor that comes along with internet culture. Without Obama, will participatory politics be as influential and prominent? With all of this uncertainty, one thing is for sure: social media is redefining how young people participate in politics.

 Works Cited:

Fraser, Matthew, and Soumitra Dutta . “Barack Obama and the Facebook Election .” US News& World Report. n.d. n. page. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/ articles/2008/11/19/barack-obama-and-the-facebook-election?page=2>.

Kahn, Joseph, and Ellen Middaugh. “Digital Media Shapes Youth Participation in Politics.” Civic Survey. n. page. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <http://www.civicsurvey.org/ PDK_Digital_Media_Shapes_Youth_Participation.pdf>.

Kennedy, Katie. “Use it or Lose it: Social Media in the 2012 election.” Pulitzer Center. n. page. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/social-media-role-young- voters- increase-future-US-elections-Obama-Facebook-Twitter>.

Kingkade, Tyler. “Youth Vote 2012 Turnout: Exit Polls Show Greater Share Of Electorate Than In 2008.” Huffington Post. n.d. n. page. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/youth-vote-2012-turnout-exit- polls_n_2086092.html>.

Resnick, Brian. “2012: The Year of the Political Meme.” National Journal . n.d. n. page. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <http://www.nationaljournal.com/pictures-video/2012-the-year-of-the- political-meme-20121214>.

Rutledge, Pamela. “How Obama Won the Social Media Battle in the 2012 Presidential Campaign.” Media Psychology Blog. n. page. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <http:// mprcenter.org/ blog/2013/01/25/how-obama-won-the-social-media-battle-in-the-2012-presidential-campaign/>.


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