GOP Slow To Turn Social Media Curve

By Brandon Loran Maxwell

Howard Dean

For almost a decade the Democratic Party has vanquished Republicans in the world of internet fundraising and branding, a trend spearheaded by former Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean. During the fourth quarter of 2003, Dean raised more than $15 million, setting a DNC record and singlehandedly revitalizing the progressive base.

Barack Obama

Similarly, during the 2008 election cycle, then presidential candidate and newcomer Barack Obama raised half a billion dollars online during his run for the White House. Toss in an iconic “hope” poster, along with a pair of matching Romanesque pillars, and in the words of James Carville: “The hunt” was over.

Since then, a handful of Republicans, most notably, Ron Paul, have torn a page from the hi-tech fundraising book and cultivated the internet as means to financially progress. But despite individual Republicans gaining yardage, the Republican Party is still yet to score a touchdown.

The recent web release of  “The Road We’ve Traveled,” a cleverly crafted 17 minute short documenting Barack Obama’s first term, is only the latest example of The White House’s proactive effort to utilize the web as a reelection tool. The film, narrated by actor Tom Hanks and directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), portrays Obama as a decisive leader, crediting him with rescuing the auto industry from the brink of economic calamity.

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, laughed off the video, telling CNN that Americans “don’t need a movie trailer or a 17-minute documentary to know what the president accomplished over the past three years.” Conversely, the nonpartisan site concluded the film went out of its way to cast the president “in the best light,” while taking “liberties with some facts on health care and the auto bailout.”

Nonetheless, the strategy appears to have had an impact. According to the non-partisan social media monitoring group, PoliticIt, Obama acquired approximately an additional 171,000 Facebook fans the day after the film went viral.

Likewise, presumed presidential nominee Mitt Romney finished the month of March on Twitter with roughly 401 thousand followers, a mere 3 percent of Obama’s 14 million followers. And though some disparity can be attributed to incumbency, a difference of 13 million people poses a significant organizational and grassroots disadvantage.

Pundits and politicians that discount the benefit of a strong social networking presence do so at their own peril, warns Clay Shirky, professor of New Media at New York University, in her essay, The Political Power of Social Media. “Since the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s, the world’s networked population has grown from the low millions to the low billions.”  

Similarly, in a column entitled, “Are Republicans Bad at Social Media?” that appeared last year in Inc. Magazine, Eric Markowitz wrote that, “On the morning of November 3, 2010…74 percent of House of candidates with the greatest number of Facebook fans on their ballots won their contests, while in the Senate 81 percent of candidates with the most Facebook fans won seats.”

So why have Republicans been so slow to turn the social media curve?  Part of it is age. According to Gallup, in 2009, only 20% of Americans under the age of 25 identified as Republicans. Consequently, Republican voters are far less likely to be proficient in social networking vogues.

But another part is conception. Social media was once thought to amount to little more than a factitious “popularity contest,” incapable of translating into tangible Republican votes. Herman Cain’s hit YouTube video, “Now is The Time for Action” (better known as the infamous “smoking add”), however, spectacularly illustrated otherwise.

Ultimately, Republicans’ best bet for reclaiming the White House may neither be Twitter nor Facebook, but rather gas prices; for few incumbent presidents have out-campaigned the grimacing shadow of a barrel of oil.
Brandon Loran Maxwell
Nonetheless, Romney, recognizing the need for improvements from his 2008 White House bid, isn’t taking any chances. He has since employed an entire team of “online behavior analysts” to facilitate with online advertising. However, with 2012’s pivotal election merely six months away, he and the GOP still have a long road to trek.

“Social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements,” Shirky maintains. “Opinions are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. It is in this second, social step that political opinions are formed.” 

Brandon Loran Maxwell is a contributing political writer/analyst at PoliticIt, a contributing national affairs editor to Street Motivation Magazine, and a CC at Students for Liberty.

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