Technology and the Election Cycle
Posted by: Phil Stalnaker
No matter what side of the political aisle you are on, this year’s election has engrossed the nation. People are literally hanging on every word coming from the candidates and thanks to the development of technology, that is now easier than ever. The 1980s brought us the unending news-cycle, using television to offer a constant stream of face-time and rhetoric to be spewed from the screen at all hours of the day. The previous ten years saw the rise to gluttony of campaign spending and the advertising wars. This was highlighted with the birth of the SuperPAC in 2010. What we are seeing this year, however, is incredible. As of March 31 of this year, spending totals by candidates totaled at $624 million (Huffington Post). “This sounds like a lot of money, but it’s less than the inflation-adjusted $894 million that candidates spent in 2008. Spending by candidates of both parties in the 2016 campaign has been less than in 2008” (Huffington Post).
That is almost a 30% drop in money spent on campaigning. In June, it was reported that Hillary had $42 million in the campaign account to Donald’s $1.3 million (CNN). While Hillary ads have been running fairly consistently on television (thanks to Florida for being a swing state), Donald has kept up with her, but not by advertising. Despite Trump’s current troubles with the Gold Star family controversy, he is, as of August 1st, only 7 points behind Hillary (CBS News). This also follows arguably his worst week in the campaign yet. I find it very interesting that Trump is having all this success staying in the contest nationally, despite his controversies and lack of campaign spending.
The Power of Election Technology
There are a few theories for this. You could look to the changes in the voter demographic (the growing number of people who have become distraught with our political system), the fact that he has been a well-known celebrity for decades, or even his so-called manipulation of the news cycle (his ability to somehow be discussed in every news station across the country; and even the world). While those are all contributors, I see technology (i.e. his successful use of) as his largest contributor to his campaign. Like him or not, his masterful control of our society’s craving of instant updates via his Twitter feed has helped him stay on the tops of minds and garnered followers and loyalists from all over this great country.
(Thanks, Twitter for the Trump Image)
Twitter certainly is not new, and this isn’t the first election in which it was utilized, but I do see evidence that this election is the first to use it to Twitter’s fullest extent. In 2008, Obama’s posts were mainly planned headlines and distinct, thought through comments. Trump has turned it into a chance to follow his life in real-time. While I am sure he has a strategy to all of this, his feed acts for him like an open door. It allows him constant access to his fans, and gives them a chance to hear his side instantly – often during an opponent’s press conference or speech. And the Twitter feed that he is using is the same Twitter feed that we all get! It is a free account! Obviously he has staffers and strategists that cost money and he does plenty of advertisements through social media, but Trump has done a great job so far in reaching the audience he wants to reach, but doing it at a fraction of the cost. We don’t yet know if this will turn out to be a successful strategy, but so far he has manipulated the free media and utilized social media in such a way as to accomplish his goals (so far) without having to go to the large scale TV ads on which Clinton is relying and using.
Technology’s Effects on Every Facet of Life
The technology in politics is not limited to social media, though. The ability to discern and even manipulate user data from social and search feeds has become an affordable tool in these elections and are even being used by those not in the race to influence the public. Consider Facebook’s news trending scandal (Wall Street Journal) or the SourceFed controversy about Google’s alleged search term manipulation (Medium). Our society has come to accept and even appreciate the way data use has made our lives easier. That Facebook sees what we search for and then gives us ads that relate to us has become a convenience.
Watch how quickly your newsfeed will change after liking or commenting on a small number of politically themed posts. The powers that be know what you are searching for and reading online and they are allowing others to use that for commercial or political benefit. The more followers a person gets, the faster their tweets blast into the stratosphere.
This is a fabulous thing and incredible achievement in the field of technology. And it is very hard to complain about the conveniences it affords us. We do, however, as the general public need to be smart about how it is used and wary about how it can be manipulated. What you do online is not a secret. Make sure to learn the lesson that the newest Teen Miss USA recently learned (USA Today). Nothing done online is private and any of it can be used at any time to disparage or destroy you. Make sure you are not one of those people.