With many prominent political figures using the internet more frequently during election campaigns, Colm Egan examines at the internet as a means of getting votes
The internet is something used for virtually everything in our modern world. We use it to watch videos, interact with friends and buy everything we need from groceries to music. It has become a basic necessity for anyone living in the developed world and is coming to replace numerous things previous generations of parents would have considered essential, from the Golden Pages and post to newspapers and maps.
Peter Steiner’s famous ‘On the internet no one knows you’re a dog’ cartoon captured the public’s imagination when first published in 1993 and illustrated how, at the time, no one knew anything about anyone else on the internet, even those you interacted with on chat rooms and so on. However, as marketers would now tell you, this is no longer the case. Thanks to the phenomena that is social networking, not only are people aware of what species you belong to, but they know also know when you were born, your job, your education and your political inclinations. Barack Obama is clearly very aware of this.
Never before have advertisers been able to target an audience so specifically and efficiently as they can on Facebook or Twitter. Demographics are boxed into neat groups, for example men under the age of 25 who support Manchester United can be found with the minimum of effort, nor does it take too much time. They dream of a world where advertisements are only seen by those who they target and the internet has brought them closer to this Utopia. The amount of money wasted on inefficient advertising campaigns is forever dwindling and in something where money plays as central a role as it does in the American Presidential Election, this is crucial.
However, don’t be fooled by the word ‘dwindling’ as this serves the numbers in question an injustice. According to the Federal Elections Commission, in the first few months of 2012 Obama’s campaign spent $16.4 million on online advertisements while Romney bought $7.8 million worth of them. Despite these colossal figures, they’re expected to rise in the future as the campaign’s intensity increases.
While people may raise questions as to whether online campaigning is worth the sums involved, one must point out the fact that these spends will in fact pay for themselves, if the 2008 campaign is anything to go by. According to the Washington Post, Obama raised half a billion dollars online during his 2008 nomination and presidential campaigns, however the average donation was just $80.
Indeed such was the effectiveness of this fundraising that a group of tech-savvy Republicans founded a group named ‘Rebuild the Party’, with the goal of increasing sign-ups and donations to compete with the Democratic machine and prove that online campaigning isn’t a Democratic preserve.
These figures show two things: the vast sums of money involved in Presidential Campaigns in America, but also the immense importance of online campaigns in American Presidential Campaigns. The ability to target voters being the obvious jewel in the online advertiser’s crown. Various messages must be communicated to a wide range of diverse social groups from Hispanics to Caucasians. A decrease in Wall Street regulation is likely to garner many more votes from Wall Street CEOs than from single mothers. Such messages stress various aspects of the given candidates policies and some would argue border on hypocrisy occasionally and so the ability to advertise them to the correct people is both fundamental and ruthlessly exploited.
Elbow grease however has not been rendered obsolete in the light of these advertising budgets as ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ can be garnered by active online accounts as opposed to active bank accounts. Romney currently has over one million followers on Twitter, a following which languishes behind that of Obama, who currently has just under 20 million. While these figures are undoubtedly influenced by the respective candidate’s popularity outside of the United States, it cannot be denied that with a social media footprint as big as this he has the type of online power that Romney can but dream about.
The sheer flexibility of online advertisements ensures campaigns can adjust to the topic of the moment effortlessly and keep up to date with voter’s concerns. When the ‘Warren Buffet’ rule was flavour of the month back in May, a Google search provided the user with a link to whitehouse.gov where people could use an application to find out how many American millionaires pay less tax than them. The link doesn’t appear anymore, reflecting public opinion on the matter.
As the effectiveness of online advertising continues to increase, so will its centrality to any American presidential campaign. Romney and Obama will have many battlegrounds, at debates across the country, on TV and over radio waves but none will be as intense or important as the battle that takes place constantly online.