#USelections2012: An electronic election ends

Political campaigning on the Internet reached new levels in 2012, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

USelections2012 (photo credit: Supplied)
(photo credit: Supplied)
With all the electoral votes delegated counted, the final tallies in and US President Barack Obama declared the winner, the 2012 US Presidential election is finally over, but it is only a taste of what is yet to come.
This year’s election saw record levels of political engagement and outreach via the Internet. It’s true, less than 5 percent of the $2 billion spent by both sides on the campaign went toward online advertising and surveys show that only about a third of Americans get their political news online. But that number is up from a quarter in 2008, and since then, the Obama campaign more than doubled the amount it spent online, using innovative techniques including social media and apps to get the vote out among key demographics.
The trend is clear: As the generations that grew up with the Internet make up an increasingly large portion of the electorate, the cybersphere is bound to keep growing, and perhaps someday overtake “traditional” media outlets as a platform for campaigning.
The Obama team, in particular, used online methods to great effect, which may be part of the reason that young voters, who Republicans anticipated would stay home on election day, voted at the same record levels they did in 2008’s hope-and-change-inspired election.
In March, when Facebook revealed its new Timeline format that, much to the chagrin of many users, seemed more targeted at helping businesses self-promote than facilitating online social connections, the Obama campaign adopted it immediately. Over time, it also created a slew of microsites targeting important demographics, such as women. The gender gap was crucial to Obama’s reelection, and early and persistent efforts to make its case proved effective.
For the first time in history, people could register to vote in some states through Facebook, or donate to candidates by text message. SuperPACs of every stripe produced videos they hardly aired on television, hoping they would be shared online instead.
On election day, while plugged-in voters sorted through dozens of election-themed websites and cool mobile apps to stay informed, sort through the campaign noise and get to the polls, Obama volunteers used a canvassing app guided by precise data, mined over the course of the election season, to get their voters to the voting booths. Team Romney attempted a similar feat with a centralized app called ORCA. Come election day, however, the untested app crashed.
While the campaigns made a concerted effort to use the latest communications technology to craft their messages, however, the Internet primarily served as a forum for voters to express themselves politically, critiquing, dissing, mocking or praising the latest developments as they saw fit.
Myriad memes poking fun at gaffes and politic emerged, sometimes within minutes of breaking news. Who could forget the Affordable Care Cat, the adorable, health-insured feline that sauntered down the halls of Tumblr when the Supreme Court upheld Obama’s signature health care legislation? Or the Binders Full of Women and Horses and Bayonets, which emerged from memorable comments in the presidential debates? And what about Texts for Hillary, the viral meme that proved Mrs. Clinton’s new-found cool status? Their viral success both reflected and reinforced political sentiments that may have gone unnoticed in years past.
Twitter, the microblogging site that forces brevity on its users, was a gigantic forum for (limited) political conversation. Although its users tended to be a somewhat younger and more left-leaning crowd than the general population, its use to gauge both the topics people were talking about and how they felt about them was, itself, the subject of many articles in the media.
As the major landmarks of the election season passed, the site’s usage broke record after record (for political events, anyway). Fittingly, Obama’s tweet proclaiming victory after winning a second term shattered a record of its own, becoming the most re-tweeted Tweet in history (about a quarter as many people shared the tweet of the previous record-holder, Justin Beiber).
Tweet of the Election:
Romney’s graceful concession was less viral.
The online trends and innovations #USelections2012 covered in the election season will doubtless be the buildings blocks for the ever-expanding online forum of future campaigns. In no small way, the trend parallels this year’s victor’s main slogan: Forward. Over time, the denizens of democracies will increasingly digitize, upload and share the political horse race in new and unexpected ways.
For better or for worse, the 2012 election campaign gave us a taste of what’s to come. Indeed, within hours of Obama’s reelection,#Hillary2016 was already trending on Twitter.
#USelections2012 offers weekly insight into the US presidential election through a social media lens, tracking candidates as they try to reach 270 electoral votes in 140 characters or less.
The writer is a Breaking News editor and blogger at The Jerusalem Post. Read his blog ‘The Bottom Line’ here.