Social politics: A brief look at a 21st century US election

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  • November 7, 2012
Scott Mason

Scott Mason

Head of Content

It’s official: President Barack Obama will continue his journey on the long, steep road to recovery with America for four more years after brushing aside Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 US Election.

With blocks and bricks in his callused hands, Obama built a modern campaign that yet again relied heavily on the power of social media to keep his Democratic administration in the White House.

Social media delivers hope

If 2008’s US election was the most prolifically ‘social’ political event ever, this year was something else. It has famously been the most expensive election campaign ever, totalling $2 billion, with both candidates harnessing every resource available in their race to the White House.

Let’s take a quick look at how they have harnessed the ever-growing potential of social media over the course of their campaigns:


Four years ago, Barack Obama adopted a new approach to the presidential election campaign by recognising and enlisting the power of social media on his campaign trail. Today, social media has a much greater impact on society when it comes to politics, with 60% of people now expecting presidential candidates to have a presence on social media.

Obama harnessed the sound-bite nature of Twitter to post live updates of his speeches to his 22.5 million followers, something that Romney didn’t exploit much. Social media exists to bring instant news to those on the move and Obama recognised this at every point of his campaign.

On Facebook, Obama exploited the layout to rally the troops, so to speak, with pictures like this with an arrow pointing to the user’s profile picture:


Video was the big winner in Obama’s campaign, though, with around 10 times the video views of his counterpart (253.4 million to 27.5 million).

Despite its growing influence, Google+ was not given as much weight during Obama’s social campaign, with posts only every 2-3 days, compared to 3+ a day on Facebook and 10+ a day on Twitter.

“The best is yet to come” – the victory speech sound-bite that has been snapped up by most of the press today – might not reach the Felix Baumgartner-heights of 2008’s “Yes We Can”, but it is surely as much of a marker for the future of social media in politics as it is for Obama’s journey with America.


A gaffe-ridden campaign that almost gave America a new George W. Bush was potentially what halted Mitt Romney’s march to the White House.

In fact, “gaffes” is the first suggestion that now appears in Google when begin a search for “Mitt Romney”:

Search for Mitt Romney

Another bizarrely unfortunate online incident to come out of Romney’s campaign was the apparent ‘Google bombing’ in October. An image search for “completely wrong” – a phrase that the Republican used to describe his choice words about ‘the 47%’ – now (naturally, not manipulatively) returns a series of pictures of the former presidential hopeful. It’s fair to say that this fact has done the social media rounds.

In a memorable allusion to Obama’s 2008 campaign, Romney claimed that “hope is not a strategy” to highlight his focus on logic as opposed to emotion and this came across in his social rhetoric.

Romney called upon the rhetorical device of antithesis much more frequently to create a clear divide between him and his opponent, bolstering this argument with the most powerful of social media tools: the image. Here’s a clear example of antithesis in action on Facebook:

Romney on Facebook

While Romney wasn’t as busy as Obama on Twitter, he still populated his timeline with ‘retweetable’, politically-charged statements and musings, but perhaps one of his ultimate downfalls was the meagre amount of followers he had compared to Obama.

Romney hasn’t tweeted since the election results were released and both candidates made their conclusive campaign speeches. He has, however, thanked his fans on Facebook.

Romney on Twitter


In stats released by social insights tool Topsy today, the phrase “I voted for Obama” is being used twice as often as “I voted for Romney”, which goes to show, on the one hand, that Obama’s focus on social media has paid off again but, on the other hand, that Obama had already amassed a significant following over the last four years.

To illustrate the size of this following, Buzzfeed has reported that the re-elected President smashed a retweet record previously held by Justin Bieber in less than 22 minutes. At the time of writing, this tweet has now been retweeted 651,425 times. Now, that’s a sign of these social times if we ever saw one.
Obama on Twitter

Did social media win the election for Obama?

Obama might have had a four-year head start in the Twittersphere, but follower numbers and, perhaps more importantly, following numbers on the profile of each respective candidate puts the incumbent President well ahead in the Twitter polls.

Obama follows over 670,000 people. Conversely and rather remarkably, Romney only follows 274 (not thousand, just 274), which further strengthens Obama’s existing status as ‘a man of the people’. Granted, this is not the biggest of political issues in the race to elect a leader of the free world – but hey, it’s the little things, right?

Indeed, Facebook has seen a similar level of engagement on this election night post, with more than 3.2 million likes and almost 400,000 shares.

Twitter and Facebook, of course, are not and never will be markers for political clout, but the way in which Obama’s public image is managed over the social platforms (still sturdy from 2008) is second to none and is clearly helping him further up the long, steep climb he so eloquently described in 2008.

The best of social media is yet to come.

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