Social media changes the campaign game

Pete Sessions has held events in towns around Waco, including College station. Events are still one of the many ways candidates reach out to voters. Courtesy photos from Chuck Beach with the Pete Sessions election campaign.

By Meredith Pratt | Staff Writer

Each presidential election year, the Baylor political science department offers a course called Campaigns and Elections that is intended to help students better understand elections and the different tactics presidential candidates use in their campaigns.

In the months leading up to election day, the class has focused on analyzing campaigns of the past and juxtaposing them with the 2020 campaigns of President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Some typical strategies seen in campaigns include celebrity endorsements, smear ads, rallies and events, TV appearances and cold calling — among others. One thing that has become evident in the 2020 election is that candidates can utilize social media to accomplish almost all of these strategies and reach audiences across the world.

Germantown, Tenn., freshman Bella Snow, a student in the campaigns and elections course, said she felt most informed about the candidates and voting through social media.

“The use of social media was definitely the most effective for motivating me to vote,” Snow said. “On all the [social media] platforms I use, I have gotten notifications asking me if I’ve registered to vote.”

Scrolling through her feeds, Snow said she has noticed people with social influence advocating for participation in the election on various social media platforms.

“Many celebrities and influencers post pictures of themselves voting or promoting proactiveness, which is also encouraging to people who are on the fence or unmotivated to vote,” Snow said.

Snow said she sees the Republican Party currently leading on the social media front.

“In my opinion, I think the GOP uses the media more to its advantage than the Democratic Party for their campaigning,” Snow said. “In recent years, Trump’s campaign has become the face of media, with his infamous use of Twitter and endorsement and friendship with Kanye West.”

Through discussions in the campaigns and elections class, Cedar Park junior Paige Glace said she feels like she better understands the actual strategies candidates employ on various social media platforms.

“We have talked a lot about pre-planned viral moments and watching the debates and seeing the aftermath on social media has really driven this point home,” Glace said. “Something I’ve seen Joe Biden’s campaign push pretty hard is pre-planned viral moments. His team will script certain quotes or phrases for the debates and draft tweets or create merchandise before the debate, and as soon as the planned quote is said during the debate, they’ll post the tweet or the merchandise, creating this seemingly viral moment that was planned quite far in advance.”

Glace said she has also learned how campaigns target older audiences by using quotes and images from the candidates on platforms like Facebook, Millennials through an issue-focused approach on Instagram, and Gen-Z with memes and viral soundbites on platforms like TikTok, Twitter and Instagram.

“I think this election cycle has been more evenly matched in the use of social media by both the Democratic and Republican parties,” Glace said. “At the beginning of the campaigns, the Republican approach was more focused on the candidate, with posts focusing on the person rather than their platform, whereas the Democratic approach focused more on issues. As the campaigns draw closer to the end, I think both Democratic and Republican campaigns have switched to a candidate-centered social media push.”

This summer, Glace was able to see a campaign in action when she worked for the Texans For Greg Abbott campaign.

“Although I am in a different party than he is, it was really interesting to see the behind-the-scenes of a campaign in progress,” Glace said. “We spent the early part of the summer cold calling around 300 people a day to register people to vote.”

Glace said that through her time working on the campaign and calling Texas citizens, she was able to hear the voices of those on different sides of the political spectrum.

“Working for a campaign in a party different than my own was really interesting because seeing how the other side thinks actually bridged a gap for me,” Glace said. “I was able to see the fundamental differences we disagree on but also became aware of many ideas about which we think the same way.”