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What Does a Presidential Election Look Like in the Age of Digital Media?

As I sit here typing this blog post in our Melbourne office, I have live graphics of the US election streaming from Bloomberg.com on my second computer monitor. I’ve just come from my lunch break, where I half-watched the election broadcast on the news while intermittently scrolling through presidential debate posts on Facebook. Oh, and this is all while texting my friend about the whole thing.


The role of the media has always been paramount in shaping elections. Back in 1960, when America’s first nationally-televised presidential debate took place, Senator John F. Kennedy was placed in good stead ahead of his opposition, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who was overcoming an illness at the time and consequently appeared less than wholesome on the small screen. However, the radio version of the debate had listeners voting for Nixon over Kennedy, supposedly charmed by the Republican’s traditional speech-giving approach.

Evidently, the medium upon which information is delivered to the public is extremely influential, and these days, that medium of choice just so happens to be the digital landscape – an interactive, multi-media platform welcoming punters from all over the world to join in on the conversation.

The nature of political campaigns is adapting according to our digitally-saturated world

There’s no denying that the boom of digital media has been especially revolutionary in the intricate world of politics. Essentially, we’ve evolved from a daily news cycle to a second-by-second news cycle, gorging on information through multiple channels at a rapid rate and changing our minds according to the latest artefacts gracing the internet. In fact, the current US election has even been referred to as ‘the Snapchat election’, indicating the ephemeral nature of American consumerism in today’s modern era.

It’s an age where political discussions occur via trending hashtags and opinions are communicated through Facebook memes. As a result, many candidates (or their media advisors at least) are paying a whole lot of attention to the gateway of promotional pathways created by digital media.

Let us introduce the very first billion-dollar digital ad election

2016 marks the year that the pros predicted digital media ad spending on political campaigns would jump to sit between 10-35%. This is an exponential leap from the 1.8% of total political ad spending poured into digital media just four short years ago.

However, digital media – in particular, social networks – also harness the beauty of free publicity garnered via tweets, likes and shares. While this kind of publicity isn’t always positive, it’s certainly generating a whirlwind of attention for the political candidates in question, elevating them to the most trending topics on Google right now.

Social media has now been dubbed the preferred method for political engagement

It all comes down to the way society interacts these days. Social media currently plays an integral role in politics thanks to our ironclad attachment to our handheld devices. Online forums are a hot commodity, while stats show that mobile video is the best way for candidates to mould a personal connection with voters.

Ultimately, the digital media realm is the best platform for political candidates to reach out to voters and trigger a conversation.

Krynica Poland - November 03, 2016 . Popular social media app isons: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other on smart phone screen close up.

But political engagement is very different to tangible action…

Again, this refers back to the idea of the ‘Snapchat election’, where information is treated as transient. Sure, social media is great for getting people talking, but is a keyboard warrior throwing in his or her two cents’ worth actually accomplishing anything substantial?

Herein, the opportunity to encourage actionable behaviour from voters – such as online petitioning – needs to be capitalised upon. We are currently caught in a tug-o-war of conversation, but it’s a conversation that is not necessarily leading to anything fruitful. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see just how much politics metamorphoses in accordance with the perpetually-evolving digital sphere another four years from now…


By Trish O'Loughlin

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