How important is social media in deciding the US election?

Last updated: 13 December 2019

As part of our investigation into ‘Digital USA’, we put together an article on the differing social media strategies of the two US presidential candidates.

Referring to 2012 as ‘The Second Social Election’, it compares the revolutionary Twitter campaign run by Obama in 2008 to the far more sophisticated approach of both candidates this time around, from Mitt Romney’s decision to buy a Twitter hashtag (#RomneyRyan2012) to the president’s more low-key use of a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) Q&A session.

Social media is undoubtedly playing a bigger role in politics than ever before, but is it influential enough to swing an election? A quick look around the blogosphere reveals a raft of different opinions.

Chris Dessi at Social Media Today, for example, is convinced that Obama’s strategy of Direct Messaging his Twitter followers will prove a winner with the electorate. He points out that, in order to do this, Obama’s team have had to follow back everyone they wanted to message, which Chris says is “subtle, but […] causes immediate affinity.”

In contrast, this post from Wallblog believes that Mitt Romney has won the battle for Facebook by putting greater resources into analysing his Facebook ‘fans’. Romney’s team has developed an app called ‘Commit to Mitt’, which can tell which Facebook users are most influential and most likely to interact with his page, meaning that they know which users to target, particularly in crucial swing states.

As our Digital USA guide points out, social media in politics are now so well-established that there are any number of tools which attempt to track political success via online activity. Bluefin Labs’ Crowdwire and The Washington Post’s @mentionmachine both monitor social media and the web around major political events in order to try and pick a winner.

While social media alone may not be sufficient to swing America’s vote in one direction or another, the concerted effort that both candidates have put into wooing the social audience is proof of the growing influence and importance of social media over the past four years. And with polls on a knife-edge, it may just be social media proves pivotal in deciding who will be sitting in the Oval Office come January.