Do political campaigns live up to the promise of digital technology?
Professor Jenny Stromer-Galley, Associate Professor at Syracuse University, explores this in her book ‘Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age’. She concludes digital is pushing politicians to reconsider how they reach and involve people yet there is still a long way to go.
Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2014 showed the technical infrastructure to shrink the distance between candidate and community is with us now. The social media platforms we use every day offer the chance for electors to be more involved in the political process. Never before have voters had access to so much information to share, re-interpret, re-purpose and organise. So has digital delivered a new era of political emancipation?
The theory is good, right? Digital should spell a rebirth in political conversations, yet Stromer-Galley thinks the promise is still to be met.
Perhaps because digital is about sharing, interaction, connection while politics is about control. Control the numbers, control the cash, control the message. And of all places in the political realm control is central in campaigns.
I must win … so craft me the right message, target the right group, bring in the cash and round up the vote.
This makes most candidates reluctant to relinquish control preferring to use social media as a one way channel. We need to be into this stuff, but we don’t really believe it.
Which of course runs counter to the two way world many of us live in, with friends, business and not for profits. It seems politics is slow to innovate when it comes to connecting.
To be fair, engaging in the digital age involves willingness plus patience, energy and time. Consider how much time many of us devote to staying close to Facebook friends. But those resources are in short supply when the next election looms closer each day. And, many of the senior staff behind political campaigns are still old school intent on using traditional methods and media.
Campaigning like other forms of communications is at the cross roads. Politicians need to innovate and experiment with the new technologies or risk coming across as old, outdated and one dimensional. The ballot box prize in future may well go to the clever campaigns unafraid to experiment and really connect.