The 2016 presidential election is already picking up speed as new candidates join the race and set out on their campaigns.
Over the past decade, political discussions have migrated from water coolers and dinner tables to smartphones and social media. Here are just some of the ways technology has dramatically changed the race for the presidency in a short period of time:
1. Social influence
Twitter and Facebook have transformed the way candidates interact with their constituencies. Ten years ago, campaigns were drastically different.
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Think back to the Bush vs. Kerry election of 2004. There was hardly any social media. Facebook had just launched nine months before the election, and was only available to a handful of people. Twitter didn’t hit the Internet until 2006, and it wasn’t widely used by the general public for some time after its launch.
During that election, candidates didn’t speak directly to the public via social channels, and everyday people didn’t have as many outlets to share and debate their political views. Today, social media gives candidates a direct line of communication to the American people. That’s a positive change.
But on the flip side, social media is an uncontrolled, democratized soap box where individuals can spread opinions that are not substantiated, which can change the public’s view of a candidate overnight.
2. Threat of virality
During an election, candidates are always under the microscope, but new technology allows the media to watch them more closely. Social media runs in real time and with the variety of channels, from Twitter to YouTube, candidates’ words are replayed, dissected and played again. Once something hits the web, it stays there forever.
Candidates now need to live under the assumption there is always someone with a smartphone, camera, microphone or other recording device capturing their actions to share with the world. While this constant monitoring of candidate activity has brought more transparency to elections, it has also brought more sensationalism and often reduced political coverage to paparazzi-style reporting.
Nothing is off limits. Candidates’ family members are targeted on social media, and their words and actions are turned into memes to live on in infamy.
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Sen. Marco Rubio had his own meme created when he took a pause in a televised speech to take a drink of water. Think about that — he paused to drink water, and the Internet went crazy. Every little word candidates speak or action they take has the potential to go viral.
3. Smarter campaigns
Candidates always relied on polls to give them insights on where they stand with the public and what they should change about their campaigns.
With the rise of big data and analytics, candidates can now understand much more deeply what’s working and what’s not in their campaigns. With this information, campaigns become more effective and can be tailored to garner the votes, funds or public opinion needed from a particular region or constituency.
4. New issues
Technology itself brings new issues to the debate floor that candidates must know about, speak about and take a position on. Topics such as net neutrality and cybersecurity are important to constituents, and candidates need to be informed.
In addition, candidates need to keep up to date with technology, otherwise they will be viewed as outdated and irrelevant. Candidates who don’t use Twitter, for example, won’t be taken seriously.
The more in touch candidates are with technology, the more people they will reach. Understanding new technologies and trends is now a key part of connecting with voters and running a successful campaign.