Social media and the presidential campaign trail

Chelsea Watkins | Staff Writer


This presidential election cycle is in full swing, but the way candidates market to potential votes has changed thanks to social media platforms.

Candidates like Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, used Twitter to announce their candidacy as well as other social media sites to engage with the public.

In some cases, social media has allowed underdogs to launch themselves into becoming serious contenders. Bernie Sanders, D-Virginia, has become a household name by using social media to grow his supporter pool.

“In terms of students, Bernie Sanders is dominating social media,” College Democrats president Billy Poer said.

Republicans have especially taken notice of Sanders’ effectiveness in rallying support online.

Political science senior and ​UNT's College Republicans group leader Emily Hennig speaks with new members about the organization's plans for the semester. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer
Political science senior and ​UNT’s College Republicans group leader Emily Hennig, right, speaks with new members about the organization’s plans for the semester. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

North Texas College Republican president Emily Hennig said she wants to see more youth outreach from the Republicans.

“The Republican Party could work on trying to be more relatable and using those platforms that younger people use,” Hennig said. “People our age don’t watch TV, they’re on the Internet all day.”

Social media’s prominence has affected the way traditional news outlets cover the presidential election. Before, legacy media gave candidates a way to spread their message. Now, candidates no longer need press coverage because they have their own personalized news channels with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“There has been a significant change [in coverage] because the news cycle is now 24/7,” journalism professor Neil Foote said. “Even going back 10 years ago, before the Internet exploded, we didn’t have really the impact of social media that we have now.”

Donald Trump has been the center of media coverage since he officially put in his bid. From his inflammatory statements on Mexican immigrants to his spat with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, Trump has proved he knows how to keep the media’s attention.

“People can kind of decide if they want to take him seriously or not,” Hennig said. “He’s a solid candidate, he could work on some things, but I think he is seriously trying to run.”

New members of the College Republicans go through new republican merchandise sent in from the organization's national chapter.​ Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer
New members of the College Republicans go through new republican merchandise sent in from the organization’s national chapter.​ Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

The Trump storyline has dominated the cycle so far, just as Clinton’s controversy surrounding her use of a private email account during her time as Secretary of State has soured her news coverage.

For Sanders, the coverage has been mostly positive, focusing on his social media “revolution” to engage voters around the country.

Because there are so many Republican candidates, it’s often hectic for voters to parse the coverage of a specific candidate. Each GOPer races for voter attention while being careful to not move too far from center. Those storylines have the potential to cycle out ahead of the general election in 2016, but its likely they’ll influence voters come January 2016 when the primaries begin.

“Primaries mean that you have to rough up candidates who are members of your own party so that when the party’s candidate faces the opposition in November, they’ve already been beat up by their own party,” political science professor Kimi King said.

There has been speculation Vice President Joe Biden will enter the race soon, although he has not officially put in a bid.

Poer said if Biden entered, he has the potential to garner more support than Clinton.

“Bernie is appealing to the far left and [voters] are not going toward anyone else because no one is more left than Bernie is really,” Poer said.

Poe sees favorable support for Democrats at UNT and in Denton, especially for Sanders.

“Almost all the students I’ve talked to go to Bernie, Hillary, and the democratic candidates in general, because of the push to make tuition free to students of higher education, and the adoption of a higher minimum wage,” Poer said.

The College Democrats and the North Texas College Republicans plan on getting students involved by joining forces and holding events on campus, allowing students to take quizzes in order for them to learn which candidate they align with best.

Featured Image: Integrative studies senior Billy Poer scrolls through democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ Facebook page Friday afternoon. Poer, who is also the president of the UNT College Democrats, says he feels Sanders holds the lead in social media representation. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

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