WASHINGTON – Voters using Twitter from their phones in the last three days have seen such trending topics as Grammy updates, budget news and everything in between. They may have read tweets from their favorite celebrity or news outlet.
Or perhaps even from Rick Santorum’s sweater vest, which has its own Twitter account.
With a technological landscape that sees millions of tweets, updates and emails roll in every day, how do presidential candidates stand out from the crowd, let alone each other?
The Brookings Institution hosted a forum Tuesday afternoon on the impact of mobile technology on modern political campaigns.
The goal of mobile outreach is simple: to improve the political process, according to Clark Gibson, professor of political science at UC-San Diego.
“The idea is to improve these elections. To improve elections is to improve democracy.”
Fellow panelist Daniel Ureña agreed. A consultant for foreign campaigns, Ureña said that many of the problems facing European politicians face American politicians as well.
“The main problem for many politicians [in Europe and Latin America] is the growing distance between politicians and people,” said Ureña. “While they are attacking each other, people are changing…the way they communicate, the way the access information, they are changing how they share their thoughts and opinions and how they organize themselves. I think many politicians are forgetting this part of the picture. “
Twitter is just one of the tools modern campaigns use to reach voters. During his bid for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama and his team used text messaging and YouTube in ways no other candidate had.
Two years later, in the 2010 mid-term elections26 percent of Americans used their cell phones to learn about or participate, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.
The technological landscape surrounding the 2012 presidential race has forced candidates to look for more creative ways to reach their base. On average, the 2012 presidential campaigns are expected to spend about 4 to 5 percent of their total budget on digital advertising.
Although social media and text messaging are large parts of a campaign’s mobile program, websites and emails play just as big a role in mobile consumption, said Katie Harbath, associate manager for policy at Facebook.
“Don’t forget about the fundamentals,” Harbath warned. ““People are visiting your mobile website and reading your emails, and if you’re not looking to see what your content looks like, you’re really doing a disservice to your users and probably losing folks.”
Harbath also commented that with so many technologies and outlets to opt into, candidates will flourish if they let voters come to them.
“The campaign that allows people to pick and choose how they want to get reached, I think that’s where we’re going to see a lot more success,” Harbath said.
Like social media, mobile technologies such as email and text messaging have seen a lot more traffic from different demographic groups in recent years. According to statistics from Nielsen and Pew, near half of the adult population uses social networking sites, and those over 50 drive social media use on smartphones.
Aaron Smith, a research specialist at the Pew Research Center, said his group’s research has shown political activity on these sites moved from a younger, more Democratic-leaning group in 2008 to an older, more conservative bunch that became more active in the 2010 mid-term elections.
“It will be interesting to see if there’s a similar sort of shift in the mobile political landscape from young urbanites who were active doing this in 2010 to kind of a broader, more representative segment of the population in 2012,” said Smith.