Watching the 2012 U.S. Elections and the role of social media

Tomorrow, the United States will choose their President for the next 4 years. Will it still be Pres. Barack Obama for a second term? Or will the next President be Gov. Mitt Romney?

Together with a few other blogger friends, Noemi and Juned, I got a sampling of activities and issues in the run-up to the November 6 U.S. elections when we attended the “Kapihan sa Embahada”, the second in a series of coffee talk and open fora organized by the U.S. Embassy of Manila.

U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr. opened the Kapihan by describing this election as something you would not have seen in his childhood days. He specifically said that back when he was a child, no one would ever have imagined someone from the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints going up against an African-American for the Presidency. He calls this a “positive change” and wished his father was still alive to see the state of U.S. elections.

Another change, Amb. Thomas said, is that there are many Filipino-Americans in California and Hawaii who are running for office. In fact in Nevada, where there are very large Filipino communities, he said you can find ballots in Tagalog (a major Philippine national dialect)! Filipinos are the 2nd largest Asian-American group in the U.S. Imagine the kind of influence they wield!

Social Media: a Growing Campaign Strategy

Cynthia Cook, Deputy Press Attache and head of the social media group in the U.S. Embassy of Manila, described how social media has transformed the political landscape in this election. It’s been called the Social Media Campaign and actually started with Obama’s previous campaign. Here are some numbers she threw out:

On Facebook, Romney had 10M followers while Obama had 31M; on Twitter, Romney had 1.5M followers while Obama had 21M. But…engagement of Romney followers was observed to be more engaged than Obama followers. Social media is used by the candidates to spread their message, raise money, and get out the votes. In the first Presidential debate, there were 10.4M tweets.

She also stated that a recent Gallup poll in the U.S. showed that citizens trusted most their friends’ opinions compared to the mass media’s reporting on the candidates, making it natural then for candidates to be on social media and engage the voting public.

I found it interesting how hashtags were being used to by the Obama and Romney camps to poke at each other. Cynthia Cook said that Romney followers used #CantAfford4More on their tweets while Obama followers used #Romneysia. I wonder what black ops hashtags will start appearing in the Philippine social media scene over the next few months. FB pages show their personal sides, showing them in normal, day-to-day activities. Campaign apps also used.

Fundraising via social media seemed to work. Obama’s 4M donors, in his first campaign, donated an average of $80. Theoretically, Cook said, if each supporter were to make even 20 tweets, it was likely you could convince someone to donate $1, $20, $100 or even $200.

Social media users are also the political candidate’s ideal audience. Studies show that they are 6 times more likely to attend meeting, 3 times more likely to influence someone’s vote, and 2 times more likely to vote. In 2010, innovative apps were used so voters could say they voted and share this with friends. As a result, a modest increase in voter turnout was observed and it is being attributed to this influencing social feature.

Meeting Democrat and Republican Reps

The highlight of our kapihan was listening to 2 representatives of each party. John Boyd (representing Democrats Abroad Philippines) campaigned for then Presidential nominee Barack Obama and other candidates during the weekend before the 2008 election. He knocked on doors in Las Vegas, Nevada, urging citizens to vote.

Doyle Stout (representing Republicans Abroad Philippines) is an American businessman and a retired US Marine officer. His long term experience and residency overseas is primarily in the Asia-Pacific region.

Republican Stout and Democrat Boyd at open forum

The issues that were asked at the open forum centered on both the China-Philippine issue over the Spratlys as well as each candidate’s view on the labor issue, particularly business process outsourcing (BPO). I had actually texted the BPO question to the moderator as U.S. policy on this would greatly affect the Asian region.

Are you watching the U.S. elections? If not, you probably should because many foreign policies of the next President will have far-reaching impact globally. One of our BlogWatchers, Cocoy Dayao, is now embedded with the Washington Foreign Press, covering the U.S. elections. He was lucky to have seen former Pres. Bill Clinton and Pres. Obama up close at a rally yesterday. Check out his photos and follow links to his posts by following Blog Watch’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/blogwatchph

Tomorrow, Nov. 7, Filipinos can participate in some way in the U.S. elections. SM North EDSA and SM Cebu malls will host an Election Watch from 10 AM to about 3PM. Invited guests will get to participate in a mock election. Some Democrat and Republican reps will be around to answer questions from the public and they’ll have many more activities including a photo booth. Catch them there!

 

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