TOPICS > Politics

Voters Communicate Campaign Messages for 2012 Election Via Social Media

August 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Pew Research Center's Project For Excellence in Journalism released a report that found the Obama campaign posts on social media platforms four times more than the Romney campaign. Judy Woodruff talks to the Daily Download's Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz, who say more engagement doesn't guarantee a two-way conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN: If anyone needed evidence of the changing world of media and technology, more came today in the form of a poll published by “TIME” magazine that checked in with consumers in eight nations, including the U.S.

Among the highlights, 20 percent of respondents said they check their mobile device every 10 minutes, and 84 percent said they couldn’t go a single day without their mobile devices.

We, of course, have been taking a regular look at how such changes are playing out in the presidential campaign.

And our team from the Daily Download Web site is back again tonight.

Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is “Newsweek”‘s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

And welcome back.

What do you make of those numbers?

HOWARD KURTZ, “Newsweek”/CNN: It’s a wired world. I check mine more frequently than every 10 minutes.

LAUREN ASHBURN, Where’s my phone?


JEFFREY BROWN: You’re not shocked, I take it, right?

LAUREN ASHBURN: No, not at all.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Let’s start with some of the — the biggest news of the week of course in the campaign was the selection of Paul Ryan. How did that play out in your world that you’re looking at?

HOWARD KURTZ: Well, the campaign itself has turned really nasty.

But if you look online, on Twitter, for example, Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate, I would have say the tone is more mocking than vitriolic. For example, one person tweeting Mitt Romney should release his tax returns to distract from the Paul Ryan disaster.

What struck me, though, is how many more negative and snarky comments there have been vs. positive comments, at least on Twitter, when I was looking.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about in terms of numbers and volume on Ryan?

LAUREN ASHBURN: In terms of numbers, sure.

Look here at this chart we have put together. On August 9, which was the Friday before the announcement came, 11,837 references to Paul Ryan were made on Twitter. Well, the next day, it jumped to 390,816.

HOWARD KURTZ: Going viral.

LAUREN ASHBURN: So it just shows you the power of Twitter, the power of social media, and the ability to capture people’s reaction.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that negative tone that you’re talking about, of course we see it play out in ads. We see it play out in campaign stops along the way.

But it’s really playing out in Twitter and social media.

LAUREN ASHBURN: I think people can be more snarky online, hidden, than they can be in person.

So, television, I think, you’re less likely to take a potshot at somebody. But if you’re doing it online, you’re more likely to.

HOWARD KURTZ: And the campaign operatives have learned to play the snarkiness game online in a way that maybe they would be a little more cautious, as you say, Lauren, in front of a television camera.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, now, a running theme for you two in all of our talks here has been how the campaigns just use these digital tools, right, and the extent to which they engage people along the way.

So now there’s a new poll out, right, that helps a little bit put meat on this. Want to start?

HOWARD KURTZ: A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center.

And if you can go to the next graphic, we will give you an example. And we have talked about how much more active President Obama is online compared to Mitt Romney. Well, here’s some evidence. Just looking at a period of a little less than two weeks in a single recent month…


HOWARD KURTZ: … in June, 29 Twitter messages, just one for Romney. A little more equal on Facebook and YouTube, although, YouTube, the president’s team has posted twice as many videos as the Romney side. Obviously, he’s been president for four years. He had a big head-start, but that’s a pretty striking comparison.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, what it what it shows is that really the Obama campaign values Twitter.

And the Obama campaign is on nine different platforms. In addition to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, they’re on Tumblr and all the other ones that we have talked here about on the program.

HOWARD KURTZ: Instagram.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And they also — you know, they really try to get reaction from people and get those people to post and to share that information.

JEFFREY BROWN: Reaction, meaning like engaging — actually engaging them in a two-way conversation?

HOWARD KURTZ: One of the interesting things in this study is that you not just can join the Obama website, but they have carved up to 18 different subgroups with everything from what they call Jewish Americans to Native Americans. So they are micro-targeting the message online.

But if you go to…

LAUREN ASHBURN: Environmentalists, too.

HOWARD KURTZ: Environmentalists, all kinds of young people.

LAUREN ASHBURN: African-Americans.

HOWARD KURTZ: African-Americans, every conceivable demographic group.

LAUREN ASHBURN: So the citizen tweets — you just asked the question about engagement, Jeff.

What we’re saying — we’re calling citizen tweets…

HOWARD KURTZ: Ordinary folks.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Right, ordinary Joes who actually get on Twitter and say…

JEFFREY BROWN: You know who you are.


LAUREN ASHBURN: That’s right. That’s right — say their piece.

On one day, Obama put together 404 tweets.

HOWARD KURTZ: That was probably a longer period of time than one day.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Oh, it was the two weeks. That’s right.


LAUREN ASHBURN: Excuse me. It was from June 4 to June 17, 404 tweets. Twelve of those were shared.

HOWARD KURTZ: Or re-tweeted, which means you send it out to all your followers, and they can send it to their followers.

JEFFREY BROWN: So President Obama and his team are trying to engage?

HOWARD KURTZ: Well, not very much according to…


LAUREN ASHBURN: So what’s interesting about this is that it’s almost a one-way form of communication, Jeff.

You think it’s two way, but the campaign sends out all of this information. And then when they see someone like a regular Joe tweet something, they don’t really push it along on their own behalf.

HOWARD KURTZ: One little footnote on the one message that was re-tweeted or shared by Mitt Romney, that was from one of his sons, not exactly a regular Joe.

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, the tweets don’t necessarily translate to votes, right?

LAUREN ASHBURN: No. We have talked about this. And we don’t know what it translates to, other than awareness.

They use it to try to drive money and to try to drive engagement, meaning, come to the site. The other piece of this report that we found fascinating is that it shows that voters are playing a really large role in communicating campaign messages, and that the role of the traditional news media as an authority to validate has been lessened.

HOWARD KURTZ: But I would briefly note that one other thing that’s driven on Twitter, even if there’s not a lot of citizen engagement, is, it drives media coverage, because lots of journalists follow those messages and sometimes amplify them on television and elsewhere.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, to be continued. Next, we will go — we will start looking ahead to the conventions, right?


JEFFREY BROWN: Howard Kurtz, Lauren Ashburn, as always, thanks a lot.

HOWARD KURTZ: Thank you.