Erwen Zhu Student at University of California, Berkeley
Now that we are nearing the end of the presidential primaries, it is becoming clearer who the respective party nominees will be. On the Republican side, Donald Trump looks on track to receive the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination, or close enough to justify receiving the Republican nomination in the case of a contested convention. On the Democratic side, bar a catastrophic collapse or controversy, the nominee will probably be Hillary Clinton. Come fall, it is looking increasingly likely that we may witness a Clinton versus Trump general election, a prospect that not many are fond of. With two candidates that are so polarizing and on complete opposite sides of the political spectrum, we can expect a long, vicious battle for the White House.
In an increasingly digital world, social media has incorporated itself into prominent events that take place, elections being the crown jewel. The 2016 Presidential Election will be waged and won through social media, and it will be a brutal fight. (If you thought Trump versus Bush was bad, get ready for Presidential Twitter War 2.0)
Accessibility of Social Media
Every year, more and more people become regular users of the most popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Compared to the amount of people that used these platforms during the 2012 election, the 2016 numbers are nearly twice the size. Facebook has seen its user base expand significantly over the last four years, passing the 1.5 billion mark.
In 2008, there were only 100 million monthly users. That number jumped to over 1.5 billion by the end of 2015. The other social media juggernaut, Twitter, has seen similar growth in the last 5 years.
During the 2012 Presidential Election, there were roughly 185 million monthly users – that number increased to 300 million by the end of 2015. Because of this global increase in social media activity, individuals from all over the world will be able to give their opinions via Twitter and Facebook. The result of the 2016 Presidential Election will have a global impact, and you can bet that people across the world will have a vested interest in the conversation across social media.
With social media growing significantly since the last presidential election cycle, more people are following news, not through network broadcasting, but rather on the Internet. If you compile the number of monthly primetime viewers of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, it results in only a total of 1.92 million viewers. Compare that to CNN’s 24.2 million followers on Twitter and we can see that the majority of CNN’s 36 million platform views come from social media. Sites like Twitter and Facebook have not only become the first source of news for many people, but also give them the opportunity to express their feelings on the political election cycle – and those feelings aren’t always positive.
Clash of Demographics
The 2016 general election will be considerably more brutal than the 2012 election, due to the constituencies of the two presumptive nominees, Clinton and Trump. Clinton has consistently won the African American vote, as well as large margins of Latino and female voters. While she is currently losing the millennial vote to Senator Sanders, come November, most voters between the ages of 18-24 will likely fall under Clinton’s camp (consistent with the Democratic Party trends). Trump has received success from a completely different demographic, winning among male voters, voters with no post secondary education, and older voters. While this looks like Clinton may have an edge due to her millennial advantage, this is not guaranteed. Millennials are no longer the only force that dominates social media.
In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 82% of Internet users between 18 and 29 use Facebook, however, 79% of Internet users 30-49 have accounts as well, a near even split. Not only that, older voters are a growing presence online, nearly 64% of voters between 50-64 have Facebook accounts. The margin between voters with different levels of education is even narrower. 71% of voters that have a high school degree or less use Facebook, compared to 72% of voters that have a college education.
Social media is no longer dominated by millennials; the number of users for each age group is increasing, as well as establishing near even divides between gender, race, and education. The constituencies of both Clinton and Trump have, essentially, equal presence on social media, based on demographics, which will only lead to a sharper divide come November.
Tone of the Election
If you have been following the Presidential Primaries, you might have noticed the harsh attacks against candidates. It’s considered one of the most negative election cycles in history, and that trend will only continue come fall. The arguments in debates consist less of substance but more ad hominem attacks that include calling people “liars” and stating they have “small hands” (it’s an allusion to something else). This negative tone is not only due to the divisive rhetoric of the candidates, but also stands as the culmination of nearly eight years of built up frustration. On top of this, both Clinton and Trump have their fair share of enemies, both posting alarmingly high unfavorable ratings. There’s no shortage of people that want to see both knocked off their golden pedestals, and that will show on social media.
In addition, social media stands as the perfect medium for people to vent and express their frustrations with the current political system. Users can remain largely anonymous and often see no negative consequences from typing insults from the comfort of their own home. Sites like Twitter benefit from this because they offer short and concise messages. The attention span of most people is only a few seconds, thus the shorter the message, the more effective. Social media has become the perfect place for one liners and sounds bites, which has given rise to sites like Vine. We now live in an age of sharp catchphrases, criticism, and critiques, less so of policy, but rather of the individual – and social media has gifted people with the perfect platform to do so on.
It’s Already Begun
The battle has already started. By now, most are aware that Trump has already begun using social media as his microphone. Just last month, Trump engaged in a“Twitter War” with Cruz over their wives. Yes, you heard that correctly. Two candidates for the Presidency are engaging in online feuds, using a method common to individuals like Kanye West. On the Democratic side, supporters of Sanders have essentially seized control of social media and have been relentless in their attack on both Clinton’s policies and character. Not only that, Clinton and Trump have already began to engage in a series of escalating video ads, a previewof what’s likely to come in November – these ads feel less like presidential attack pieces but rather the beginnings of a “Cold War” between Clinton and Trump. With partisanship only increasing since the last election cycle, don’t expect either to pull any punches.
Social media has become intertwined with our daily lives. We often check it for simple updates, or to keep up with the latest news. With a global reach at a lower price compared to running ads on television, candidates will look to further utilize sites such as Facebook and Twitter. With such a divide between the potential candidates, social media rhetoric will only continue to become more negative. So we better get ready, it’s only a matter of time before the “War of Social Media” begins.
Erwen (Alex) Zhu is a current Pre-Business Major at the University of California Berkeley and writes as a millennial voice for marketing, social media, and entertainment.
This post is part of the @MillennialIdeas series from the Marketing Thought Leadership course at UC Berkeley taught by Forbes 30 Under 30 and LinkedIn Top Voice, Tai Tran. #StudentVoices
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