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Political Persuasion

A college student's perspective on the two crazy worlds of PR and politics

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Midterm Elections

The Stewart/Colbert Effect

It’s the day after the midterm elections, and the Republicans hold the majority in the House (239 seats), while the Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats hold the majority in the Senate (51 seats).

In between monitoring the election on Twitter and Google last night, I watched clips from Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Stephen Colbert’s rather ironic “March to Keep Fear Alive.” Both Stewart and Colbert use humor and a twist of controversy to capture the attention of Americans (particularly those in the 18-25 range) nationwide.

From a PR standpoint, I cannot help but admire the brand they created for themselves.  Stewart’s Indecision 2010 campaign, not only pokes fun at politicians, but it satirizes the media’s overused rhetoric as well as the divide among Americans as a whole.

In an article on ABC’s Web site, Media and Society Professor Richard Wald of Columbia University said,

“Where Stewart is different is he places politics squarely at the center of all his comedy, and new forms of communications help him spread his laughs. Stewart’s edge is that he not only has cable TV … but YouTube and Twitter and the Internet, so that he gets to reach an ever wider audience,”

The irony is that Stewart and Colbert find humor in the 24/7 news cycle, and the polarization it has created throughout the country.  Democrats and Republicans are constantly competing on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and various other niche communities on the web.  However, at the same time, it is this new media, especially Youtube, Internet news and blogs, that keep the momentum going for the Stewart/Colbert duo.

Twitter and the Midterm Elections

When I first heard about Twitter, I assumed it was a fad.  I would read online about how celebrities were using Twitter as a way to update fans about their daily lives.  I automatically associated Twitter with the guilty-pleasure tabloid magazines I would read at the grocery store checkout counter.  The thought didn’t even cross my mind that Twitter could potentially be a major communication tool in politics. Well, it’s safe to say I was in for a shock.

I’ve been tweeting regularly for about a month.  I’m learning quickly that Twitter is more than 140 character updates; it is a way to ask questions, learn about people’s interests and get a conversation going.  One of the biggest conversations going on right now is about the midterm elections.  Republicans, Democrats and Independents are sharing insights about campaign strategy, healthcare legislation, environmental policy and many other topics affecting the upcoming elections.

Richard Adams of The Guardian has an excellent live blog that features news and insights about the midterm election Twitter conversation: http://tiny.cc/4swbt.  Campaign advertising is a recurring topic in the twittersphere.

Adams cites polling guru, Nate Silver’s recent tweet:

“There’s a good argument to be made that Whitman and McMahon would be better off if they’d run fewer commercials.”

I could not agree more! When someone runs for office, he or she is representing the people.  Instead of attacking opponents, let’s try to bridge the gap between the “average Joe” and “Senator X.”  There are many candidates who are taking advantage of new media—creating Facebook and Twitter accounts, posting pictures, writing blogs and responding to inquiries at iTownhall meetings.

I’m not completely discrediting traditional media.  Campaign advertisements do have a large effect on certain demographics.  In his blog, Adams cites a Harvard poll that looks at the 18-29 year-old demographic.  Just 40% will definitely vote in November and just 25% say they are politically engaged.  College students are one of the largest groups using social media tools, so why wouldn’t a candidate jump on the Twitter bandwagon? I just feel, especially with young college students, there is a need for authenticity and transparency.  I want to be able to interact with the candidate.  I want to know that someone is listening.

If candidates are looking to motivate young people to get to the polls, then they should do just that—motivate! Motivation is not found in petty attack ads; it is found in authentic conversation that gives a reason as to why it is important to support or oppose a particular candidate.

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