Political Persuasion

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


Social Media

How Bill Clinton and Vietnam Changed the Web

Ten years ago tomorrow, President Bill Clinton became the first US head of state to visit Vietnam since the war’s end in 1975.  Shortly before his visit, he said, “In our national memory Vietnam was a war, but Vietnam is also a country.”  Despite Clinton’s high approval ratings, public opinion surrounding the visit, both in the US and Vietnam, was mixed.

Clinton, who is known for his pragmatism and diplomatic approach to communication, articulated his intention to further the process of reconciliation between the US and Vietnam.  He honored those American soldiers who fought during the war and raised the issue of human rights.  Pete Peterson, America’s ambassador to Vietnam at the time, described the trip as a “huge success.”  According to an article in BBC News , one eyewitness even described Clinton’s visit as a “festival…everyone was applauding him and trying to get his autograph.”

Media consumption and its impact on public opinion have changed significantly since 2000; however, this year marked a shift toward what we now describe as “social media.” Clinton’s visit to Vietnam created a conversation in emerging new media outlets. According to BBC News, “Internet chat-rooms devoted to Vietnam issues are filled with messages from veterans and others who want to see the message of reconciliation carried by somebody other than a man who went to such great lengths to avoid being drafted to Vietnam.”

Both positive and negative feedback circulated throughout the web—proving that the one-way communication found in traditional media outlets (i.e. television, radio and print publications) were slowly dwindling.  The American public was able to openly debate in interactive forums on the World Wide Web.  This event just ten years ago, created a thirst for conversation.  Although many journalists infused subjective commentary into their newscast, it was the words directly from fellow Americans that helped shape public opinion.

This post is also featured in the National Constitution Center’s blog “Constitution Daily”:


“I’ll tweet, I’ll text, I’ll do whatever it takes…”

Lately, I’ve written about the classic campaign advertisements (such as LBJ’s daisy ad and JFK’s catchy jingle) that completely changed the political PR landscape. Today, I will take a look at a modern political ad.  Although I would not consider Senator Chuck Grassley’s ad a typical political advertisement, I think you will find it both interesting and for some…extremely entertaining.

So, what was Senator Grassley trying to say? That he’s just like one of us? Maybe.  Purpose aside, there is no doubt that this 77 year-old Senator from Iowa captured the attention of Americans nationwide.  His YouTube videos typically receive a few hundred views, but his new ad has over 70,000 hits!

Recently, the renowned PR firm Burson-Marsteller released a study that found that Republicans are far more active on Twitter than their Democratic counterparts. In fact, eight of the ten most followed Twitter accounts maintained by members of Congress are held by Republicans, the study says.

Whether you find Senator Chuck Grassley’s ad weird (as The Christian Science Monitor does) or innovative, there is no doubt that both Democrats and Republicans need to recognize the importance of social media.  There are millions of conversations going on each day.  You can do one of two things–ignore it or join it!  President Obama’s campaign team, for example, was successful because they drew on the suggestions and insights of Americans from a variety of different backgrounds.

I am curious to see how different age groups interpret Senator Grassley’s new ad.  Are you convinced?

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:  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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