“I don’t think a politician would want to be on stage with a dancing cat,” said Charlotte Grimes,a professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “But you never know.”
A great political video on YouTube is between 30 seconds to a minute long,and is both visually and intellectually stimulating,Grimes said. The online medium lets campaigns or campaign supporters send and share videos quickly and cheaply.
The videos are a way for campaigns to engage with voters with whom they cannot interact.
“That’s the way most campaigning is now,” Grimes said. “At a distance and impersonally,without much personal contact.”
One of the most notable videos of the 2012 presidential election was one that caught Mitt Romney making frank statements about the 47 percent of Americans he expected to vote for Obama,Grimes said. In the video,Romney said that the 47 percent are dependent upon government,believe they are victims and believe they are entitled to health care.
“This election will probably be very much remembered for the 47 percent,as one of those moments captured on video that politicians would just as soon not happened,” Grimes said. “But that’s another factor that’s influencing politics. There’s really no privacy in this era.”
In 2012,nearly 600 U.S. candidates for political office have official YouTube channels. Collectively,the official videos from presidential candidates have been viewed 75 million times during the 2012 election cycle,according to statistics emailed from YouTube. No one from the company replied to a request for an interview.
When it comes to traffic for political videos,party affiliation isn’t important,Aaron Smith,a research associate at the PEW Research Center,said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican,liberal or conservative,” Smith said. “What matters is your general level of interest in the campaign.”
Smith is in the final stages of assembling the Internet and American Life project,a nationwide survey examining how people are sharing and recommending online videos. In a broad sense,Smith said,people who are using online platforms to share political discussion are the ones who have the strongest team affiliation with either of the two candidates or parties.
While the majority of voters have reported that online engagement makes them feel more connected to the issues,there are some who feel otherwise,Smith said.
“They also say that this type of engagement allows more extreme voices to dominate the discussion,” Smith said. “They sometimes have a hard time telling what’s accurate from what’s not accurate in terms of political information.”
A video that goes viral can be a blessing or curse to the campaign that creates it.
George Allen,R,a former Virginia governor and senator who is seeking his former Senate seat,is still asked about the infamous YouTube video that derailed his re-election campaign in 2006.
“In 2006,he was pretty much poised to win that race,” said Caitlin Huey-Burns,a reporter for Real-Clear Politics who covers congressional campaigns.
Huey-Burns remembers the video in which Allen,campaigning for Senate,used the racial slur “macaca” when referring to an opposing campaign volunteer of Indian descent. The video went viral.
Huey-Burns said she initially did not realize the impact of the Allen video. At the time,YouTube had been officially launched for less than a year,and the site hit 100 million page views a day. In 2012,the site receives 4 billion views per day,according to YouTube.
Allen lost the Senate seat to Jim Webb,D,who is not running for re-election.
“That comment on YouTube,through the Web,became a really defining moment for that campaign,” Huey-Burns said. “It really raised questions about his character,about his campaign.”
Six years later,the “Macaca Moment” continues to dog Allen,Huey-Burns said. Because of the immortality of the Internet,campaign managers are becoming more careful.
“Google never goes away,” Huey-Burns said. “And you really can’t escape it,once it is there.”
Grimes said that an influx of technology has led to less privacy.
“Everyone’s got a telephone with a camera in it,and everyone can upload to YouTube and Facebook,” Grimes said. “If you ever think that you’re saying something that’s going to be a secret,you better think again,and that goes for all of us.”
Reach reporter Matt Nelson at [email protected] or 202-408-2735. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.