For most of us, social media has become a routine part of our day-to-day lives here in America. This reality is now taking hold in politics as well. Scrolling through social media pages such as Twitter and Instagram, I have seen videos of candidates and elected officials dancing in their offices, visiting the dentist, drinking beer, and all manner of day-to-day life being shared with the public. With videos posted by Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others, the political spectrum is changing.
I personally don’t want to see a video of a politician going to the dentist—I would rather see a video of them explaining their stance on abortion or border control. I want to know what the candidate stands for on policy instead of how cool of a dance move they can do. We are losing professionalism in the political world. It seems that we are now electing people because they have nice dance moves or seem relatable on an Instagram video. This makes me wonder—how will our future elections be shaped through social media?
In the 1960 election cycle, well before the era of social media, the debates between JFK and Richard Nixon were televised for the first time in American history. The looks, poise, and smooth actions of JFK helped him to win the votes of millions of Americans. The medium of television set a new precedent for an era in which politicians worried about their image as much as their messaging. These televised debates marked the beginning of a new type of political media that would shape the outcome of elections for years to come.
Now, we are in a new era where the political scene is changing again. Americans can now stay up to date on the day-to-day thoughts and actions of political figures through videos, pictures, and posts on social media. The political landscape is becoming more and more based on marketing and image rather than actual policy positions. If you can market yourself better than your opponent, you have a better chance at winning. If your social media page has millions of followers, you can get more attention than appearing on national television. Candidates don’t even have to set up an interview with a television station to get media coverage anymore—if a social media post goes “viral,” it will be all over both television and the internet.
Social media is clearly a useful way to make candidates more visible to the world. Social media is already shaping the outcome of elections. In future elections, social media will undoubtedly begin to play an even bigger role. Similar to what happened in the 1960 election, the actions, online presence, and relatable image of a candidate can hold more sway than their policy positions in the minds of many social media-addicted voters.
Future elections will be shaped by the online presence of the candidates. As for me, I would rather see candidates use social media to present thoughtful positions on policy issues rather than try to be hip.
Peyton Holliday is an intern at Family Research Council.