Your Twitter choir won’t be winning this election
September 3, 2012 by William K. Wolfrum
One of the first soccer games I attended in Brazil was a battle between Minas Gerais interstate rivals Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro. The crowd of more than 50,000 was evenly split between fans of each team, with each side separated from one another in the stadium.
During intermission, I wandered around the stadium, coming to the area where police had cordoned off the sides. On one side were fans of Cruzeiro, the other side fans of Atlético, both sides taunting one another. Then, the taunting got too intense. And the police tear gassed the lot of us.
Remembering this, I can’t help think of Democratic and Republican partisans on social media. Generally, on say, Twitter, both sides stay with their own fan base, preaching to their own choirs. Occasionally, one side will meet the other for a full-on, ludicrous brawl of nonsensical attacks. Sadly, the tear gas feature on Twitter is not functional yet.
Another similarity between the two is that – percentage-wise – there really aren’t all that many fans of the aforementioned teams, or dedicated partisans. That soccer game was played on a day many other teams with their own fans played. And in the U.S., true conservatives and liberals make up a small portion of the actual population.
I would estimate that in the U.S., there is a fairly even split among politically active liberals and conservatives. And I’d put the number of each side at about 20-25% of the population. These are people that will vote and have strong opinions on all the major issues of the day, and oft-times will have strong opinions on non-issues or invented issues that just sound right. The rest of the population is divided between those who don’t vote or are voters who have very little idea of what either side stands for, or their agendas.
In 2008 – a truly monumental election – roughly 60 percent of eligible voters cast a vote. And that was the largest voting turnout in the history of the U.S. Of the current eligible voters who cast themselves as “undecided,” you can figure that well more than half of them won’t place a vote at all. The others will base their votes on such factors as Mitt Romney’s hair or Barack Obama’s charisma.
This is why I can’t help but feel that social media – for all its obvious benefits – is currently an insignificant factor in U.S. elections. Those who use social media to discuss and promote politics will find their side of the stadium and root for their team. Others ignore the political chanting and discuss Snookie’s baby.
As election day comes closer, each partisan side will begin preaching harder at their own side, in some odd attempt at getting people who believe as they do to believe the same thing more intensely. Meanwhile, the people who will actually decide the election will work harder to tune it all out.
Social media is a great organizing tool. It is a great way to gather the troops or find donations. It’s a great place to promote stories and information. But it’s just not a place where undecided, low-information voters will be swayed one way or another. To do that requires stepping away from the keyboard and truly getting into the game.