There is a long history of politicians using new, innovative ways to connect with voters. One of the most powerful media technologies that changed politics forever is Television. During the first Kennedy-Nixon United States Presidential Debate in 1960, the televised debate helped push Kennedy over in public opinion.
It made appearance matter: not only could you listen to presidential candidates debate on the radio or see their pictures in newspapers, but you could also now watch them on TV. Those who listened to the debate on the radio called it a draw, but those who watched on TV felt that Kennedy won. This new form of media caused image projection to be important in securing votes. A more recent example of the importance of appearance in an election in Canada is when Justin Trudeau swept the country in 2015; his wavy hair, good looks, and connection with youth secured him many votes.
Justin Trudeau’s election is a prime example of social media changing the landscape of politics and a new way to build a politician’s brand. Trudeau took thousands of selfies, often in crowds of people, which were shared on social media and allowed voters to feel connected to him.
One of the most recent examples of the impact of social media on how people vote happened during the 2019 federal election. About a month before the election, the New Democratic Party (NDP) looked to social media for a campaign boost because they were strapped for cash. The NDP had to get creative to reach voters and focused their digital budget on targeted ads. The Leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh, and his campaign team captured raw moments that went viral. Social media has become the new way that politicians reach people and connect with them.
From the beginning, the NDP had significantly less money than what the other two main parties had in their war chests. The NDP was also down in the polls, with some people even wondering if they would keep official party status after the election or maybe even come close to being wiped out completely.
At a campaign event, Rupi Kaur, a famous Canadian poet and Instagrammer, shared her story regarding feeling lonely in her youth, and the only person who did not write her off was Jagmeet Singh. Endorsements such as these are becoming more common in political campaigns; it is a modern approach that candidates have used to reach people and gain more support. Celebrities have millions of followers on social media, especially on Instagram.
The NDP’s most shared post was the video of Singh’s response to Trudeau’s blackface photos, with over one million views. It struck an emotional chord with the Canadian population, especially those who are directly affected by racism. The NDP’s most viewed post was a video Singh posted on the lip-syncing app, TikTok, of him singing along to the song “Choices” by E-40; this video got over two million views.
Connecting with voters on an emotional level is essential to secure their votes. Despite politicians’ best efforts, people will only vote for them if they feel a strong personal connection and have potent emotions regarding their consideration in voting.
When Singh and other party leaders post raw video footage and glimpses into their personal lives to social media platforms, it attempts to make the voters feel like they know the candidate. This strategy is vital as the Leaders cannot meet everyone in the country. Most people never meet them.
New media technology has indeed changed the way political campaigns are run. While the future of politics is quickly changing, it is exciting to see what innovative tactics campaign teams will use.
Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.