Law in Contemporary Society

The Impact of New Media on Presidential Campaigns

-- By AnaCorrea - 12 Feb 2008

"Ha-Ha! Your medium is dying!"

-Nelson, mocking a print journalist on The Simpsons.


There have long been concerns that “new media,” as embodied by the Internet, will soon supplant traditional channels of communications, if it has not done so already. This tension between the old and new is currently being played out in the presidential campaigns where each of the candidates has incorporated new media to some extent in their campaigning. I will look at three of the ways in which the presidential candidates have used the Internet to harness funds, attention, and support with varying degrees of success.

The Cyber Piggy Bank: Personal Websites and Fundraising

Fundraising is at the heart of campaigning. Popular support matters little if a candidate does not have the financial support to make it to November. Traditional fundraising has seemingly taken a back seat to its Internet counterpart. As Terry Mancour of the Guardian Unlimited noted “Who has time - or money - for a $1,000-a-plate rubber-chicken dinner?”[1] Indeed, the candidates have made it extremely easy for people from all walks of life to contribute. All that a would-be-donor needs is an Internet connection and a credit card number. Visit any of the candidate’s personal websites and your eye will be drawn to the bright red button soliciting donations; John McCain? ’s main page consists of little more than a picture and a gigantic red rectangle proclaiming “Donate Today.” [2]

The candidates tout their Internet fundraising totals, using that financial support to gauge popular support, and berate their rivals for underperformance in the online donation arena. Barak Obama, for example, has repeatedly emphasized his online fundraising success. Online contributions to his campaign are expected to top $30 million in February alone, while Hilary Clinton had to personally lend $5 million to her own cash strapped campaign.[3] The financial disparity between the candidates will most certainly have an effect, and thus, the impact of internet fundraising can be felt.

Nevertheless, Internet fundraising success does not necessarily translate to political success. Howard Dean, arguably the pioneer of online organization and fundraising, did not even obtain his party’s nomination despite the generous cash flow. More recently, John Edward’s Internet fundraising tally spiked in comparison with his rivals, but he ultimately dropped out of the race after failing to win a single primary. Similarly, Ron Paul outpaced his mainstream rivals, raking in $20 million online in the fourth quarter of 2007, but “In spite of his online popularity, the eccentric Republican won 10 per cent of the votes in the Iowa caucus, 8 per cent of the votes in the New Hampshire primary and only 6 per cent in the Michigan primary.” [4] Because tangible success does not correlate to online financial support, it remains difficult to measure the impact of this use of new media in the presidential campaigns on the elections at large

User-Generated Content: From the CNN Youtube Debates to Obama Girl

Another way the candidates have incorporated new media into their campaigning is through the use of user-generated content. User-generated content, however, can be a two-edged sword, having the potential to cast a candidate in both a positive and negative light. Political analysts have predicted that user-generated content sites like Youtube will force candidates to be more natural, direct, and honest because of the potential to be filmed anywhere and at anytime on video that can easily be uploaded and distributed. [5] In 2006, for example, a video appeared on Youtube of a Virginia senator using a racial slur. [6] Moreover, unflattering interviews and parodies thrive. On the other hand, beginning with the CNN/Youtube Debates, which involved the use of use-generated questions and continuing with personal interviews to video bloggers, candidates have slowly been appropriating the medium to ensure positive publicity.

Two recent examples of user-generated content that have taken a life of their own and succeeded in drawing positive attention to their favored candidate are the “I Have a Crush on Obama” video posted by “Obama Girl” and the Yes We Can” music video, a spontaneous, unsolicited showing of support by popular celebrities, produced by of The Black Eyed Peas. With approximately 4 million and 6 million views respectively, these videos exemplify the enormous publicity that user-generated content can produce.

Social Networking Sites: Courting the Youth Vote

Yet another way new media has impacted presidential campaigning is through the use of social networking sites, especially in connection with capturing the youth vote. A significant percentage of voters between the ages of 18-29 belong to these social networking sites and candidates anxiously flock for support on Facebook and Myspace. These sites are the new battleground in the struggle for these voters. [7] All the major candidates have Facebook and Myspace profiles. In an unabashed nod to their actual purposes on the site, candidates on Facebook do not have "friends" they have "supporters." Obama is the current leader with 523,033 supporters to his name, dwarfing both Clinton (113,955) and McCain? (60, 561). Just as numbers do not reflect political reality in Internet fundraising, the same occurs on these social networking sites. Ron Paul has over 80,000 supporters to McCain? ’s 60,000.

The use of social networking sites in campaigning also raises the same concerns of negative publicity as sites such as Youtube: “These sites weaken the level of control that campaigns have over the candidate’s image and message since any- body, both supporters and opponents, can post a video and/or create a page on behalf of the candidates because of the user-driven content of social networking sites.” [7] Indeed, for every “X Rocks” Facebook group, there’s an “X Sucks” group. Additionally, candidates must also question the usefulness of such forays into these networking sites considering that so many users aren’t even on voting age and where more attention and support is given to comedians running on fictional platforms that the candidates themselves.


New media has had a substantial impact on the way the presidential candidates choose to run their campaigns.

  • First, facing downward, as to form: It's silly to make footnotes in a wiki, most of the time. Everything you cite below is a link, for Heaven's sake: why don't you make them live links in the text? Second, facing upward, as to substance: You have here a pretty good summary of material found elsewhere and accurately summarized. But as your conclusion shows, there's nothing new here by way of an idea contributed out of your rumination. The conclusion, which is a truism, would have been acceded to by any informed observer. Questions by the dozens might be asked on the back of the information you compiled, however, and any one of them might have led you in a direction that required you to formulate new conceptions. It's that process--the formulation of new legal conceptions out of the material of observed social life--that we are studying in this course. Our question, generically, is always "How can I use what I can observe about social life--and what I have learned about varieties of social explanation--to formulate new questions about law and, by answering or attempting to answer those questions, to create new legal ideas?" Here you assembled some social observations. That was a good first step. But the second step, in which you pressed to formulate something new out of the previously-known, didn't really happen. Another draft, with a clearly-defined new objective, making use of the data collected, is probably necessary.

[1] Mancour, Terry. User-generated candidate. Guardian Unlimited. February 7, 2008.

[2] John McCain? Homepage

[3] Cummings, Jeanne._Obama on pace to raise $30 M in Feb_. February 7, 2008. Retrieved February 14th, 2008 from:

[4] Keen, Andrew_New Media’s Role in the U.S. Presidential Campaign_, The Independent, January 28, 2008. Retrieved February 13, 2008 from:

[5] Lizza, Ryan. The YouTube? election. The New York Times. August 10, 2006. Retrieved February 12, 2008 from: 00&en=a605fabfcb81eebf&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

[6] Id.

[7] Rawlinson.Linnie. Will the 2008 Election be won on Facebook? May 29, 2007. Retrieved February 13, 2008 from:

[8] Gueorguieva, Vassia. Voters, My Space, and You Tube: The Impact of Alternative Communication Channels on the 2006 Election Cycle and Beyond, Social Science Computer Review 2007,

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r12 - 31 May 2017 - 01:54:10 - TyCarleton
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