Do you #FeeltheBern? Behind Bernie Sanders’ Quest to Takeover the White House

Do you #FeeltheBern? Behind Bernie Sanders’ Quest to Takeover the White House

Presidential elections remind us of how fast the world can change. It all started with the Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960 where Kennedy won the hearts of the 74 million voters who tuned in. Nixon’s sweaty face and blatant nervousness paled in comparison to Kennedy’s suave rhetoric and unwavering confidence. Since then, political debate have become a staple of presidential elections.

Alan Shroeder, author of the book, Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV argues that Presidential debates have “fundamentally altered political campaigns, television media and America’s political history.”

Marshall McLuhan first used the phrase “The Medium is the Message” in his landmark 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McLuhan observed that information distributed through different channels is processed and recorded differently. For example, McLuhan observed that the printed word would place an increased importance on visual elements while oral cultures relied upon speech to spread messages.

“Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication” — Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan noticed the profound impacts of rapid mass communication on contemporary societies. He detected profound shifts in the relationship between American citizens and the media. The media reaches citizens through legacy platforms like television and newspapers to contemporary mediums like SnapChat and Facebook.

McLuhan’s landmark statement is as true today as it has ever been: what is being communicated (the message) has is decreasingly important than the medium where people receive information. Since the introduction of the technologies from the telegraph, to the radio, to television, to the Internet, the media has united people and encouraged citizen participation at the risk of toxic conformity.

The 2016 presidential election is proof of an observation McLuhan made more than 50 years ago: Mass and connected media has rewired the way humans think, debate, communicate and interact with the world around them.

Our world of abundance promises stronger opinions, louder voices and news that appeals to the lowest common denominator. News driven by ad-dependent business models deliver less signal and more noise.

The way a message is received can profoundly affect how the message is interpreted. A message from The New York Times will seem more credible than the same message from Distractify. Information from Fox News will be interpreted differently from MSNBC.

Eight years ago, Barack Obama used up-and-coming social networks like Facebook and Twitter to start a movement, spread awareness, raise campaign donations and win the presidency. Tapping into online social networks has increased in importance since 2008. Social networks are the hub of mass communication and measure the pulse of humanity. They hold unprecedented data on the communication patterns of the human race.

Candidates are expected to spend $1 billion on digital advertisements in 2016 compared with $22 million in 2008. BuzzFeed Motion Pictures has committed to producing campaign ads, while Facebook has opened its treasure trove of data to political candidates who will pay for advertising. Both companies will use voter file data to build supporter bases, increase campaign awareness and persuade voters.

By leveraging social media, Bernie Sanders became the first candidate to hit 2.5 million online donations. He averages less than $30 per contribution.

Trust and quality are scarce into today’s mass media age. Millennials do not want to parse through the New York Times, or watch Fox News to receive their information. Instead, millennials seek to engage with close friends, YouTube personalities and viral articles through social networks. Youth voters are paramount to the success of the Democratic Party — Obama received approximately 65 percent of the youth vote in 2008 and 60 percent in 2012.

As of February 3, 2016, 74 percent of 18 to 44-year-olds supported Bernie Sanders, compared with 23 percent for Hilary Clinton according to a Quinnipiac poll. But Americans aged 18 to 24 are the most unreliable voters in the electorate with only 44 percent voting in the historic 2008 election and 38 percent in 2012. The proof is in the data — Bernie stands a chance if he can get young voters to the polls.

Presidential nominees cannot reach young voters without an elaborate social media strategy. The Internet lowers the cost of building a brand and boosts connection between candidates and voters.

Messages spread through YouTube, SnapChat, Facebook and Twitter will decide the 2016 presidential election.

Bernie Sanders is advertising with BuzzFeed to target millennial voters. Sanders’ “grassroots” political campaign will leverage the social media channels that potential voters depend on most. Specifically, Sanders and Clinton are active on SnapChat where they can find young Democrats.

Inspired by Kenneth Pennington, Bernie Sanders’ digital director, Sanders is currently running a 9-day SnapChat Ad Campaign in Iowa by sponsoring geofilters. Examples of Sanders’ sponsored geofilters read “Iowa, Are You Ready to Feel the Bern” and “Feel the Bern: One Week Until Caucus Night!” Sanders is advertising with BuzzFeed to create viral content to encourage consumers to spread the world through social media.

Sanders can directly reach voters through an unfiltered SnapChat account. Sanders uses a more direct, real-time approach because of SnapChat’s ten-second video time limit and its ephemerality. Sanders welcomed voters to challenge his views during a Reddit AMA to field questions about ISIS, GMO labeling and the military. Sanders’ rhetoric there various from his rhetoric on YouTube or Facebook where information exists forever. Information consumed on these platforms are shared and likely to go viral.

Messages delivered through Facebook and YouTube will be highly targeted, while Twitter asks users to curate their news streams. SnapChat’s original political coverage, “Good Luck America,” will reach all SnapChat users in the “Discover” tab. Peter Hammy, SnapChat’s head of news says he wants to guide introduce millennial audiences through the presidential election. Due to SnapChat’s young audience, many SnapChat users have never participated in a political election.

Direct communication fuels voter trust and admiration, scarce resources in today’s world. Sanders can be reached all over the Internet thereby boosting relationships with voters and inspiring calls for radical change.

The evolution of human communication has expanded the communication gap between the young and the old. Young citizens want direct access to presidential candidates and seek to avoid traditional media outlets. In a world of fragmented communication mediums, prosperity comes to those who control the mediums that reach elusive young voters.

Social networks sit at the nexus of post-modern human conversation, thinking and decision making. As an extension of ourselves, social media will influence the 2016 presidential election as profoundly as presidential debates did in 1960.

Further exploration: 

Bernie Sanders on Snapchat

Open SnapChat and point the camera at the QR code above to follow

Open SnapChat and point the camera at the QR code above to follow