A Response to the Generation Gap in Online Politics

“Not Your Father’s Internet: The Generation Gap in Online Politics” is all about understanding the generation gap and how the internet affects online politics. This article was written by Xenos and Foot in 2008 and came from a larger work by Lance Bennett. Their main objective was to research the affect of internet use and younger generations in political campaigns. They found that 18–29 year olds will most likely look to the internet for campaign information. They looked at the traditional campaigning versus web campaigning and what was successful for the candidates in each election. This is very relevant today because we are in a digital age and we are also having a presidential election this year. If polticians and their campaigns can use online politics to bridge the generation gap, they will be able to spread the message of their platform and run a successful campaign.

One of the examples Xenos and Foot used was John McCain’s “Cyber Express Webcast” which was the first ever online fundraising campaign. Some of the key points of this webcast was that is cost supporters $100 to receive the direct URL to watch the webcast, McCain took live-stream questions, there text box questions, and poll questions. While this seemed like a progressive way of fundraising at first, many people were upset by the results. McCain only answered about 12 questions when he received 250 and the questions he did answer seemed to be low ball answers meaning that he did not answer the hard hitting questions. It was unfortunate for the McCain campaign because many young people were originally very excited for this event because it was the first completely online forum for constituents to directly reach a candidate but it clearly fell short. This was disappointing for many younger Republicans because they viewed it as a prime opportunity for John McCain to draw in younger voters but the lack of knowledge on how to run an online fundraiser seemed to have been more trouble than it was worth.

Another example of online political campaigning that Xenos and Foot looked at was Howard Dean’s “networked” style of campaigning. Howard Dean provided a comment section on his webpages in which he was able to receive feedback. One of the most interesting things that I thought Dean utilized was his 20 coalitions. These coalitions consisted of groups such as youth, young professionals, and women. By having these groups, they were able to more personally reach out to potential voters and connect with them based on their background and demographics. This network was about reaching out to more people and hopefully get them on board with Howard Dean’s politics. Not only does this method make the whole campaign seem smaller, it gives a more personalized feel to the campaign because you can see everyday people like yourself supporting a politician. This is an example of successful interactivity whereas John McCain’s webcast was an example of a failure.

Politicians today have definitely taken into account these successes and failures of online campaigning. Because the internet plays such a huge role in the every day lives of most American citizen’s, politics must have an online presence. Candidates today have everything from websites to YouTube pages to Twitters. Without these social media platforms, it would be difficult to engage the younger voters and even though many of the candidates are on the older side they know that it is crucial for them to reach the young generation of voters. It is also important for the candidates to reach the older generations which is was Xenos and Foot were researching. They wrote that candidates are still more likely to reach out to older voters because they know what works for them and they have mastered whereas the internet can be an intimidating portal to face. One thing that I believe candidates and their teams must remember is that the internet is a good approach to transactional interactivity which is a preference for features that return strategic goods for the campaign while involving a relatively small investment of resources. If the politician has a good social media correspondent, they will be able to reach millions of young millennials, many of whom are voting for the first time.

This got me thinking because this election will be the first time I will be able to vote in a presidential election. I would like to think I am an average college student who is interested in politics. By that I mean that I am interested and have educated myself but I am not extremely passionate one way or the other. Because I have taken many international studies and political science classes I have been part of multiple political discussions with my peers but the day of the primaries was the first time I really noticed how many people were concerned about the future of our nation and who leads it. I go to a college in Chicago so at my polling station the majority of people were students. It was inspiring to see how many people turned up to vote. I am from Arizona where this year they had unexpectedly long lines for the polling stations and while it was a huge inconvenience most people stayed to cast their vote in the primaries. This shows how many people care and I think this will only grow as campaigns reach a more digital community directed towards the young generations.

I think the internet has played a huge role in the current election because it is 2016 and it seems as though our lives revolve around technology. The viral nature of our culture has both hurt and hindered some candidates’ campaigns. For example, many of the things Donald Trump does/says will end up on the internet and become a meme or gif for people to laugh at. One instance in particular that stands out is when he was speaking at a rally and something was thrown at him, he immediately turned around and looked as though he was ready to fight whoever threw something at him and his security had to hold him down. This is something that has probably hindered his campaign because he showed his rage in reaction to a small event. On the contrary, our viral culture has helped candidates like Bernie Sanders for example with the bird at his rally. If you search “Bernie Sanders and the bird” on sites like YouTube you will be able to find a sweet video of him looking at a small bird that landed on his podium at a rally. From this event stemmed memes such as a picture with the phrase “Birdie Sanders” written beneath. Both of these instances were things that went viral because of the internet and the young votes who have a huge presence on platforms like Twitter.

In today’s election cycle, I think that politicians are starting to cater more towards the young crowd because they realize the power they have on social media. If you can get a group of young supporters, they will do all the work for you. They will organize their own coalitions for you and spread the candidate’s name all over Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit which is where many people get their information. It is also common for young people to see their friends supporting someone and then in turn they will support whatever candidate because they trust their friends more than they trust a campaign commercial. On the other hand, the older generations are not using this technology so while the campaign must focus heavily on these platforms, they must also use tradition campaigning tactics. These traditional tactics can vary from television commercials to newspaper spreads.

Xenos and Foot brought up many good points in their article. It is important for people to understand that there is a generation gap. It is important for politicians so that they can cater or market themselves to different audiences and it is important for the constituents to understand this gap because they must realize that the politicians will be putting out different messages on multiple platforms according to their audience. For this coming election I see a huge increase in social media and digital platforms for the presidential candidates. If they are able to utilize this for their benefit and generate viral content, they could capture the vote of millions of young voters. The generation gap in online politics is a real phenomenon but I believe that this gap is getting smaller as time goes on because of our culture today. If most 18–29 year olds are getting their information online they will obviously be catered to but it will be interesting to see if the candidates will try to reach the older generations via the internet and online or if they will stick to more tradition campaigning methods. Only time will tell how the elections will play out but if you ask me, a digital presence is the way to go and candidates must be able to bring the generation gap in online politics.