Following the trends of the current information era, local political candidates utilized the internet to inform, persuade, and rally support
by Spencer Healey
Romney boasts 1,187,959 Facebook page “likes” and 167,928 Twitter followers. Gingrich shows 173,149 Facebook page “likes” and 1,350,278 Twitter followers.
In the 2008 presidential election Obama had more than 2 million Facebook page “likes”. His opponent, Senator John McCain, had 600,000. According to editor in chief of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, that difference was essential to Obama’s success.
“Were it not for the internet,” said Huffington in 2008. “Barack Obama would not be president.”
Using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Obama changed the way politicians reach their audience.
It’s now been three years since that election and in a town of less than 10,000 inhabitants, Santaquin politics got a small taste of how the internet can be harnessed to persuade, inform, and even rally supporters.
Santaquin’s municipal election results showed a tight race between the six running candidates. In the end, the vote differential between the top vote-getter, Richard Payne, and the low vote-getters, Jay Cameron Jolley and Lance Wollebaek, was 75 votes. Payne outstripped second place vote-getter Keith Broadhead by 37 votes while the difference between second- and sixth-place was 38 votes.
Payne, in an extremely close race, managed to pull away significantly from the rest of the pack. One possible reason for his success might be found on social media sites like Facebook.
More than any of the other candidates, Payne made strategic use of his Facebook page where he has 220 friends. He also created a blog website for his campaign called voterichpayne.com where he posted arguments, thoughts, and documents all the way up to the day before the election.
Other candidates also utilized the web in their campaigns, but not to the extent or with the same frequency as Payne did.
Payne feels his online campaign was “very helpful” in getting his message out. “It made a difference,” said Payne. “That’s the way a lot of people choose to communicate these days.”
As a relative newcomer, Payne feels his website and social media involvement helped him close the gaps that existed between him and candidates like Keith Broadhead, who benefitted from “being a resident of Santaquin for a long time.”
Broadhead used social media as well during his campaign, posting arguments and articles on occasion to his 41 Facebook friends. His campaign also created a blog website at anotherviewforsantaquin.blogspot.com, which was updated four times in October.
All of the other four candidates either did not have a Facebook page or did not utilize it in their campaigns.
Candidates were not the only ones who made use of the web to support political campaigns. Another blog website called “Santaquin Needs Truth” was created by a Santaquin resident at santaquintruth.blogspot.com in support of the proposed Membrane Bio-Reactor plant.
A Facebook page called “Santaquin Residents for Truth” was also created in support of the “Vote Yes” campaign and its candidates. With 57 followers, the page continues to update posts after the election. A recent update, posted on Wednesday, called for a “show of support” for the mayor at city council meeting that night.
Between Facebook, blogs, emails, and even a city-sponsored website with information on the sewer plans at sewer.santaquin.org, Santaquin residents got a taste of politics in the information era.
The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements have shown the world the power of numbers online. The ability to disseminate information directly and instantly is changing the social and communication landscapes.
As Obama demonstrated in 2008, and as Richard Payne may have showed this year in Santaquin’s municipal election, harnessing the tools of social media could hold the key to success in politics.
Payne also cautioned against overusing those tools and ignoring traditional communication methods.
“Young people like Facebook, they like the web,” said Payne. “But there is a demographic that does not like that.” Although he understands the importance of the internet in politics, he doesn’t feel it is a replacement for other mediums.
It may, however, provide the extra bump a candidate needs at the polls.