The 2012 Presidential election is heating up a little more every day. The Republican hopefuls are getting headlines on all the major news sites. Herman Cain is creeping us out with his hilarious smile. And the internet is a-buzz with election activity, with more voices a-voicing than ever before. And that’s the thing: how are the millions of Americans who are discovering web 2.0 going to effect the election this season? My prediction: clusterfuck.
We saw it in 2008 with John McCain’s White House run. He was in a tough spot from the start, trying to appeal to a conservative base while attempting to attract the moderate crowd. What happened? A quick visit to YouTube allowed voters to see his mixed messages side-by-side. In the past, it would have taken a professional broadcaster to put targeted messages meant for different states in the same video. But now, everything you do or say in your campaign can be compiled in place. The result in 2008? Obama appeared consistent while McCain appeared fractured.
But the game is different in 2012. Obama’s 2008 message won’t work this time around, and he has pack of hungry, hopeful candidates running against him. I assume (based on nothing more than faith in humans) that presidential campaign teams understand the rules of the new interconnected landscape. Candidates need to be careful what they say. Their messages need to fit their branding, and they need to say things properly all the time for fear of being ripped apart on the web.
A soundbite is a powerful thing, as now congressional candidate Joe The Plumber knows. Joe, whose real name is Sam Wurzlebacher, was made famous in 2008 when then Senator Obama told him “I think a more equitable distribution of the wealth works out better for everyone” on the campaign trail. The response was a fire storm from conservatives who jumped on Obama’s comment as proof of his “socialist” agenda. McCain even sponsored a campaign ad about regular Americans being Joe the Plumber. It didn’t work, and Obama was elected. But now it looks like Mr. Wurzlebacher is the one who is benefitting the most from his chance encounter with fate. Looks like a more equitable distribution of the soudbites works out beter for everybody.
So why will it be a cluster? Because humans make mistakes. They make even more mistakes under pressure. And when they make those mistakes on the high-pressure campaign trail, the bloggers are armed and ready to take a quick soundbite and send it out into cyberspace for all to see. This season, more people than ever are online, wanting their voices to be heard. The candidates have already given them plenty of material and the election hasn’t really even started yet. If there’s more like Herman Cain’s creepy ad coming, I’m excited.