Digital Campaigning: The Final Frontier

“We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” The prophetic quote from the 2010 film The Social Network has become more and more relevant. 10 years later, it’s dead-on. People are, quite literally, living on the internet. As a result of this, the internet is now a place where political campaigns can be won and lost. A strong, rooted online presence can deliver victory, while an inefficient, lackluster one can contribute to defeat.

With the 2020 election in its final days, the political battle being waged in the digital sphere may be what decides the outcome. Republican Nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Nominee Joe Biden are attempting to cover all of their bases with Election Day less than two weeks away. President Trump and former Vice President Biden are employing differing strategies to increase their popularity and gain more votes.

The recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left a seat vacant on the Supreme Court. With the votes in his favor in the Senate, Trump is wasting no time filling the vacancy. Through text messages, Trump has been communicating with people and trying to energize his supporters, and subsequently channeling that into a monetization opportunity.

Following the first presidential debate that took place on September 29th, Trump doubled down on his commitment to negative campaigning. Merely days later, his campaign would promote baseless theories.

Meanwhile, Biden has not centered his campaign around mudslinging. After Trump tested positive for COVID-19, the Biden campaign ceased its negative ads.

In general, Biden has focused on casting as wide a net as possible. Because his campaign has done well in raising money, it’s able to spend money on online and TV ads in states that Trump won in 2016. The AP’s Bill Barrow elaborates on why it’s notable: “ The expansion reflects Biden’s newfound status as a fundraising behemoth and his campaign’s longstanding promise to set up “multiple paths” to the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency.”

In late September, Vox published an article detailing the Biden campaign’s intent to gather support from online influencers. With in-person campaigning more difficult and complicated during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden campaign has made a concerted effort to appeal to voters on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. As Vox’s Rebecca Heilweil points out in her piece, “getting a boost from influencers on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube is an increasingly important campaign tactic, particularly for Democrats.”

Heilweil also notes that this strategy is being utilized not just because of the pandemic complicating in-person campaigning, but because of Trump’s reach online via his own “influencers” of a different kind. Heilweil says Trump is “bolstered by networks of influential conservative personalities who stand ready to amplify its messaging.”

For the home stretch, Biden and his campaign are figuratively rolling out the red carpet. Numerous Hollywood celebrities have endorsed Biden, and his campaign is getting their boisterous support. From comedian George Lopez, to actors Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Evans, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and to artists such as Taylor Swift, the Biden campaign is hoping that an arsenal of star power will net them the necessary votes.

How substantial could these endorsements be? Take Johnson, for example: He’s never made a political endorsement before, and he’s immensely popular. He announced his endorsement on Instagram. One need not look far to see how famous Johnson is than by simply viewing how many followers he has on Instagram: more than 200 million.

The 2020 election has been every bit as bombastic and hostile as the 2016 one was. Trump and Biden are using up whatever ammunition they have left to get votes. Each possesses a fairly formidable digital campaign. While the pandemic has heightened the significance of having a well built campaign presence in the digital sphere, it would nonetheless be extremely important under normal circumstances.

Candidates duked it out on places like farms many years ago, and then in cities. Now, it’s the internet where the battle is won. And it would seem as though this virtual battlefield is here to stay.

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Dan Martin

Aspiring sportswriter. Houston sports junkie. UH Journalism Student.