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How social media has helped shape the 2008 US presidential election

Posted by Gabriela Warren on 5th November 2008

I have finally restored my pride in being an American. And this in part thanks to the technology and media used in Barack Obama’s historic campaign and by its brilliant campaigners (including me!). For the first time, we can truly see the impact social media has had on an American election, with thousands of blog posts, messages and comments being made on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and many other social networking mediums. This is something that Mr. Obama’s campaigners clearly saw and that Mr. McCain’s campaign was missing.

Mr. McCain was too traditional, and ignored the pockets of young voters who were ready and willing to make history by choosing not to reach them. Interestingly, young voters are usually not very reliable and historically known to skip voting for a nice day in. This time it was different; young voters showed up in droves to really make a difference to the outcome of the election. All the while, they were influencing their wide networks to follow their lead, and having extensive dialogues where they argued for one candidate or another. The 2008 election has proved that it is no longer enough to target the traditional media, it is important to speak to each and every single person through mediums that they are likely to pay attention to. The internet has officially become a powerful campaign tool.

Social media has also been used to follow the results of the election. Many people were posting the results on Myspace and Twitter as they came in, and early celebrations for Mr. Obama’s victory were happening on the blogosphere. Traditional news outlets were hesitant in calling it a victory for the Democrats, so it was impossible to follow the election on television. I had to turn to blogs to calm my anxiety, and see that Mr. Obama was indeed far ahead of his opponent.  

Obviously it is not just social media that influenced the outcome of the election. The main theme of Mr. Obama’s campaign was change, as many Americans were simply tired of witnessing their country becoming a world pariah, held back by conservative policies that instead of keeping the United States as a country people respected, made its policies and ideals challenged throughout the world.

Most importantly, it was great to see that on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, America was finally ready to elect its first black president. This is a very proud moment for me, because it shows that the extensive history of segregation is finally behind the Americans, and that Dr. King’s dream is finally becoming a reality. The USA is a country filled with diversity, and made all the richer for it, so what better way of celebrating this than making Mr. Obama its Commander-in-Chief?

PS: I also feel it is appropriate to include a quick guide to how the Electoral College works so as to clear any confusion anyone might have.

The Electoral College is made of elected representatives who officially and formally select the US President and Vice President. It may surprise you to know that despite all talk that Mr. Obama has won, the Electoral College will not officially cast its vote until the 15th of December. The American voter casts their vote for the electors, and although the electors can vote for whichever candidate they choose, they make a pledge to vote for a specific candidate (which is how we know at this point that Mr. Obama has won as he has the most pledges, adding to over 270 votes).

The Electoral College has 538 votes, however, to become President, 270 need to be won. Each state has a number of electors matching the number of Senators and Congress representatives. Washington DC, although not a state, is also given a number of electors equal to the number of electors held by the least populous state. If no presidential candidate has the majority votes, the matter is then passed to the House of Representatives.

Gabriela Warren