Does Winning Social Media Win Debates?


Bernie Sanders’ campaign has benefited from social media exposure, allowing him to compete with anticipated front-runner Hillary Clinton

By Delaney Benison

Bernie Sanders’ campaign has benefited from social media exposure, allowing him to compete with anticipated front-runner Hillary Clinton
Bernie Sanders’ campaign has benefited from social media exposure, allowing him to compete with anticipated front-runner Hillary Clinton. Courtesy of AP

Bernie. Hillary. Ben. Donald. These are our significant presidential prospects for 2016 to date, in terms of popularity and fundraising capability. We sit and watch these candidates compete for our attention, our respect and votes, but the difference lies in how we reciprocate in the voter-politician relationship.

President Barack Obama has had a strong social media presence for both his campaigns and his presidency, which has helped reach out to constituents and mobilize young voters. Clinton was declared the winner of the Democratic debate by CNN, but Bernie Sanders was the one trending on Twitter. He gained over 35,000 Twitter followers during the debate. This could mean many things for the new wave of political practice that runs an election, but we have to ask how much stock should we put into social media when it comes to the 2016 Presidential Race?

Donald Trump, for good or bad, but certainly not anything in between, is all over social media. Does that mean Trump will be our 45th president? Doubtful. Simply trending on Twitter or on a social media page does not guarantee you will get the votes. In addition to his meme-worthy quotes, some voters support him because his background in business goes against the current political culture. People have been enjoying the show for now, and maybe that is why Trump was leading. However, Ben Carson has now taken over the lead and is demanding to be taken seriously. It is possible that Trump’s Twitter rise has peaked and he is on his way down, leading Carson towards the Republican nomination. This begs the question — is social media fleeting? Trump could not maintain the lead despite the fact that he gained 78,000 Twitter followers the night of the Republican debate.

This is not to say we should ignore or be indifferent to social media and the value it brings to our awareness in 2016.

According to Forbes, “Bernie Sanders won the democratic debate — on Twitter.” To which they immediately follow, “Let’s be clear. Twitter numbers aren’t a guarantee of anything.” This is true for a few reasons. Anyone can have a Twitter account in the United States, and many of those people can be under eighteen-years-old or choose not to vote. Twitter is a social media platform where corporate interests can buy out its users to “fix” the Twitter debate. Twitter outcomes do not represent the nation as a whole or their beliefs. There is a discrepancy that exists. However, Twitter can convey popularity, public interest and issues people are most concerned about.

Winning a debate is not equivalent to winning on Twitter. The moderators recognize the difference between a flashy statement and an answer, and therefore their decision will be based on who answered the best. Twitter may have a candidate trend based on whether its users are pleased or outraged by their comments. On the other hand, moderators also do not represent a party as a whole either. Many avid Republicans or Democrats can fundamentally disagree with the moderators and their decisions, leaving room for interpretation as to who actually won. But this really is the purpose of these debates. The essence of a debate is for those watching to decide for themselves who they felt faired the best against the other candidates.

Social media does and will matter in this upcoming election. It can have content that is vital to understanding a candidate and party. If we are really looking towards the future, we can rely on social media as a source of information. We must remember, however, that social media does not have the staying power that will determine who the next president will be.

Since the elections have yet to take place, it really is impossible to tell how the primaries will pan out. Therefore, it is difficult to definitively say how greatly social media will affect this election, but it continues to gain influence in each presidential election. It is essential to understand that when it comes to politics, anything can happen.