The Republican Party learned a hard lesson on technology during the 2008 Presidential election. Realizing President Barack Obama obliterated the GOP by using all the shiny new technology he could get his hands on, our party was left desperately searching for our own plan.
The College Republicans have been effectively using new media since 2004. I recall many conversations with a multitude of Republicans throughout the party where I practically begged them to use Facebook, or the now passé MySpace, to reach younger voters. I was told time and again that these were just passing fads and that "all the tech stuff" was unproven and therefore not worth the GOP’s time.
Republicans were completely unaware that these "passing fads" were exactly the opposite. Young voters get their news, TV and radio from the Internet. They access and interact in politics almost exclusively on the web. It’s impossible to reach large numbers of young voters through old school methods.
While there were several token attempts at using new media in the 2008 election, by-and-large we instead stuck with only the old school: precinct-walking, phone banking, etc. It is incredibly important to compliment pre-existing and successful campaign methods with the new, web-based techniques. It wasn’t until the numbers came in that the Republican Party realized the error of its ways.
Obama had beaten us in the 18-25 demographic by nearly 3-1. College Republicans know that our message is capable of resonating with many young voters. However, when some in our party refuse to accept the reality of a complete paradigm shift in modern communication, it’s no wonder the Democrats took us out back behind the tool shed. Now we have a party frantically searching for our answer to the Obama campaign strategy.
Politicians, leadership and local organizers are running around the state throwing out catch phrases and buzzwords in an attempt to re-brand the party as tech-friendly. The sad and embarrassing reality is that even the so-called technology experts in our party just don’t get it.
There are three fundamental flaws with the Republican Party’s new media strategy.
First is a basic misunderstanding about what new media and web 2.0 actually are. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and the rest exist to build an online neighborhood of interested parties. Rather than the old approach of pushing our message to supporters, we must bring them into our online community and encourage them to become a part of our movement. We’re supposed to be making friends and influencing people, not spamming them.
Second is the sporadic and awkward implementation of technology. Many campaigns use technology simply for the sake of using technology. If a group or candidate doesn’t understand how or why to use a technolog,y they shouldn’t be using it. For example, campaigns create blogs but never update them; they create a Facebook group but never contact their supporters. I’ve also seen countless campaign YouTube videos that are long, static and boring. The hit count means the viewer clicked on the video – it doesn’t mean they sat and watched it. These are only a small handful of examples of the party using such outlets properly.
Third, and finally, is that the party doesn’t realize that new technology is absolutely useless if they don’t give us something to rally around and fight for.
The party must bring to the table fire-breathing conservative rhetoric to motivate young voters and bring us into the fold using new technologies. The amount of potential energy and excitement in the youth vote is incalculable.
The party needs to understand that what they call new media, young voters call media. We watch more TV on the Internet than we do on cable. We get almost all of our news from the web. In the tech era, the seeds of change are planted in cyberspace. Until the GOP decides to treat technology as THE way, instead of A way, to reach young voters, we will continue to lag far behind our political adversaries.
There is no better time for the Republican Party to embrace new media because we are now the outsider party. President Obama is the establishment; we are change. Over the next 2 to 6 years, this will slowly become the political reality, and if we are communicating that to younger voters in effective ways, we will win their vote and put Republicans back in power.