The history of campaigning: From soap boxes to social media

There is widespread agreement that the process of election campaigning, particularly the roles of parties and the news media, have been transformed during recent decades. Many are concerned that these developments have generated widespread apathy, or even alienation, especially amongst the young.

Campaigning has been around since there have been informed groups in society to campaign amongst. Where influential groups are more likely to resort to lobbying, smaller anti-establishment groups resort to campaigning. However, in modern politics the most high profile campaigns are the ones focused around general elections.

What all effective political campaigns have is a consistent message and what the message must convey to voters is what their campaign represents. Some electoral campaign’s opt for an election promise, which over the years have often ended as broken promises. The main tactic of a campaign is for a consistent message to be repeated so it sinks into the minds of the voters. Over the years this tactic has stayed the same but the channels through which the messages are conveyed have evolved.

Traditional methods of spreading campaign message centre around the streets: Campaign staff and interns go out canvassing; the political candidates might tour and meet people in different cities; big signs are put up on billboards and smaller signposts on front lawns; activists march in the streets in masses and draw attention with public rallies.

The media has also got involved in political commentary. Political parties can use their media influence to influences stories, and some media outlets have more obvious political alliances than others. Also debates and street marches will more often than not capture media attention.

With the rise of the internet websites and blogs are now a prolific method for campaigners and everyday people spreading their views and information. One of the main benefits of the internet is that messages can reach a large number of people at once. The majority of people internet campaigns reach are younger, and Obama used this method to great effect. However there is still a demographic who do not have access to the internet and these campaigns neglect.

Social media has been another more recent method favoured by young activists and everyday people sharing their views. However social media has been criticised as a media platform where the information you see on your feed is biased to the views you already hold. You may be mistaken into thinking you have an idea of the population’s views when in fact you are only seeing a reflection of the views of people very similar to yourself.

The downfall of social media and the internet is that it is hard to monitor misinformation. Fake news has been accused of causing problems in the most recent elections. Fake news is not necessarily a new problem as hoaxes have been around as long as campaign groups and newspapers.

What has come with the most recent election is paid advertising on Facebook. Anyone from big political groups to smaller groups can buy micro-targeted ads on Facebook. The worry is that even if you choose to ignore them there is something concerning about the potential impact of being exposed to the same messages over and over again.

More than ever there is the need for people to approach the information they read which a critical set of eyes before believing or sharing.

About the author

Miriam Carey

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