It’s been argued by scholars many times that if Lincoln had competed for the presidency in modern times he would have lost by a landslide because of his unappealing appearance, despite his brilliance and well-spoken nature.
In other words, savvy advertising matters in politics in present times far more than it did in the past, and that fact is growing even more acute in the digital realm.
Some may dress up the notion by equating online political campaigning with old-school “presence” or something more sophisticated, but at the end of the day politicians must cater to the online crowd more aggressively than ever before, and each candidate has his own style of doing so.
From the point of view of finance, Obama is clearly outspending Romney on online ads. Campaign organizers attribute this to the ability and desire to target audiences more precisely, but it may also have something to do with Obama’s support demographic. Romney’s supporters skew older, more conservative and more open to other forms of media while Obama’s camp is younger and rooted firmly in the Web.
Romney’s camp has taken this difference among supporters under advisement and it is reflected in his media strategy. While Obama spends more online Romney spends more on TV and radio in a bid to speak to voters who give over more of their time to those mediums, particularly in the Hispanic community.
Even so, it is important to note one difference that bespeaks the distinction between the two camps’ supporters: Romney dominates Facebook advertiser ad impressions on the social network, but Obama’s campaign has paid for far more on the same site. Put another way, it would seem Obama is not as interesting to people on Facebook as Romney is, which could indicate a number of things.
One possibility is that Web-savvy Facebook users, a good portion of which are Obama supporters, are already satisfied in their choice and have no need to explore the issue further. Another possibility that dovetails with this is that Romney is more of an unknown quantity (as opposed to a sitting President) and so more people want to learn about his platform.
In any event, recognizing this disparity in media preference among supporters is important when considering reports touting Obama’s undeniable ability to outshine Romney online. It’s also true that incumbents always grab more headlines (and thus readers) than challengers, so it should be little surprise that these combined factors make Obama a formidable online opponent, but it is clear the race is far from over and online exposure will undoubtedly play a critical role in the winner’s victory.