Down-ballot Candidates Finding Their Voice Digitally
By: Jiho Chung
Social distancing has taken a toll on down-ballot (local) political candidates with their 2020 campaigns, which traditionally have been based on grassroots, in-person approaches. With those outlets now closed off, they are depending on solely digital campaigns and tapping into a (new) different skill set: engaging in conversation strictly and consistently on Zoom calls, Facebook/Instagram live streams, and other social media platforms.
For most, local candidates are still learning how to navigate on social platforms and develop meaningful dialogue with supporters, opposers, and those on-the-fence alike. As cited by the National Democratic Training Committee, “the vast majority of campaigns run on $2,500, maybe $5,000” resulting in little exposure at best. And, in short, the vast majority aren’t sure what they’re doing; regularly trying a slew of different social media tactics and seeing what works or doesn’t hoping to bend social media platforms' algorithms despite being weeks into their campaigns. However, for those who are leveraging celebrity endorsements and tapping into large follower bases, it’s been paying dividends including Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) where his opponent Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), in contrast, has “stronger progressive credentials with a coveted AOC endorsement” but comparably much lower social presence.
For better or for worse, candidates who can adapt to the new digital terrain are most likely to turn the tide and become poised to win. I guess in a way, they’ve become what they always wanted to become: an influencer.