Friday, September 18, 2009

What Should Politicians Be Looking At…on TV?

Summary: A new campaign strategy? Using television to connect politicians to their voters.

There’s a fascinating article on Politco’s new page, Click, discussing what television programs members of Congress watch.

For example, members interviewed reported enjoying shows such as USA’s “Monk”, NBC’s “The Office”, and re-runs of “Seinfeld” among others.

But what was more interesting is the idea of what they should be watching. From the article:

"TV and pop culture provide a quick and easy way to stay in touch with what is happening in America and what is being discussed around the coffee maker and the water cooler," says Pete Snyder, president of New Media Strategies. "When your job is decided every two years by the whims of the electorate, you had better damn well know what they’re all about."

In addition, explaining the often-arcane nuances of policy and legislation to constituents is a key part of a Congressman's job description. Using pop culture to do so can not only help a lawmaker communicate more effectively, it can enhance their profile with the media.

How’s that? Synder gives the example of a good line for trying to explain how complex legislation gets through the committee process could: "I don’t know. It’s more of a mystery than the last episode of 'Lost.'"

"Instant quotability," Synder says. "Your media requests will soar."

Democratic strategist Michael Meehan agrees. He says it's imperative that congressmen watch shows that their constituents are watching. "It's vital for long term survival of their congressional careers for members to stay connected with their constituents," he says. "Pop culture is one of those ways."

Like everything else when developing a political message, targeting is a critical aspect of this strategy. That’s why members of Congress - or at least their staff - should check the ratings of television programs in their districts.

"There are regional and local differences in programming and advertising, so it's important to know and keep that local connection back home. That helps with both politics and policy," [former democratic strategist Jeff Eller] says. "Members would be well served to study the local ratings like they study polls."

At the same time, Snyder says all politicians should familiarize themselves with TVs "eight hundred pound gorillas," such as "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars."

"Any politician worth their salt should know the two finalists on 'Idol' by name – kind of like a pop culture 'price of milk' question on the campaign trail," Snyder says. "Nail it, and you are someone people can relate to. Blow it, and you’re hopelessly out of touch."

He also recommends a full plate of political and media satire, such as the "Daily Show," "Late Night with Conan O’Brien" and "The Colbert Report."

"You can see how everything you’re working on is playing out there and what potential ambushes to avoid," Snyder says. "If you don’t feel you have the time, make your press secretary show you clips and keep you informed."

Not only is this a great article about message strategies, it also reinforces the idea that in order to represent one’s constituents, a member of Congress (or any politician) really needs to live like their constituents. Television can serve as a great tool for appearing to be outside what some consider the isolated culture of Washington.

Top Stories: 9/18/09

Politico reports on the Deeds-McDonnell debate last night in Virginia.

Paul Krugman discusses the Baucus healthcare bill in his column.

The Huffington Post reports that in a press conference, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius scolded NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd for improperly sneezing.

Andrew Gellman at relays an interesting new Pew survey on public opinion towards the news media.

And Thursday night SNL returned yesterday with this skit about the GOP planning Rep. Joe Wilson's "you lie!" outburst:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Did New Media Make a Difference in the NYC Primary Elections?

Summary: Keeping voters engaged and predicting election outcomes – What we learned from Twitter in the New York City Elections.

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi picked up a surprising piece of news on his blog recently: it seems that the use of Twitter and Facebook by Democratic candidates in New York City could have helped one predict the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries there.

Nancy Scola of wrote in a blog post yesterday that the winners of the races for Public Advocate, Manhattan District Attorney and City Comptroller might have done as well as they did thanks to the online support they built with social networking websites.

From the post:

In the New York City Public Advocate race, city councilmember Bill DiBlasio scored something of a surprise win, 33% to 31%, over former two-term Public Advocate Mark Green. (It's only a temporary "win." Since neither candidate broke the 40% mark, under city law the race goes into a run off.) While Green's name recognition is strong in the city, given his past service to the city in the same position he was gunning for, this time around his campaign never seemed to build up steam -- which is borne out by the social media numbers at play. DiBlasio collected 3,265 followers, combining his Twitter and Facebook numbers, to Green's far fewer 445…

…The Manhattan District Attorney race had been contentious, dramatic, and up for grabs. It looked for a time like Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder might emerge victorious over Cyrus Vance, despite the fact that Vance was the heir apparent to the influential sitting DA Robert Morgenthau. But Vance fairly trounced Snyder last night, 44% to 30%. A somewhat unforeseen story, but one nonetheless foretold by their respective Facebook and Twitter tallies. Vance had 1,582 admirers and followers to Snyder's 881. Attorney Richard Aborn came in third in both votes and online allies, with 26% of the vote and 720 followers and fans.

And in the Comptroller race, Queens councilmember John Liu pulled out 38% of the vote over Brooklyn councilmember David Yassky's 31%. (A result that, again, calls for a run-off at the to take place at the end of the month.) Surprising? Perhaps. But not if you're keeping tabs on how popular Liu and Yassky were doing online. Liu's Twitter-plus-Facebook tally amounted to 1,159 followers and fans, while Yassky pulled in with somewhat fewer, at 364 admirers and followers.

Of course, Scola was also right to point out that not all of the candidates had a vote total that corresponded with their social networking support.

In the Comptroller's race, David Weprin managed to amass almost as many followers as the top two candidates in the race (1,858 to Liu and Yassky's combined 2,073). But he won a much smaller share of the vote, with just 11%. And in the Public Advocate contest, Queens councilmember Eric Goia racked up more than five times the friends and followers as the second place finisher Green -- but he managed to only place a disappointing far third.

Having a lot of followers on Twitter or supporters on Facebook does not mean your campaign will automatically be successful, and relying on such websites for Election Day is a poor strategy that no well-run campaign would take.

However, utilizing these resources as a tool for fundraising or recruiting volunteers can make a campaign very strong - and it’s very possible that Tuesday’s winners had been doing just that.

As we wrote about New Media in our 21st Century Campaigning series last month:

Keeping supporters engaged is a highly important function of any campaign. Without engaged supporters, a campaign is unable to raise money or find volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls.

That means campaigns have to keep supporters interested and active in the daily developments of the race.

…the effectiveness of such outreach comes down to what we call the “Twitter talent.” A major part of it is passing the “‘Who Cares?’ Test” - you have to post something relevant that your followers will be interested in.

In fact, some of the NYC candidates were doing just that with their Twitter and Facebook outreach. Scola mentions how Mark Green used his Twitter feed creatively, tweeting 100 “New Ideas for a Better City” to his followers.

Unfortunately for Green, creative tweeting is just one of the necessary parts of an effective New Media strategy. A campaign also needs to continually grow their list of supporters and followers in order to raise more money and get more volunteers. To that effect, it is very beneficial for a campaign to hire a New Media Coordinator who can devote their time to building a social networking base, among other things.

Luckily for candidates like Green, they have time to do these things before the run-off election.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

GOP Twitter Paranoia and its Implications

Summary: Today, WAYLA focuses on picking and choosing followers on Twitter, stemming from Colorado Republicans "scrubbing" their liberal followers - what it means for each party, for future campaigns, and what they're missing.

On Monday, - a Democratic-leaning political blog in Colorado - reported that Republicans on Twitter began purging liberals from their list of followers over the weekend.

From the post:

Apparently the word went out over the weekend that "liberals" are attempting to "follow" Republicans on Twitter. This is being interpreted as a bad, nefarious thing, needing to be stopped, although "following" on Twitter is in most other circles considered desirable. In fact we're not certain under what circumstances attracting Twitter followers is undesirable, but then again we've been following Republican “tweets” ourselves. We understand why some of them would prefer to not have just anybody seeing this stuff.

We're told that the advice to begin 'purging' liberals from high-profile conservative Twitter accounts was supposed to have gone out quietly, with the goal being an under-the-radar purge.

Colorado State Senator Dave Schultheis (R-09) didn’t do it very quietly, however, tweeting “Important! Many libs and progressives attempting 2 Follow conservatives. Scrub your "followers" I blocked three more today. #tcot #redco”

This development is interesting for two reasons.

The first is how the GOP is using Twitter. They want to be able to rally supporters without the other side getting word of the language or tactics they’re using.

Unfortunately for them - as they should know - anything done or said in the political realm in this day and age can be leaked faster than water in a sieve. Just take President Obama’s comments about Kanye West the other day, or many of the embarrassing tweets Republicans have made that we have relayed here on WAYLA.

As we said in a post about new media last month:

"The point is that politicians wouldn’t (in most cases) say those sorts of things to rally supporters in a speech - because that too would be picked up by the mainstream media - so they shouldn’t try to engage supporters with such rhetoric in the social networking realm either."

It seems that Colorado Republicans don’t read this blog.

The second reason it’s interesting is how liberals are acting in terms of new media - or rather, political people in general.

The simple psychology of it is that it is alright to follow the opposition on Twitter - it doesn’t compromise your own ideological principles. Similarly, many smart campaign workers will sign up for the email lists of their competition.

[In fact, there are occasionally email wars between liberal groups (like, say, and conservative groups (like, say, FreedomWorks). In these wars, one group will email its supporters saying something somewhat confrontational in order to drive support (typically in money or online petition signatures) and someone from another group will receive the email too. Then they’ll use it to send out their own email, blasting the original, and driving their own support (in money or e-petitions). Sometimes it can go back and forth for a while.]

Contrast that sneaky way of watching the competition with another new media tool - Facebook. On Facebook, in order to keep track of an opposing politician or ideological group automatically, one needs to become a supporter. A follower is one thing, but identifying yourself as a supporter is too much too handle!

Nonetheless, the media follows - and “supports” - everyone in order to keep tabs on their campaign activities. That’s how we get word when somebody like Sarah Palin coins a phrase like “death panels” with a status update.

Colorado Republicans have hardly anything to fear in liberal followers on Twitter - it’s the press that they should look out for.

Top Stories: 9/16/09

All of this morning's stories are continuations of things we've posted about already!

Rep. Joe "You Lie!" Wilson (R-SC) - as it is now well known - was slapped with a Resolution of Disapproval by the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday.

Jimmy Carter speaks out about conservative protesters, saying race is very much a factor. "Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care," he said. "It's deeper than that."

Renard Sexton at updates us on the Afghan Election.

And there's yet another New Media leak in the Obama-Kanye story! The celebrity gossip news source TMZ has obtained an audio clip (below) of what the president said.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Obama’s Comment About Kanye is Actually Important

Summary: New media keeps gaining political relevancy! After President Obama commented on hip-hop artist Kanye West's recent interruption of Taylor Swift at the VMAs, WAYLA continues to show how new media sources can affect politics, positively and negatively, every day.

I have to admit, when I first saw the video of Hip Hop artist Kanye West interrupting teen Country star Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards (see below) I never expected it to find its way to this blog.

But today the blogosphere has been rapidly spreading the news about President Obama’s take on the incident. Apparently he was in an off-the-record discussion with a CNBC reporter when he called Kanye a “jackass” for his actions at the VMAs.

Not knowing the comments were off the record, ABC News reporter Terry Moran tweeted it with his own commentary: “Now THAT’s Presidential.”

After realizing it was off-the-record, Moran deleted the tweet. Yet the news was already out there and spread like an epidemic. ABC has since released a statement apologizing for Moran’s tweet to Politico.

Why on Earth is this important?

It’s hard to imagine that most Americans are actually going to care about Obama’s unofficial comment - after all, it’s a personal feeling that is probably already held (verbatim) by most Americans.

Here’s the take from Newsweek’s blog, “The Gaggle”:

“In a White House that is so very careful about staying on message, Obama’s Kanye commentary was perhaps the most filter-free moment we’ve seen in a while, and let's face it, the slip-up was pretty harmless. Why shouldn’t Obama be able to call out Kanye for acting like a jackass? Is there anyone who actually disagrees?”

But the story is still important - not so much because of what Obama said, but how his thoughts were leaked.

We’ve talked a lot about Twitter over the past few months. We talked about its role in the Iranian elections, how campaigns can use it effectively, and even did a case study on how it has affected this very blog.

We’ve also mentioned some of the more irresponsible and damaging tweets that have come to light in 2009. For example, how one Republican operative tweeted “JUST HEARD THAT OBAMA IS GOING TO IMPOSE A 40% TAX ON ASPIRIN BECAUSE IT’S WHITE AND IT WORKS,” around June.

But the Moran tweet raises a new interesting question about irresponsible tweets: what about journalists who cover politics? What can campaigns or public relations experts do when media professionals abuse (even accidently) new media?

I guess we’ll have to watch how White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs handles this story to find out.

Top Stories: 9/15/09

The big story on Politico this morning is about a study that finds women make more effective lawmakers than men. They introduce more bills, attract more co-sponsors, and deliver more money for their districts.

A speechwriter for the second President Bush has a new book coming out about his time in the White House staff. The Huffington Post reports on what he says Bush said about Obama, Clinton, and Palin. He blasts all of them.

Tom Schaller at has an interesting take on some of the Conservative protests going on in Washington, DC lately - he says they're most characteristic of Ron Paul followers.

And here is last night's political humor on late night TV:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Is Obama Opposition All About Race?

One unexpected result of Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) outburst during President Obama’s speech last week has been the topic of racial anxiety among Republican - almost entirely white - voters.

Today Politico reports that many Democrats have come to see the opposition to Obama’s presidency as at least somewhat race driven.

This comes not long after the Los Angeles Times reported a growing “problem” Obama had in losing white support. Tom Schaller at argued that the “problem” was being overblown for the most part, but it does seem to suggest that the divide over the 44th president’s performance is at least partially racial.

Just as they were infuriated by the Department of Homeland Security’s report that right-wing militia groups could spawn domestic terrorism, conservatives are undoubtedly becoming infuriated by the suggestion that their opposition to President Obama’s policies are due to racism. Conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh will undoubtedly say that Democrats are “playing the race card” now.

Of course, many social psychologists can easily explain what’s happening. Studies show that the image of a black man can evoke subconscious fears, anxieties, etc. in whites. Therefore, it wouldn’t be to far-fetched to assume that the unprecedented intensity of opposition coming from Tea-Baggers, birthers, and other hard-line anti-Obama conservatives is due to a little racial undercurrent.

Joe Wilson served as the perfect example. As a white Southerner (the South has by far the saddest record of race relations) he gave evidence to that theory when he made an unprecedented outburst (screaming “you lie!” of all things) during a presidential address to Congress.

But can Democrats admit it openly?

So far, it’s been liberal pundits and Democratic activists that have been ready to call their conservative counterparts out on the issue of race - politicians have known better.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we relayed an article from the New York Times explaining how then President-Elect Obama had been “an omnipresent icebreaker” for racial anxiety.

But Obama took a bit of a hit in the polls earlier this summer when he said that the Cambridge, MA police had acted “stupidly” in their arrest of an African-American Harvard professor. There was a huge racial divide on that subject - blacks supporting the professor, white’s supporting the arresting officer - and Obama’s mismanaged reaction resulted in a small (even just temporary) drop in the polls.

So far, neither the Obama Administration nor the Democratic Party will speak directly to the question of race in this debate. And that’s exactly what they want to do. Affirming the speculations of race-driven opposition will only hurt Obama among moderate whites while denying the speculations would hurt his position with progressives and minorities.

So the opposition to this president is (very likely) partially driven by racial anxiety. Unfortunately we can’t really admit it.

Top Stories: 9/14/09

Politico has an exlusive excerpt from a new book about New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg that deals with his stealth 2008 presidential campaign and how it ultimately didn't happen.

It has been a year now since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, but Joseph Stiglitz - a Nobel-winning economist from the Clinton Administration - says that banking problems are now bigger than before.

Tina Fey won an Emmy over the weekend for her impersonations of Sarah Palin on SNL last year.

A new flim about Charles Darwin - which focuses on his personal struggle betweeen faith and science - is unable to find a U.S. distributor because a movie about Darwin is considered "too controversial" for Americans.

Nate Silver at has an interesting take on the size of some of the conservative protests against President Obama this year.

Don't forget, new episodes of the Daily Show and Colbert Report begin tonight. Here is a look at last week's late night comedy without them: