Seattle — As I filled out my voter’s ballot for the 2012 presidential election, I couldn’t help but think of two words: Gangnam Style.
Ranked number two on the Billboard Hot 100 charts is the new hit from South Korean rapper, PSY. The viral YouTube video, “Gangnam Style,” has people dancing all over the globe, including a parody of presidential candidate, Mitt Romney:
With nearly 7 million views on YouTube, “Gangnam Style” has more views than the total amount of likes on the vice presidential candidates’ Facebook pages, combined (for both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan).
During the second presidential debate, when Romney said his notorious “binders full of women” line, millions of tweets showed up on Twitter and a “Binders Full of Women” Facebook page gained more than 300,000 followers.
I’m a first-time voter in this presidential election, but I don’t tend to have time to watch the debates. Therefore I get most of my information elsewhere. I followed all of the presidential debates on Twitter this year, for example. And I’m not the only one.
Kate Leigh, a senior at the University of Washington studying social work, said she uses social media to stay informed during the debates.
“There is a lot of social media that makes political stances humorous,” Leigh said. “I think the [humor] interests people, or else the election seems boring and confusing.”
When asked if she thought social media affected a voter’s decision, she said no, unless the voter was completely uninformed.
Although Twitter and Facebook aren’t swaying her opinion, Leigh did admit that because of the funny videos and remarks on social media, she has had a greater insight into the opposite party’s values.
Leigh believes that the popularity of social media in this year’s election proves that young people are engaged voters.
“It’s the younger generation that are making these memes and YouTube videos,” she stated. “This reflects that more young people are involved with politics and voicing their opinions.”
But following the elections through social media isn’t only for college students. Anita Verna Crofts, the associate director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington and a UW Election Eye contributor, is also interested in new media.
“[This is] the first election where social media was a central part of the winning formula for the Obama campaign,” wrote Crofts in an email.
“Unlike 2008 when there was a significant gap between the McCain and Obama campaigns’ use of social media, the field has leveled in 2012,” Crofts added.
So with social media craze attempting to grab the attention of new voters, specifically the millennial generation, is it actually working to sway their opinions?
After the infamous “women full of binders” incident, I conducted an informal online poll several weeks ago to identify the influence social media is having on young voters in the 2012 election.
I created the poll using the University of Washington’s Catalyst Web Tools, a software program, and posted the link on my Facebook page for one day. Hoping to gather data from UW students, I received 129 responses, with 16 of from non-UW students.
Respondents ranked the effects various modes of social media had on their decisions relating to the 2012 presidential election. On a scale of 0-5, with zero having the least influence, the survey takers had the opportunity to reveal how they were conducting their vote.
After analyzing my data, I found that my initial theory was wrong.
The average influence that UW students claimed Twitter had on their election decision was 1.9 out of 5.
To my own surprise, I found that memes held the least importance to students when forming their opinions. The mean was 1.40.
On the other end, at an average of 4.99, survey takers’ own research and knowledge had the most influence.
So if social media isn’t having weight on voters’ attitudes on the presidential election, what is the point of all of the memes and YouTube videos? Are they having anything like the effects commentators believe they’ve had?
According to Crofts, “social media, and by extension, technology, is just a tool. It’s not the tool itself that is effective, it’s the practices of people using that tool that will determine its success.”
She believes the millennial generation is “completely comfortable with multiple screens …the debate is on the television or laptop, but [they’re] following the Twitter feed on [their] phone or tablet.
“It’s a rich experience with information flowing from many sources.”