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Election Observer: Michael Kramer

| Monday, November 7, 2016

Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, The Observer will sit down with Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s experts to break down the election and its importance to students. In this 14th installment, Saint Mary’s Editor Nicole Caratas asks professor of communication studies, Michael Kramer, who is an expert on political communication, about the effects of communication techniques and social media on the presidential campaigns.

Nicole Caratas: Would it have any effect for the candidates to, at this point in the election, shift to talking more about their policies and plans for the election? 

Michael Kramer: At this point, probably not. As long as the media is focusing its reporting on negative aspects of Trump and Clinton’s candidacies, the candidates themselves will choose to attack their opponent because that’s what will get the most coverage at this stage of the campaign. The candidates do discuss their policies every day at campaign appearances, but not much of that gets covered.

NC: What impact has social media had on this election? What role has Twitter played in influencing voters?

MK: A big impact. Social media spreads political news and candidate rhetoric far and wide. However, it also contributes to an echo chamber effect, where many people are exposed increasingly to the political views of their friends and family on Facebook and Twitter — many of whom share the same political views. So, social media can insulate voters from different perspectives, contributing to increased political polarization.

As far as Twitter specifically, that platform certainly has been used extensively by Trump to draw attention — both negative and positive — to his campaign. Also, voters are using Twitter to discuss and share political news and opinions. For example, the first Trump-Clinton debate was the most tweeted political debate ever.

NC: What, in your opinion, is it about this particular election or the candidates that has led to debates filled with interruptions, arguments and little talk about solid plans? How is this different than the previous two elections?

MK: Much of this is due to the communication styles of these two candidates. Trump’s style is aggressive, domineering and focused on needling opponents out of their comfort zone. Clinton is more disciplined but has the ability to hit back hard when attacked. So the complementary nature of these two styles results in a combative and overall negative tone.

NC: How has changing technologies affected the way the presidential candidates communicate with voters? Did these technologies play as big of a role four years ago as they have in this election? 

MK: Political campaigns seem to be using text messaging and email at a more frequent rate than 2012. Campaigns see it as a way to raise money, provide information and create a sense of connection and intimacy with supporters. Voters, however, seem to find these to be invasive, if overused.

NC: Can third-party candidates utilize media in any way to gain more support at this point? Is that form of campaigning beneficial for third-party candidates?

MK: At this point, it’s too late in the game for a third-party candidate to get any significant media attention in order to challenge Trump or Clinton. The mainstream media will be exclusively focused on the major party nominees through Nov. 8. In fact, Johnson and Stein have been losing support as disaffected Democratic and Republican voters “go home” to their major party’s nominee.

NC: Has social media played a bigger role than television advertisements? Which one is more effective?

MK: As far as political advertising, studies continue to find ads placed on television much more effective than the same ads placed on social media. The echo chamber effect limits social media’s ability to change voters’ minds.

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

Contact Nicole