Social Media in the 2012 Presidential Elections: A Testing Ground

Eric L. Olson and Diana Murray Watts, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 4/30/2012

The 2012 Mexican presidential election has already broken new ground in a number of ways: it is the first to feature a female candidate from a major party and the first to incorporate the electoral reform law of 2007. A third, and perhaps most important, is the extensive use of social media by all three of the major presidential candidates.  It is too early to tell if the social media will be a determining factor or have a major influence, but there is little doubt that it has become a major new form of campaigning in Mexico.

During the 2006 presidential election, social media was in its infancy. At the time, Facebook was still largely limited to users in educational institutions. YouTube was mostly a hub for short, humorous videos. Twitter had yet to be officially launched.  Since then, however, the entire landscape of media and communications have been dramatically altered by the rise of social media. The 2008 U.S. presidential campaign 2008 saw the first major use of such platforms by candidates, and four years later Mexican campaigns seem to be adapting these experiences to the Mexican political landscape.

The three leading candidates vying for the Mexican presidency have made ample use of social media to boost their campaigns. Each candidate, however, has exhibited a unique style in their use of these platforms, particularly since the official permissible start date of their campaigns on March 30th, 2012.

Social Media Statistics

Enrique
Peña Nieto

Josefina
Vázquez Mota

Andrés Manuel
López Obrador

Time Frame April 1, 2012 April 28, 2012 April 1, 2012 April 28, 2012 April 1, 2012 April 28, 2012
Facebook“likes” 1.8 mil 2.5 mil 1.4 mil 1.6 mil 155,000 254,000
Twitter followers 473,000 595,000 385,000 603,000 330,000 414,000
Tweets 667 2,200 1,500
YouTube views 1.4 mil 3.5 mil 550,000 865,000 1.7 million 1.9 million
YouTube subscribers 2,641 5,252 1,139 2,900 7,115 8,376

Enrique Peña Nieto, now the leading candidate in national polls, seems to have invested significant resources in a robust, multi-platform strategy that appears to be paying dividends. His campaign website prominently features links to 8 different social networks, including highly niched platforms such as Instagram (a photo sharing application) and Foursquare (a location-based app that tracks physical “check-ins”). His presence on the three main networks – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – is very significant. Interestingly, he has taken a very unique approach with his YouTube channel, called “EPN TV.” In addition to the typical mix of video content from a political campaign – televised ads and public speeches – there are a larger number of shorter videos captured by his wife using a simple consumer camera. These, mostly unedited lower quality, clips create a sort of ongoing “reality show,” which is undoubtedly a calculated move to convey a sense of authenticity and personality.

The PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, has also embraced social media, in particular the micro-blogging network Twitter. She has tweeted many more times than Peña Nieto (2200 tweets vs. 667) and her account exceeds the number of followers of Peña Nieto’s account, albeit by a slim margin. Still, she trails her PRI opponent significantly on both Facebook and her YouTube entitled “Josefina MX”.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador has taken a slightly different approach with the use of his YouTube channel, entitled “Regeneracion TV.” Instead of campaign speeches, AMLO primarily utilizes academic-style lectures that cast him almost as a professor of Mexican history and politics. His Twitter and Facebook following lags significantly behind the other two candidates.

Above all, the amount of conversation taking place across these social media platforms reflects the growing importance of these tools as political platforms. It seems nearly impossible for any serious candidate to ignore social media, which is remarkable given relative short existence. All three campaigns have deliberately chosen to give their candidate’s “voice” to their social media presence; most tweets and Facebook posts appear as if they were written by the candidates themselves. Whether or not this is actually the case, it feels like a more personal conversation than is typically possible during a mass campaign.

Social media is also talked about often as the great “equalizer” in the information age, allowing less well-funded campaigns and movements to challenge official and/or well-funded media campaigns.  For instance, social media has been a powerful tool fueling the growth of grassroots political movements throughout the Arab world over the past two years.  In the case of Mexico, where much has been made of the concentration of power in the hands of a very few media giants, one would expect social media to be an active field of competition especially for those campaigns that are tailing.  In this context, it becomes noteworthy that the PRI candidate (EPN) who is believed to have benefited most from favorable coverage from Mexico’s predominate TV network (Televisa) has also devoted so much energy and resources to social media.  Conversely, those candidates who have fought to penetrate the paid media are also lagging behind in the use of free social media.

It is too early to gauge the impact of social media on the final outcome of the 2012 campaign.  Currently, each candidate’s overall use of social media platforms generally reflects their standing in national polls. When the official election results are counted, it will be interesting to see just how accurate of a prediction the social media statistics were.

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