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What do Presidential Candidates Know About Working the Web?

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By Carl Weiss

Ask any current candidate and they will tell you that the 2016 Presidential election will be won or lost online.  Just as every Presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy has used TV to sway voters, ever since Barrack Obama trounced Mitt Romney at the polls in 2008, every candidate knows that the Internet is the go to place to influence the masses.  And why not, when you consider that the Internet is not only a fully interactive marketing medium, but it is also far less expensive to employ than TV. 

How JFK Out-Tricked Tricky Dick

By all intents, Richard Nixon was the favorite to win in 1960.  Having been Veep during the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon struck many as being much more qualified to occupy the White House than the upstart senator from Massachusetts.  (Public opinion polls at the time revealed that more than 50% of the country felt that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable.) 
Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Ric...
Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon during the first televised U.S. presidential debate in 1960. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Realizing that he was not as well-known as Nixon, Kennedy issued a challenge to the vice president for a series of televised debates.  Many of Nixon’s advisors, including the President, urged him to reject the offer.  Nixon accepted the offer, much to his later chagrin. 

Even though 88%^ of US homes had television in 1960, the debate was broadcast on both TV and radio.  Curiously, that those who heard the debate on the radio, thought that Nixon had won the debate, while those who saw it televised supported Kennedy.  What most people didn’t realize, then or now, was how crafty JFK really was in terms of media savvy. 

Sure, he was much more photogenic than the 47-year old Nixon, but that wasn’t the real secret to his success.  The day before the first televised debate, JFK met with the producer to discuss everything from the set design to the placement of the cameras.  (Nixon missed his chance due to the fact that he was recovering from knee surgery.)  Kennedy also made it a point to wear a blue suit and shirt that both reduced the glare of the studio lights, as well as contrasting sharply with the gray set background.  Nixon, on the other hand, chose to wear a gray suit that made him all but disappear into the set.

As a result of the televised debates, studies later showed that Kennedy swayed three out of four voters who watched the debates.  It was this mastery of television that put JFK in the White House and forever changed the way candidates employed the media.

Cowboy Ron Reagan Rides the Media into the White House

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While Tricky Dick would never again step upon the stage to debate a rival, (there were no debates again until 1976) virtually every other Presidential candidacy from Gerald Ford vs Jimmy Carter in1976 onward has relied upon the debate as the vehicle of choice to give the public a chance to hear what the candidates really think.  Many a close race was decided by what was said on-air, including the infamous blunder made by Gerald Ford on September 23, 1976 when he stated, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.”  It’s no secret that Ronald Reagan rode into the White House largely due to his performance in front of the cameras with incumbent Jimmy Carter.  Reagan, whose life prior to politics was as a Hollywood actor and corporate pitchman was all too well versed in how to play to the cameras, won the election by a landslide.

Let’s face it, in the decades before social media and YouTube, debates were practically the only forum that gave the populace an unscripted view of both Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates.  However, all that was due to change as the new millennia was ushered in.

New Century, New Rules

Even as early as the 2000 election, politicians understood that the emergence of online media was something that could not be ignored. A 2000 blog posted shortly before the votes were counted summed up the role that the Internet played in the Bush vs Gore election.

You certainly can't vote in this year's presidential election online, Internet coverage of the Democratic and Republic conventions was largely a bust, and -- despite what you may have heard -- neither of the two major party candidates (or any other politician, for that matter) invented the Internet. So, why should you, the technologically savviest of all voters, even bother to cast a ballot next month? And, if you do, for whom should you vote? The answer to the first question, of course, is simple: Every vote counts, and this may turn out to be one of the closest presidential elections in decades. Regardless of whether you care about the political issues of technology, Generation "E" -- which has the best communication tools at its disposal -- has an obligation to communicate its voice at the polls.

Indeed, the 2000 election that saw George W. Bush prevail came down to how the votes were counted in Florida.  However, as for the clout that the Internet wielded in 2000, it was about as much as any 5-year old could hope for.  That being said, by 2004 blogging was already making an impact on the political scene

Blogging, once considered a techie phenomenon, has now become an invaluable tool in the 2004 presidential election, adding another innovative Internet component to campaign communications.  One of the first mainstream blogs was “The Drudge Report,” which focused on news and political gossip.2 Blogger Matt Drudge proved with his coverage of “Monicagate,” among other stories, that an individual blog can provide a direct and unfiltered source of news.

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Blogs create a new communication dimension by giving a candidate their own  virtual and interactive community and giving candidates an instant forum using unfiltered communications to share their views. Additionally, many candidates’ grassroots supporters have created their own blogs to show their support, devoting their time and energy to promoting their favorite candidate. Other blogs have popped up as commentary and opinions about the presidential candidates and there are plenty of negative blogs against presidential candidates. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has even started a blog ( called “Kicking Ass: Dailey Dispatches from the DNC”, which as sense been removed).

Bear in mind, this was in an era prior to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.  The article goes on to state that in 2003 there were less than 2 million bloggers worldwide.  But even at this early stage, politicians and their handlers were starting to realize the power that the Internet could wield.  Even though online media was still in its infancy, early adopters were starting to beat a drum that no politician could tune out.  Within the next 4 years, virtually half of all Americans relied on the Internet to receive political news. More importantly, nearly a quarter of these web-enabled voters were now interacting with candidates, via email and/or social media. Even more telling was the fact that by 2003, more than a third of the voting public were watching online videos related to the candidates. 
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Supporters of Democrat Barack Obama are the most in evidence in several key online activities. Among Democrats, his supporters are more likely than Hillary Clinton’s to be internet users. And even among the internet users in both camps, Obama partisans are more active online political users than Clinton’s supporters or John McCain’s.

§  74% of wired Obama supporters have gotten political news and information online, compared with 57% of online Clinton supporters.
§  In a head-to-head matchup with internet users who support Republican McCain, Obama’s backers are more likely to get political news and information online (65% vs. 56%).

In both the 2008 and 2012 elections the Barrack Obama camp outgunned their rivals online
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by a wide margin.  They used the web not only to deliver information on their candidate, but they also used it to raise funds, keep their candidate top-of-mind and to muddy the waters. 

In a survey conducted by, it was learned that 60% of those contacted said that the Internet was laden with propaganda and misinformation.  More than half agreed that the Internet allowed those with the loudest voices and most extreme positions to drown out those candidates with more conservative views. (This goes a long way to explain Don Trump’s strategy in 2015.)

In the current election cycle, candidates are not only aware of the sway that the Internet provides, they are also aware of its vulnerabilities.  In an April blog on entitled, “Why the Security of the 2016 Presidential Websites Matters, blogger Kashmir Hill relates,

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Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Marco Rubio scored points with the security crowd for using HTTPS by default. That means that those sites’ traffic is encrypted—so that when you go to check out Clinton’s bio page, for example, a network observer (like your Internet service provider, or a hacker at the same coffee shop as you) can’t see what you’re doing, and can’t easily intercept information you send through the site (such as your email address).

Rand Paul is great at throwing shade—he’s got a “Hillary hard drive” for sale in his campaign store which has been “wiped clean” in reference to the personal server Clinton was using for her State Department emails—but when it comes to walking the tech-privacy walk, he’s got some work to do.

Fusion reached out to the Clinton, Cruz and Paul campaigns for comment and will update if they respond. Meanwhile, privacy-focused site PogoWasRight took a look at the Clinton, Paul and Cruz’s permissive policies when it comes to passing visitors’ information along to third parties. In PogoWasRight’s analysis, Clinton and Paul’s sites “passively collect a lot of information on site visitors—and their mobile devices—from numerous sources… [and] share your information widely with third parties,” including, according to their policies, “vendors, consultants, and other service providers or volunteers.” Cruz’s site also collects this type of information, but its privacy policy isn’t explicit about what will be done with it.

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While privacy issues both for candidates and their constituents are important issues, as we have seen in the past, those who best understand and utilize the media ultimately prevail in elections.  By late June 2015, US News and World Report reported that Hillary Clinton led in terms of Twitter followers with 3.7 million, followed closely by Don Trump with a little over 3 million.  On Facebook at the time the reverse was true with Don Trump having 1.87 million followers (at the time being bested by Rand Paul who had a little over 2 million followers) with Hillary having less than a million Facebook fans.

A December 31 presidential poll published by  stated that, “The latest 2016 presidential poll has Donald Trump destroying Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup, 375 electoral votes to Hillary’s 163. That is an astonishing 70% to 30% difference, and is very good news if you are a Donald Trump supporter.

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Whether this fact is true or whether it is propaganda being promoted by the Donald and his cronies is anyone’s guess.  Suffice it to say that using history as a yardstick, he or she who works the media best will win the race.  That means that the next few months will show us precisely what the 2016 candidates know about working the web.

It’s up to us, the informed and internet savvy voters to do our do diligence, cut through the noise and propaganda spewed by many candidates and focus on what they say in writing and state as policy (also remembering that political lying is tad amount to them telling us the truth). Get and stay informed, ignore the sound bites and listen to the whole speech. Vote your conscience and use your internet savvy as a weapon to improve our country.  

In this article I discuss how the politicians have, and are using the internet to sway voters and win elections.  It covers and provide several examples of how they use blogging, social media and video to not only get their message out, but sway, confuse and even dissuade voters without them even noticing.

If you found this article useful please share it with your friends, family and co-workers. If you would like to learn more about this subject, visit the notes page on this blog for the BlogTalkRadio show dated 1/5/16. I recommend checking out "Hector the Connector Predictions for 2016 and Beyond!“, “Dirty Tricks can Deep Six your Business”, “Is Online Gambling a Bad Bet?”  and “The Piracy of Privacy - The Looting of Privacy in America”. You can also search for other related articles by typing in “politics” in the search box top of this blog.

If you feel your business could use some help with its marketing, contact us at 904-410-2091,We will provide a free marketing analysis to help you get better results. If you'd like a free copy of our eBook, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," please fill in the form below and we will give you immediate access to it. Your information is always kept private and is never sold. Don't forget to Plus us on Google+.

Carl Weiss is president of a digital marketing agency in Jacksonville, Florida that routinely works with bloggers and other online marketers to grow their businesses. 

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  1. Media have been changing the political game for a long time. Now it's social media that's changing things up.

  2. Politicians avoid digital media opportunities at their own peril.

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  4. so far it seems clear the Donald is using all media better, but nearly all TV media is dead set against him. it will be an interesting year.

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