As citizens have embraced social media en masse, so too have political candidates, news outlets and local governments. In Washington state and Nevada, residents can even register to vote on Facebook. Social media has left its humble beginnings behind and taken center stage in one of the most important processes in American government and culture.
In a more general sense, technology has impacted the elections process since the beginning. Whether it was the direct-recording electronic voting machine, the first televised presidential debate, or the use of iPads to help disabled citizens in Oregon vote, technology made it happen.
The history of technology in our democratic process is rich, and social media is the newest chapter. We took a look at how the size of the candidates’ audiences on Twitter and Facebook correlated with the outcome of their election. The data is substantial and it suggests that candidates should make an effort to engage with voters through social media websites.
A study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reflects on the shift social media has forced on political candidates:
Digital technology allows leaders to engage in a new level of "conversation" with voters, transforming campaigning into something more dynamic, more of a dialogue, than it was in the 20th century. For the most part, however, the presidential candidates are using their direct messaging mainly as a way to push their messages out.
Social media is changing the way we interact and communicate with one another and with our leaders. So what impact will social media have on this year's elections? We’ll let the data do the talking.
Check our guide to technology and the 2012 elections for more coverage.