The Ron Paul Story: How Social Media Is Affecting the ‘08 Presidential Election

Ron Paul. Pretty much every morning when you load up, the name shows up. And you think, who the hell is Ron Paul, and why do I care?

Well as it turns out, he’s a candidate who is running for the Republican nomination for president. He has an extreme libertarian bent, which makes him very appealing to the ’social media nerd’ demographic, who like such ideas as limited government, adherence to the constitution, privacy rights, and a foreign policy that avoids wars. So that’s why he’s on Digg and Reddit all the time. But as fate would have it, the neocons (the current faction in control of the GOP) don’t like him, so he’s somewhat marginalized both within the party and also in mainstream media coverage.

Back to social media. You see, after you read the name Ron Paul a dozen times on Digg or Reddit, you can’t help but Google him to figure out why he’s so popular (after all, we nerds are curious). Out of the hundreds of thousands of Digg/Reddit visitors who do that, I am guessing a relatively high percentage end up looking favorably upon him, if not downright supporting him (after all, we nerds tend to swing a bit more libertarian than the average chap does). Not all of the users at the social media sites enjoy reading about Ron Paul all the time, but I think this comment on a Ron Paul story at Digg sums it up:

You know, you can argue about the spam all day… but in nearly every Ron Paul story on Digg, someone comments in brief “Wow, I’ve never even heard of Ron Paul until today and he’s got my vote! DUGG.”

At the very least, these social media users will remember him–and name recognition is the biggest hurdle in the early primary race.

I look at it as sort of a political Revenge of the Nerds. In an age where exposure leads to more exposure, the new generation of ‘gatekeepers’ (high audience bloggers, power users at social media sites) are wielding a disproportionate amount of power in spreading a candidate’s story. Normally, the mainstream media are the ‘gatekeepers’–early on, they tell us which candidate has a realistic chance of winning the nomination (McCain, Giuliani, Romney), and then they give most of the coverage to those candidates, and their prediction becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy (you only have enough time to cover the probable-winners, but then only the probable-winners get coverage). And for what it’s worth, I don’t think this is a conspiracy, it’s just how it works out–the average American isn’t going to remember more than 6-8 candidates’ names so the media has to find those 6 or 8 guys to cover.

And Ron Paul sure as sh*t isn’t in the top tier of these candidates, considering the party elite loathe him and his fundraising had a late start. He barely grabs 1% in most polls. These polls, however, only measure number of supporters–they don’t measure degree of support. Ron Paul supporters are somewhat fanatic. Any blog post critical of Ron Paul immediately gets hundreds of comments calling foul. Meanwhile, after Republican candidate debates, Ron Paul’s supporters swarm to the online polls, and he always comes out on top (this really seemed to piss off FOXNews last time it happened).

The ‘online nerd Libertarian community’ certainly existed before Digg and Reddit, but these social media communities have swelled and organized the more ‘casual’ ranks in a very short time period. And when you consider that Digg gets more traffic than The Drudge Report and most local newspapers, Ron Paul’s daily coverage there is certainly having a large effect on his name recognition. Social media users are filling the gap and giving this guy coverage when the mainstream media didn’t (and this, in turn, is now forcing the mainstream media to cover him, which, in turn, is helping fuel his rank as the #1 searched term on Technorati). Strange twist, eh?

Now, to be clear, I am not suggestion Ron Paul is going to win the presidency or even the Republican nomination. However, his (relatively) small base has gotten an amazing amount of momentum in a short amount of time, and a lot of this momentum is due to his presence on social media sites. It would not surprise me if this momentum continued and propelled him to the “1.5 tier” in the Republican race (say, ranking #6 among the candidates in phone polls). Even getting there assures more air time to his ideas, and oftentimes an upstart threat like this will cause one the leading candidates to ‘throw a bone’ and swing slightly towards the upstart, to disarm him (and then gain his followers when he withdraws).

Anyway, Tropical SEO is about as jaded and politically-apathetic as they come, but I have to admit it’s kind of cool to see social media users leverage their platform in an unpredictable way: to propel a maverick candidate past the traditional gatekeepers and into a more prominent place in the democratic process, based on the merit of his ideas. That isn’t really how politics is “supposed” to work anymore. ;-)

More on Ron Paul:

  • - official campaign site
  • Ron Paul on Youtube
  • Ron Paul on Digg
  • Ron Paul on Reddit

BTW, political comments will be aggressively moderated–let’s keep the discussion on social media and its effects on politics, rather than on actual political issues please! :-)

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#1 Hawaii SEO on 05.21.07 at 11:09 pm

He’s doing it right. (Or his supporters are) Grass roots movements can spring up almost overnight with the help of social media. Carpet bombing network TV with amazingly expensive, generic ads will buy you a certain amount of name recognition but it can’t compare the power social networks can have with getting a complex massage out there and understood by the public.

#2 NH on 05.22.07 at 12:05 am

He actually has made more money in NH that Rudy and McCain have in just one visit. He had a party on February 24th and has been raising money since and thus he’s pulled past them here. In national polls he does 3% but of all the people watching FOX and MSBNC, he was either first or second. (Many people told me their cell phones did not have text messaging capablilities so they could not vote in FOX’s poll)

A lot of people don’t vote because they don’t like any of the candidates. That would be true for me if not for Ron. But I can say with some certainty that we are not spamming as polls can only register once and cell calls can only be from one number.

We hate how the press picks the ones people are supposed to vote for, and so I naturally am going to want the one they attack..

#3 Borg Blog on 05.22.07 at 6:36 am

Enlightening post - thank you. And as a Ron Paul fan I find it encouraging, too.

I have some more facts numbers, too, in my latest blog post. What is especially noteworthy is how well the Paul campaign is doing in the face of such opposition and would-be censorship from the GOP establishment.

See my post, “GOP Establishment’s War on Ron Paul Backfires,” to learn more.

Thanks again,

#4 graywolf on 05.22.07 at 7:13 am

I’m with you on beings as “jaded and politically-apathetic” as they can come, but you gotta admit the founding fathers of the US would have been A-List bloggers. Guys like Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine would have been rocking the technorati top 100.

#5 corey on 05.22.07 at 11:33 am

i found an article that has a lot of similarities to yours, not sure who was first.

prepare for inaccurate digg discussion:

#6 Hawaii SEO on 05.22.07 at 2:22 pm

It looks like Google is sponsoring an event on the subject called the Personal democracy Forum.

Technology and the Internet are changing democracy in America. Every year, the nation’s leading technologists, campaign organizers, politicos, bloggers, activists and journalists come together in New York City for a high-level conversation about the new tools, sites and practices that are transforming elections and government.

* How is voter-generated content changing election campaigns?
* Why should advocacy groups adapt to the connected age?
* What new technology tools and practices are on the horizon?
* How are new technologies democratizing the political process?
* Which political leaders “get it”?

#7 elebrio on 05.24.07 at 7:25 pm

He opposes net neutrality. Doesn’t make him very nerd friendly in my book.

#8 Zaru on 06.08.07 at 10:45 am

elebrio, He does not oppose net neutrality. He opposed the taxes that were on the bill.

In respect to the forum I will not go into detail but I suggest you do some research.