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Big Bird, Social Media and the Presidential Election

I always know it’s getting close to an election when animals are helplessly used to get a point across. It happened again this cycle (kind of) – presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested the federal government defund PBS (a.k.a. clipping Big Bird’s wings). Thanks to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s delightfully funny Democalypse 2012 series, which light-heartedly covers the latest in the presidential election, we know it’s election season – and time to get tough on Big Bird. I know, I know, you believe Big Bird isn’t really an animal, but millions of American toddlers would stand behind me on this account.

As the presidential campaigns shift into fifth gear for the final drive to Nov. 6, here are some of my thoughts and interesting clips I’ve noticed during the 2012 presidential election cycle:

People care about their wallets first and foremost – Want to get voters’ attention? Talk about their wallets. The economy continues to top the list of most important issues according to a recent Rasmussen report with field work done by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. Rasmussen’s telephone survey found that 80 percent of likely U.S. voters rate the economy as “very important to how they will vote in the Nov. 6 election.” Healthcare came in second in the “very important” category at a meager 66 percent. Additionally, conversations in cyberspace are dominated by the almighty dollar. An analysis of more than 1.7 million social media posts by Vocus showed that taxes are dominating conversations in cyberspace. Trailing behind by a large distance are education, budget, healthcare and the economy, respectively.

Immigration is not completely dead as an important conversation topic for the American people – Four short years ago, immigration was an issue that all presidential candidates had to make a stance on and Americans were demanding a solution. While the immigration issue may have been placed on the backburner, according to some decision-making circles and media coverage, the Twittersphere blew up when candidate Mitt Romney mentioned the topic during the Oct. 16 debate. Mashable reported that tweets-per-minute peaked at 109,560 during an audience question to Romney on immigration during the debate. I think the campaigns have learned that there is more to lose than gain from turning this into a wedge issue.

Foreign policy is an afterthought – The final Oct. 22 presidential debate pulled in the lowest ratings of the three debates. The topic? Foreign policy. While foreign policy may be more critical now than ever due to the growing global economy and ability of social media and technology to interconnect hundreds of millions of people, it just doesn’t demand the attention of voters. Why use precious dollars and sacred hours of the candidate’s time attacking each other on foreign policy issues when American priorities are clearly anchored in domestic issues such as jobs, taxes and the economy? More to the point, a quick search on Mitt Romney’s YouTube site found zero search results for “foreign policy”. Instead, the YouTube page is filled with clips about taxes, fiscal discipline, the deficit and putting jobs first.

Swinging gas prices – In San Diego, we see some of the highest gas prices in America. The rest of the country has also seen less bang-for-their-buck at the pump – but why hasn’t the “drill baby drill” shouting been gaining steam? Former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tried to sway primary voters with this Drill Here, Drill Now solution and now he’s sitting on the couch with the rest of us watching the debates. I’m keeping an eye on gas prices in the battleground states to see if prices rise, stagnate or dip. The issue should fizzle if prices don’t move. If prices dip, it should help Obama. If they rise, it should help Romney.

The main battlegrounds – According to Politico’s Jonathan Martin, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida and Wisconsin are where money and time will mostly be spent for the final push by the presidential candidates. Martin maintains that Wisconsin is a late edition to this list due to a strategic gamble by Romney based on polling that has showed an opportunity in America’s Dairyland. While the Cheeseheads haven’t given their electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate since Reagan in 1984, some polls peg this race as a two-point swing in favor of President Obama (50-48). Well within the margin of error, I think Wisconsin can be won by Romney if his team is crafty enough with their television ad-buying strategy.

Social media is a significant force to drive the conversation. Candidates from across the country, now more than ever, are trying to put a dog leash on this guerilla. While Big Bird sits back and awaits his fate, Twitter and Facebook, among others, will be helping people push the limits to shape political conversations across America. Enjoy the ride.

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