LOS ANGELES, April 20, 2015—Here’s a tip for the crop of 2016 presidential hopefuls: skip the listening tours, the campaign swag and television commercials; instead, program yourself a Smartphone app.
Less than a week after her announcement that she would run for president in 2016, America is already weary of Hillary Clinton’s manufactured everyman show. Her announcement was not only confusing, but deceptive, with a parade of supposed “everyday” Americans talking about how they have overcome and are launching new endeavors. Exactly how does a woman who received a multi-million dollar advance for her book, “Hard Choices,” and gets $200,000 for a speech relate to everyman struggles?
As the media chase her “Scooby” van and collectively yawn at the corrupt Clinton Foundation money and the latest bribery charges, Clinton manufactures Twitter followers and eats lunch at Chipotle while ignoring the very voters she claims she wants to champion.
The serial announcements of Republican presidential candidates are equally sketchy. Sen. Ted Cruz was first out the gate in on March 23, making his stamp as a right-leaning Christian candidate at Liberty University. Sen. Rand Paul followed on April 7 with a folksy and free-thinking launch in his home state of Kentucky; then a week later, Sen. Marco Rubio announced at Miami’s Freedom Tower, evoking a restoration of the American Dream that brought him and his family to this moment.
We know there will be more contenders on both sides of the aisle. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has made noises since December about his interest in a presidential run, and he has the deep-pocket donors to make it viable. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former Sen. Rick Santorum are all doing warm-up laps around the track. Outlier and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is doing lots of television appearances, positioning herself as the anti-Hillary; now rumors are afoot that New York city Mayor Bill de Blasio may run to the left of Hillary.
Too many people to keep track of at this point, and who really wants to? A person could go cross-eyed at the thought of following these candidates every meal, policy position and misstep for the next 18 months. In the meantime, Americans tune out, turn off, and binge-watch “Game of Thrones” until they are forced to pay attention. The result is more worthy candidates’ being out-financed and outfoxed, leaving the American public stuck with choosing the lesser of two evils.
So if avid political junkies and news watchers are already tired of the dog and pony show, what does the average voter who cares more about “Dancing with the Stars” or the final 10 of “The Voice” think about the next presidential election? Michael Barone mentions this in an April 17 Wall Street Journal piece:
“With some 570 days left until Election Day 2016, the race for president is very much under way—to the dismay of a great many Americans. They find the news coverage of the candidates tiresome (what did Hillary order at Chipotle?), are depressed by the negative campaigning that is inevitable in an adversarial process, and dread the onslaught of political TV ads. Too much too soon!”
Indeed. With crap-loaded questions to Sen. Rubio and Gov. Kasich about gay marriage, supposedly competent journalists whining about treatment by Sen. Paul, and Fiorina doing her best to appear accomplished, forward-thinking, and clear-headed, while accusing former Secy. Clinton of being anything but, it is increasingly difficult to see the actual trees through the forest of spin and image-making. This takes effort and interest, and most of America is 0 for 2.
What could be the game-changer for 2016 is the shift in technology. Candidate Barack Obama was smart to ride the Internet zeitgeist, and this ride took him to presidential victory in both 2008 and 2012. The Clinton campaign was savvy to announce via YouTube, which boasts a daily viewership of 1 billion. So the candidate who seizes the day will be the one who captures and holds the American attention span. Dylan Byers of Politico launches off a Pew report and posits that the Smartphone will be the new way to capture this.
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According to Pew, roughly two out of every three American adults (64 percent) own a Smartphone. In 2011, just four short years ago, only 35 percent of American adults owned one. Byers quotes the Pew report:
“Sixty-eight percent of Smartphone owners now use their phone to follow along with breaking news events, while 33 percent say that they do this ‘frequently,’ according to the Pew report. Though mobile usage is highest among younger Americans, news consumption is ‘common even among older Smartphone owners,’ as ‘four-in-ten Smartphone owners ages 65 and older use their phone at least occasionally to keep up with breaking news.’“
Actual television viewing is way down, so finding a captive audience there is slim to none. Jeremy Bowman of the Motley Fool quotes Sanford & Bernstein’s analysis of Nielsen data, surmising that total TV viewing fell by 10 percent in the third quarter of 2014 and 9 percent in the fourth quarter. Bowman assessed, “that decline has hastened in the new year as viewership has fallen 12 percent thus far in the first quarter.”
People opt for streaming services like Netflix in lieu of cable and satellite. Others still pay for them, but opt to DVR programs. The benefit? No ugly campaign commercials and candidate blather to sift through. So for the current crop of 2016 hopefuls, paying for commercials in expensive media markets may not be the wisest move to get the electorate’s attention. If anything, it may work against them.
This writer will be curious to see which campaigns recognize this shift and capitalize on it. The first out of the gate to use the Smartphone to organize, rally and mindfully engage with the constituency may well be the one to win the presidency.