Direct-to-consumer politics

July 15, 2018

Trump wasn't supposed to win the Republican primary. Despite never holding elected office, and lacking the party's endorsement, he sailed to victory over a dozen other candidates. Nobody saw it coming, even on election night.

A similar thing happened last month, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won NY14's Democratic primary running as a Democratic Socialist. Ocasio was perhaps even more of an upset than Trump, as she was out-fundraised 5:1 by Crowley's campaign; a margin like that, plus Ocasio's age (28) against Crowley's experience, put the safe money squarely in Crowley's column.

It might be that the candidates' messages—both Trump and Ocasio—really resonated with the electorate. But I don't think that's the whole story.

It's also about how they campaigned: skipping traditional media in favor of Twitter, Instagram, and facebook. People do indeed advertise on social media, but influence—likes, shares, retweets—are the real currency of these platforms. Both Ocasio and Trump seem to have figured out the importance of social media, and how to use it; most of politics still hasn't.

I wonder what effect organic social media use will have on money's role in politics. A lot of people want money out of politics, but I don't think moving to social media is the panacea people think, as that means fake news and filter bubbles. But it does seem that political organizations of all stripes, from the NRA to Ocasio's campaign, are starting to punch "above their weight" dollar-wise, building platforms without dishing out truckloads of money to traditional media like TV, whose reach seems to wane with each passing day.

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