Elon Poll shrugs off use of social media

The Elon Poll focuses on the 2012 Campaign for the most recent poll. Photos by Stephanie Butzer

By Stephanie Butzer

The Elon University Poll found Mitt Romney ahead of President Barack Obama in its released findings Sept. 3. Many Elon students were unaware of the Poll, but recognized the Democratic National Convention, which just kicked off in Charlotte, North Carolina.

At 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 3, the opinions of 1,089 likely voters revealed 47 percent would support former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for President. Forty-three percent said they would elect President Barack Obama.

Aside from students who were directly involved in the poll, there was little awareness about the event. The lack of social media resulted in many uninformed students. Most did not understand the Elon Poll and its importance.

Elon Poll Lab (2011) Photo credit: Stephanie Butzer

Elon students work in the Elon Poll lab in 2010.

Christina Benson, an assistant professor in business law, suggested the Elon Poll do more publicity throughout campus.

“Maybe we need to get some communication and marketing students to go and do internships over there,” Benson said  “It seems like election year is an opportune time to try and get students to help them establish a social media platform.”

The Elon Poll made several visuals for its press release but failed to actively send the results out to the public and news organizations through media like Twitter and Facebook. If a viral trend had started, many people would have gotten their hands on the Elon Poll’s graphics and word of the service would become recognized by more people.

On the other hand, the Presidential Election has kicked social media into high gear.

Scott Mills, senior and senior intern at Elon University Polls, said there was little to no talk of the Elon Poll on Facebook or Twitter.

“I’ve seen on my personal Facebook a lot of people liking Romney, a lot of people liking Obama,” Mills said. “Everybody is starting to post now. I wonder if that will get young people voting more, energize them more or divide it. I wonder what effect it will have.”

The effect of social media in the National Conventions is clear. Thousands of tweets were sent out from people at the event and those at home tweeted about what they saw on the television screen and the Internet. Information spread like a wild fire through Facebook and Twitter.

Twitter gave users an easy way to keep tabs on the talk of the Republican National Convention and DNC. The hashtag “DNC2012” became a trend and allowed users to see who else was tweeting about the event.

Speakers at RNC, DNC

Speakers at RNC, DNC

However, social media is not the superhero of the Presidential Elections.

“Unfortunately, one downside of social media, just like with these TV commercials and Twitter being only how many characters, everything gets boiled down on social media to sound bites or headlines or a picture graphic,” Benson said.

She said if people are only looking at social media for information on the candidates, they will vote on faulty assumptions. Many uninformed citizens believe they should not vote at all because they are afraid they do not understand the key differences between the parties.

The Presidential Debates should clear up any false claims. The nominees will be able to speak for themselves and the public will hear it from them and not a political action committee.

“It seems to me that a lot of what we really need to be deciding these elections on is complex stuff you can’t just convey in a sound bite,” Benson said. “That’s part of why some people don’t think they can vote.”

Christina Benson, Photo credit: Stephanie Butzer

Professor Christina Benson looks through the released results of the Elon Poll.

During the RNC, many media outlets focused on Hurricane Isaac and Clint Eastwood as their focus, instead of Romney. It was unpredictable and nobody could control the social media like candidate’s marketing team organize a political ad.

The 30 to 60 second ads on television are controlled by people who understand the workings of the public. They generally understand who will see it when it is aired at a certain day on a certain channel. Social media is the opposite. It can be viewed by almost anybody at any time.

“Whether its things you want people to spread or whether there’s something you’d like to deep six and not have spread around – it ends up catching on and spreading anyway,” Benson said.

In the democratic process, social media is good because it forces people to become more engaged in the happenings in the United States. However, it can also reveal an ugly, false side of the candidates. For those who rely solely on social media for news, receiving inaccurate information can completely alter their vote and the nation’s next President.

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