Millennials, new media drive evolution of elections, panelists say

Photo Courtesy of Maria Di Bianca
Professors from across the U.S. convened at the Reynolds Journalism Institute to discuss social media and millennial voters ahead of the 2016 election. | Maria Di Bianca/Missouri Business Alert

Every year, the media landscape is evolving. Recent changes include the rise of mobile media, the advent of new social media platforms and the shift of opinions about what constitutes news, according to Dhavan Shah, a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin.

Shah was one of five professors from across the country to participate in a panel about social media and millennial voters on Oct. 29  at the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute. The event, called “New Media for New Voters,” also featured Leticia Bode of Georgetown University, Stephanie Edgerly of Northwestern University, Emily Vraga of George Mason University and Chris Wells of the University of Wisconsin.

The ability to reach millennials can hurt or help a candidate’s chances, Northwestern’s Edgerly said. In 2012, when President Barack Obama was re-elected, younger voters provided him a big boost.

“President Obama’s tactics in gaining voters stemmed from representatives knocking on doors and making phone calls,” Georgetown’s Bode said.

The 2012 election also saw social media users influencing friends to vote for certain candidates, Shah said.

However, Shah also pointed to a decline in young voter participation. Some young people today do not feel they have much of a stake in society, Shah said. 

Socialization is rapidly changing in 2015 through social media, Bode said, pointing to examples like “posting on Facebook that you voted or participating in the Ice Bucket challenge.”

Vraga of George Mason said 31 percent of people on social media post or share political content, and the rest do not. Those who do post political material on social media can run the risk of alienating people of upsetting family and friends, she said.

The panelists touched on changing business models for digital media, and they discussed social media platforms that are free to use and supported by ad revenue.

“If you’re not paying for the product,” Vraga said, “the product is you.”

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