Harper Reed joined Emily Maitlis on BBC Newsnight on May 24th. The former CTO of Obama for America (2011-2012) was asked about the role of social media and the web in the 2016 presidential election and the UK’s Brexit campaigns so far. Harper explained that no matter which technology is being used, campaigns focus on the candidate and the calls, door knocking and grassroots approach of decades past hasn’t disappeared – it’s just been augmented by new technologies.
Thanks to social media especially, Harper said, candidates are battling in front of the public and interacting with each other more which is nothing like previous times, and in a campaign where there are so many moving parts, and reported on almost instantly by third parties, social media allows candidates to have their say directly.
On the US election, Harper attributed the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to the fact that both are sowing a diferent solution to a general pain the middle American states where unemployment and economic downturn have greatly affected employment, family finances and future opportunities, and saying, ‘I have a plan, I will fix it.’ in their own way which is engaging with people who may never have voted before.
Emily asked, “Donald Trump has more twitter followers than The New York Times has readers – does that mean he’s won his own media war without the mainstream press?”
Harper: “Donald trump has been a genius at engaging the mainstream media because he doesn’t appear to follow the rules of us, more rational people, but I don’t know who does his tweeting – him directly or his staff – but they are consistent and geniune,” advocating the need for social media campaigns to have a single ‘voice’ that actually galvanise social followers or rally guests into voters.
When asked what sharp turns in the UK’s Brexit campaign may mean, Harper believed it showed that polling may have uncovered that a core group are sold (or not), and so campaigners change direction to target a group who they’ve yet to win over. He finished by saying that no matter what a campaign comes down to resources, ‘They’re key – if you run out of resources before the election, or before the referendum, you don’t have anything else.”
If you’re a UK resident, you can watch the full interview on BBC iPlayer.