Bumper Sticker Politics

It’s been a busy month for North Carolina. The NCAA and ACC pulled all collegiate championships out of the state, the Supreme Court blocked North Carolina’s voting bill, riots broke out in Charlotte and a gas shortage led to price gouging complaints. Perhaps these events are one reason why the Governor, and even Roy Cooper, haven’t been as accessible to the media this election as in the past. Or perhaps it’s just how social media is changing the way our world works, even when it comes to politics.

“Several reporters talk of social media’s impact…and that impact is real… yet the biggest difference is access to the candidates,” says David Crabtree, WRAL-TV anchor. “Roy Cooper’s campaign has made him somewhat accessible. The McCrory campaign has made it close to impossible to have any access to the nominee. The fact an incumbent Governor doesn’t seem to want to talk with reporters is troubling, that is the biggest difference.”

With about a month until Election Day, the gubernatorial candidates have yet to lock in a date for a debate, though Crabtree, who has moderated three in recent years, is hopeful. “The voters deserve to hear from the people who want their votes,” he adds. “Votes should be earned. Never taken for granted.”

Instead, the candidates seem to be debating the issues on the paid airwaves through advertising and in video responses via social media. In one recent television ad, McCrory’s campaign features a sexual abuse victim blaming Cooper for slow processing of rape kits. In a competing ad, Cooper directly responds to McCrory’s accusations saying his crime lab team addressed the back log immediately and solved more than 2,000 crimes.

According to the Wesleyan Media Project advertising analysis the North Carolina governor’s race is the most expensive in the United States with more than $6 million spent in broadcast television, national network and national cable advertising and more than 11,000 ad airings so far.

You’ll find few, more traditional signs of campaigning—door-to-door canvassing, front yard signs or direct mailings. Cooper often communicates to the public through social media, posting videos on Facebook, such as the one from Sept. 14, where he talks about his disappointment in the NCAA and ACC news and calls for a repeal of HB2. Governor McCrory’s social media campaign also features a robust effort, with numerous daily campaign posts, favorable article links and images of the Governor campaigning around the state.  It’s an opportunity for both candidates to control their messages to the public.

Those messages are often packaged in bite-sized rhetoric that can go viral. In fact in the book, “Enough Said: What’s gone wrong with the language of politics?” (released in September), New York Times CEO Mark Thompson addresses this very subject, how compressed messages may be powerful but have led to a breakdown in communication between politicians and journalists.

In the McCrory-Cooper election, media is often relegated to getting sound bites or quotes from Twitter and Facebook instead of interviews with the candidates themselves. But is it an effective way to win votes?

“Is a short 140-character or more answer what a voter truly wants?” asks Crabtree. “No question a controversial tweet can get headlines and coverage yet again I have to ask, is a Tweet what a voter wants to use as the fulcrum to make a decision?” 

Alexandra Drosu
Alexandra Drosu

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