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Trend of 2008: Pop-Politics

Barack Obama’s election was historic on many levels; aside from being elected America’s first black President, Obama raised more money for his campaign alone than had ever been spent by all candidates running in any previous Presidential campaign. Incredibly, he did all this just four years after first popping up on the national radar by having an innovative campaign that used online tactics to achieve offline results.

But beyond his tactics, Obama benefited from an intersection of pop culture and politics. Viral videos like “1984,” “Obama Girl,” and “Yes We Can” underscored that much of the hype and excitement around Obama came from beyond political circles: none of these internet famous videos was produced by the campaign, but both served to underscore campaign messages. (In the case of “Yes We Can,” the Obama campaign almost immediately promoted the video on its own site.)

The need to create excitement around a candidate is nothing new – just watch any footage or read any account of a successful campaign rally since the founding of the Republic. But the funny, creative videos that supported Obama without overt political messages, allowed the campaign to push the storyline that Obama was wildly popular. The campaign itself paid careful attention to imagery, creating a website with the visual qualities of popular online communities rather than traditional campaign sites. Even the “O”-shaped bumper stickers were different from the usual, run-of-the-mill rectangles that usually pop up in traffic every four Octobers (including those used by his opponent).

These tactics helped simplify Obama’s messages to a broad range of voters, allowing his official campaign to avoid discussions of policy specifics through much of the campaign – discussions which could only serve to drive away voters attracted to Obama’s celebrity status.

The Obama campaign’s strategies were ultimately the same as any other campaign’s: Supportive voters were identified, contacted, and encouraged to get to the polls. And they did it well; when the votes were counted on November 4, the victory was decisive. But Obama looked like a winner long before Election Day thanks to non-traditional message-delivery vehicles which simplified his messages and took his candidacy from politics to pop-culture. And that can only help those outreach efforts.

Simple messages have always been better in politics, which is why the advent of pop politics is a “trend” and not a story, development, or event. But it’s an increasingly relevant trend, especially for conservatives and Republicans grappling with their messages in 2009, 2010, and beyond. Since voters now face so many information sources competing for their attention, a message delivery vehicle which entertains is more likely to be successful.

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