The YouTube Election 2008

YouTube has rapidly become one of the most popular sites on the internet. The ease in which individuals can upload and share video has allowed citizens to share views and ideas with unprecedented ease. Additionally, individuals have greater access to information being spread by sources they may not have seen before.

The 2008 presidential election is the first election to take place with YouTube. Many journalists, researchers, and bloggers have coined this election as the first “YouTube election.” During the primary campaign season, every presidential candidate posted a large number of videos in an attempt to gain more votes.

This raises important questions about YouTube campaigns. What types of videos are most effective? Are there any patterns in the number of views different types of videos receive? What types of campaigns are the candidates running on YouTube, and which type of campaign is most effective? A more important question that must be tackled is how big of an impact web 2.0 applications such as YouTube is having on civic engagement. Has YouTube been successful in engaging younger voters? Has involvement increased due to these new technologies? Finally, should the public sector invest more of their time into sites such as YouTube in an attempt to engage a larger number of citizens?

Recently Jon Hickey, a student at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, conducted a study of the 2008 Presidential Primary election.  In the study, Hickey tracked the number of videos Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain posted from December 1st to May 27th.  He also tracked the cumulative number of views each candidate received.  As this chart shows, the number of views Barack Obama received dwarfs those of Clinton and McCain.

Hickey also analyzed the types of videos that were posted by each candidate.  Videos were coded as commercials, personal stories, news clips, speeches, interviews, debates, and ‘other.’  If a video fell into more than one category, it was coded as both.

Hickey found that Obama’s campaign focuses far more on speeches and ‘other’ types of video than Clinton or McCain.  Rather than simply post content that was already being played during the traditional news cycle, Obama created original content.  This gives supporters a reason to visit Obama’s channel and allows the presidential hopeful to focus on his strength – speeches.

Comparison of video types between Obama, Clinton, and McCain during the 2008 Presidential Primary.  (Dec. 1, 2007 – May 27th, 2008)




Frequency Percent Frequency Percent Frequency Percent
Commercials 112 14.6% 98 37.7% 47 42.0%
Personal Stories 21 2.7% 52 20.0% 3 2.7%
News Clips 167 21.7% 66 25.4% 32 28.6%
Speeches 293 38.2% 40 15.4% 13 11.6%
Interviews 36 4.7% 10 3.8% 4 3.6%
Debates 32 4.2% 19 7.3% 0 0.0%
Other 185 24.1% 25 9.6% 23 20.5%
Total Videos 768 768 112

By the end of the primaries, the three candidates’ videos garnered over 50 million views. This number clearly shows people are using YouTube to engage in politics. Moreover, Obama’s strategy of engaging voters with content that can only be found on YouTube has proven to be successful. This suggests that YouTube has potential to become a great new medium for politics and government as a whole.

However, posting videos doesn’t mean users will watch. Obama has shown that with the right techniques, including extensive use of social networks outside of YouTube, people will view a candidate’s videos. However, simply posting videos that can be seen on traditional media sources doesn’t appear to be very effective. The right strategy is very important if a candidate wishes to run a successful YouTube campaign.

Helpful links:
Jon Hickey’s Degree Project
Barack Obama’s YouTube Channel
Hillary Clinton’s YouTube Channel
John McCain’s YouTube Channel
Viral Video Chart