Twitter, Facebook and YouTube now crucial to presidential campaigns

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

Four years ago, Barack Obama kicked off his presidential campaign on the steps of Illinois’ Old State Capitol, speaking in front of thousands of supporters and a throng of media. Earlier this month, when he formally announced his reelection campaign, he did so without public appearance, in an online video.

The shift in part represents the difference between the candidacies, from one starring an upstart challenger to one featuring an incumbent president. But it also underscores how dramatically social media have become a defining force in modern-day politics.

Obama is not alone. Former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney announced his presidential bid April 11 in a low-key online video, a stark contrast to his splashy 2007 announcement at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

When former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty jumped into the GOP race, he did it by posting a video on Facebook. After Gov. Jerry Brown broke off budget talks with Republicans, he took his case directly to California voters on YouTube. Potential Republican presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) turned to Twitter to slam the federal budget agreement.

“GOP: don’t retreat! The country is going broke. We can’t AFFORD cowboy poetry & subsidizing abortion,” Palin wrote.

The numbers provide motivation: Voters are increasingly turning to such sites to learn about politics, with more than 1 in 5 doing so before November’s midterm election, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

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