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Campaigns’ calls for voter videos going unanswered

Only professional videos such as this one are featured on campaign websites despite efforts to reach out to voters. Associated Press

If you request it, will they upload?

For presidential candidates seeking homemade videos produced by voters, the answer appears to be no.

The campaign website for President Obama — regarded as a pioneer in the use of interactive media as campaign tools — includes a page called “Change Is. . .” where supporters are invited to share videos relating personal stories about “the progress we’ve made” under Obama.

But, so far, no voter-produced videos have shown up on Obama’s website.

The campaign did not respond to questions about its call for video submissions.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney and independent political committees likewise appear to be coming up empty in their attempts to showcase grass-roots support with homemade videos.

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Last month, as it was hammering Obama for his “you didn’t build that” remark, the Romney campaign launched a Web page called “Built By Us” featuring videos of business owners who reject the president’s suggestion that they owe some of their success to government. Visitors are encouraged to share their own videos but, three weeks later, the page contains only videos produced by the Romney campaign.

A Romney aide insisted the campaign has received multiple video submissions and said the Web page displays only the videos that have been viewed most often. Asked for links to the voter-created videos, the Romney campaign did not provide any.

Also last month, two liberal super PACs teamed up on a video project called “Mitt Gets Worse” that features interviews with people who contend that Romney’s election would make life worse for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

The “Mitt Gets Worse” website includes a page where visitors can submit videos of their own, but none have done so.

“It’s the ‘easy’ factor,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a communications professor at State University of New York at Albany,who is writing a book about the history of presidential campaigns and the Internet.

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“For supporters of a candidate, it’s really easy to forward a tweet or respond to one and say why you support them,” she added. “To conceptualize, record, edit, and upload a video requires much more work.”

Andrew Rasiej, a Democratic social media campaign strategist who has advised the Clintons, said most voters lack video literacy — what he calls “viteracy.”

“There’s a tendency among political consultants who are hooked on social media to assume the same people they can reach on Facebook and Twitter are viterate enough to create their own videos, one, two, three,” Rasiej said. “They’re not.”

Campaigns also sometimes miscalculate what will motivate people to film themselves, Stromer-Galley said. Chris Harris, a spokesman for American Bridge 21st Century, one of the super PACs behind the “Mitt Gets Worse” campaign, said, “we haven’t yet made our push for user-submitted videos.”

“But even if they had,” Stromer-Galley said, “it’s very different from ‘It Gets Better,’ ” the successful video project in which people record encouraging messages for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth. “Mitt Gets Worse” was inspired, in name and format, by “It Gets Better.”

“ ‘It Gets Better’ is about powerful, personal stories,” Stromer-Galley added. “ ‘Mitt Gets Worse’ is about hypothetically what bad things might happen if Romney is elected. You have to be pretty hard-core, really anti-Romney to make a video for that.”

Homemade videos are valuable political currency: Every voter who submits a video has friends and family members who will pay special attention to its message.

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But there are risks, too.

During the 2008 Republican primary, the Romney campaign sponsored a create-your-own-ad contest. Recognizing the “easy factor,” the campaign supplied would-be ad makers with an online stock of photos and video clips they could use to supplement original footage.

But the most-watched submission of 137 entries was not a real pro-Romney ad but a spoof produced by the online magazine Slate. It drew more than twice as many views as the eventual contest winner.

During the 2004 election, the liberal website MoveOn.org asked people to submit 30-second spots criticizing President George W. Bush. More than 1,500 people posted videos, but two overshadowed them all: a pair of provocative submissions that compared Bush to Adolf Hitler.

The videos ignited a firestorm and forced MoveOn to apologize.

The problem with the 2008 Romney and 2004 MoveOn video solicitations was that people were able to upload their videos directly to campaign-sponsored sites, said Todd Van Etten, a former new media director for the Republican National Committee and the managing director of Crowdverb, a social mobilization company for corporations and campaigns.

“It comes down to confinement,” Van Etten said. “At the RNC, we learned you have to have people upload videos to their own YouTube channels and then send us a link on a submission form. Then we can approve what’s OK to put on our site.”

Van Etten said filtering the “trickle” of videos his team used to receive at the RNC was labor-intensive because the committee felt compelled to research every person who appeared in a submitted video and to view any other videos they had produced — all to avoid potential embarrassment.

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“I think you have to ask, does it really make sense to do all that legwork for such little output?” Van Etten said. “In the future, I think you’ll still see campaigns ask for videos, but the extent to which they’re used is a big question.”


Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.