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Social Media Had Little Effect On Dallas Mayor Race

Jessica Huseman, CBSDFW
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Social media may be making waves in the national political landscape, but the trend has yet to reach Dallas, where former mayoral candidates say popular websites like Facebook and Twitter didn’t make much of a difference in the recent election.

The wife and campaign manager of former Dallas Police Department Chief David Kunkle, Sarah Dodd, said while social media acted as a way to garner enthusiasm and reach a younger, non-traditional audience, it did little to affect turnout at the polls.

“I do think that we were able to get some non-traditional voters to the poll, but it appeared that the core group, that always votes no matter what, remained the core group,” Dodd said.

The minor impact of social media at the Dallas polls failed to surprise Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. Jillson said the “core group” was older, wealthy voters from North Dallas followed by a moderate turnout in South Dallas, and neither group is particularly well versed in technology.

“In North Dallas, voters are barely comfortable with their cell phones let alone Twitter,” Jillson said. “And in South Dallas, there has traditionally been less use of social media, maybe for reason of expense.”

Kunkle’s campaign ended up drawing almost twice as many Facebook and Twitter followers than the ultimately successful Mike Rawlings campaign, indicating that social media popularity was not as indicative of success as on national scales.

But even given these statistics, Rawlings said he still feels his social media outreach was effective. “Social media might not have created any major shifts in the campaign, but it did give me an opportunity to communicate with voters and supporters more frequently than I could otherwise.”

Just days before the now mayor was sworn in, Rawlings said while social media was a useful tool, and while he was often surprised when people said they “saw a photo or blog post that resonated with them,” he never intended to make it one of the main focuses of his campaign strategy.

“I did not intend social media to replace a traditional campaign, but to be a support mechanism for our other tactics like block walking, direct mail and television,” he said.

Dodd said social media was a successful strategy for Kunkle, and described the campaigns mixed use of Facebook and Twitter as an “out of the box campaign initiative.”

“To me the biggest benefit was that it reinforces your support, and it becomes a place where people can share their enthusiasm,” she said. “It becomes infectious.”

Dodd said the best example of the “infectious” impact was during the final moments of the runoff election when Twitter “lit up” with retweets in support of the Kunkle campaign.

“I admit going into it I never saw the value in Twitter,” she said. “But that night changed my mind.”

Jillson said while these isolated incidents are notable, the lack of voter excitement in Dallas makes for a difficult social media landscape.

“People have to be engaged and interested if they are going to sign up to follow a candidate on social media,” Jillson said. “There is just not that kind of intensity and attention in a city level race, especially in Dallas.”

Jillson said the mild success in social media achieved by both campaigns was due to their already dedicated and active supporters, rather than a base garnered through social media outreach. “Its all about voter excitement and voter turnout,” he said.

Some 55,000 voters turned up to vote in the June 18 runoff election, up from about 53,000 from the 2007 runoff between Former Mayor Tom Leppert and his opponent Ed Oakley, which Jillson said makes effective social media campaigning only wishful thinking.

Jillson questioned, “If that’s all you can get to turn out to an election, how are you going to get people to follow you on Twitter?”

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