September 18th, 2008
The use of YouTube has been the most important development in online politics in the last two years. At this point, YouTube has three political roles: showing gaffes committed by politicians, netizens creating videos supporting or opposing candidates, and candidates themselves posting ads. The most notorious political gaffe posted on YouTube was former Virginia Senator George Allen using the racist term “macaca,” which, with 700,000 views, was a key factor explaining why he is a former senator. The most famous support video is the “Yes We Can” Barack Obama music video, with over ten million views.
Already, a few posts have gotten lots of attention. In the area of gaffes, Conservative bloggers have seized on a clip of Elizabeth May discussing the difficulty of implementing a carbon tax, claiming she said Canadian voters are stupid, while she claims she said, or at least meant to say, that other politicians think Canadian voters are stupid. A reporter from CPAC accompanied Garth Turner going door-to-door and the “typical” voter he visited was the son of his campaign manager. The May episode has gotten about 20,000 views, the Turner episode about 5,000. The most popular Netizen-generated video is a cartoon of Harper talking to Bush on the phone, originally posted two years ago, and now up to 48,000 views, most in the last few days.
Finally, all parties have posted their ads on YouTube, with the most frequently viewed being the NDP’s recent ad attacking Stephen Harper (“A New Kind of Strong”) at 17,000, while the Conservative and Liberal ads extolling Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion, respectively, max at about 10,000 views. For the parties, these posts on YouTube are another way to reach voters, in addition to posting the ads on their own websites and running them on television. What I find disconcerting is that the parties often disable comments when posting on their ads on YouTube.
So far, these are healthy view counts, especially if multiplied by 10 to compare to those in the US. Still we haven’t had a truly viral post – an egregious gaffe, particularly in a debate, or a Netizen contribution so inspiring or hilarious that everyone wants to watch – but it’s only the second week. Regardless, YouTube videos are becoming increasingly important in Canadian election campaigns.