Ever since the beginning of his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama has worked to garner the support of young voters.
His latest campaign on Twitter and Instagram in preparation for his State of the Union Address, #insideSOTU, is a perfect example of this: the White House Twitter and Instagram feeds show pictures of Obama’s SOTU speech rough draft (text blurred), his coffee cup and binders, his “presidential cup o’ tea” and Indian food “fuel for the policy-making process.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 26, 2014
Aside from the gastronomical, the White House has a swath of other social media tactics in store—Bloomberg News reported on the developments Monday:
The campaign includes Google Hangouts and Facebook chats by cabinet members and senior administration officials, a flood of advance Twitter messages under the hashtag #InsideSOTU, and an “enhanced” web live stream of the speech with graphics and data amplifying Obama’s themes. As part of the build-up, speechwriter Cody Keenan did a one-day “takeover” of the White House’s Instagram Account featuring photos of preparations.
It’s a brilliant way to help young people feel connected with the presidency. Who knows how many millennials will tune in for the actual SOTU address—but at least a few may have their interest piqued by this new social media campaign. It reveals inner preparation for the country’s most important speech, in a manner akin to the average student’s paper cramming, draft editing, and coffee drinking. With this carefully calculated campaign, Obama is doing more than mere policy prep—he is fostering empathy within his audience.
He’s going to need it, considering his near all-time low approval ratings and the multitudinous frustrations with Obamacare. This will be the most high-profile speech he has given since the health care rollout—how will he address the swath of problems and discontent it has unleashed in the past few months? “No more touch-the-base-and-keep-running treatments, the way he’s handled it the past couple of years,” writes David Nather at Politico. “…Instead, Obama will have to find an uplifting message about the law that doesn’t imply that everything’s suddenly back on track. The most he can say, based on the latest developments, is that ‘it’s moving back toward the track’…”
Fifty-seven percent of his once-adoring millennials, according to the latest Harvard Institute of Politics poll, disapprove of the health care law, and only 13 percent “definitely” plan on signing up. The SOTU could provide President Obama a chance to turn the tide back in his favor: “The Internet loves moments,” Nicco Mele, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told Bloomberg. “What is powerful about the State of the Union for the White House is it is a moment that they create and control.”
“One speech can’t change the poll numbers, but it can start to change the national agenda,” Rick Shenkman, historian at George Mason University, told the Washington Post in a Sunday article. “He can use this to psychologically reset his presidency. If he shows the old Obama magic, he can reenergize his base. People may pay attention to him for a while, and a few things may start to go his way. Then everyone will look back and say the State of the Union was the moment when he started the ball rolling.”
Will the White House’s social media campaign succeed in wooing the masses? After 10 years of admittedly excellent speechmaking, one has to wonder whether Americans will succumb to Obama’s rhetorical “magic” so easily. As Ronald Reagan’s old speechmaker, Kenneth Khachigian, told TIME: “People are used to it,” and this “familiarity breeds contempt.”
The #insideSOTU campaign, then, is an attempt to freshen familiar rhetoric with one more new path to perceived participation. It could put a new spin on Obama’s old oratorical methods, or just fall as flat as the rest of his recent appeals. Tonight, we’ll find out.