#Hashtag2016: How Twitter Is Already Impacting The Presidential Election

by Morgan Chalfant

Election season is trending.

As candidate after candidate announces his or her bid for the White House in 2016, it becomes all the more clear the utter value Twitter provides to those seeking their respective parties' presidential nominations.

Ever since President Obama's White House sent out its first tweet on May 1, 2009, Twitter has provided an incredibly useful and efficient medium through which politicians can communicate with and engage voters, especially those who belong to the Millennial generation.

Now that the 2016 presidential election is upon us, candidates more than ever are finding multiple uses for the social media site in an effort to both raise their profiles ahead of their Oval Office bids and to also maintain engagement as they break out into official candidacy.

Many high-profile candidates have used Twitter to respond efficiently to controversies so their words can be spread even more widely than they would be from a videotaped news conference or written statement.

Hillary Clinton, for example, took to Twitter first to personally respond to the private email scandal that plagued the former Secretary of State throughout the month of March.

"I want the public to see my email," she tweeted Mar. 4, two days after The New York Times story broke about her use of a personal email account while at State. "I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible."

More recently, likely GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush delivered a brief explanation via tweet for his misidentification of himself as "Hispanic" on a 2009 voter registration form, which was again reported by The New York Times.

"My mistake! Don’t think I’ve fooled anyone!" Bush wrote hours after the report surfaced. It was a point he emphasized 24 hours later in a statement while visiting Colorado.

While Twitter presents an excellent medium through which to exercise scandal control, it has also proved invaluable for candidates as they alert voters — young, social media savvy Americans, in particular — of their impending presidential announcements.

Republican candidates for president Ted CruzRand Paul and Marco Rubio blasted not-so-subtle hints of their big announcements on Twitter to keep voters on edge about their official presidential campaigns.

While Cruz made his verbal announcement to a crowd of Liberty University students in Lynchburg, VA, his campaign officially kicked off with one simple tweet accompanied by a video message.

"I'm running for President and I hope to earn your support!" the Texas senator tweeted around midnight before giving life to his campaign during his first speech as an official candidate.

Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio followed suit, all posting tweets announcing their candidacy.

Paul preceded his announcement with a challenge for supporters to post photos of themselves on social media with the hashtag #StandWithRand.

As the Kentucky senator's Twitter account retweeted some of the most powerful photos, the move was truly voter engagement at its finest (and most technologically fashionable).

The 140-character tweets also present a pithy way in which presidential hopefuls can strike their foes from the competing party.

For instance, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is believed to be gearing up to run for the GOP nomination, hit back at President Obama last week on Twitter for accusing him of suggesting a "foolish approach" to the Iran nuclear deal.

Rand Paul took it a step further earlier this year when he targeted two of his potential Republican competitors on social media.

In particular, Paul used Twitter to troll Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney for their chumminess ahead of the 2016 election. Romney, of course, decided to take himself out of the race before it even began.

No matter the candidate, Democrat or Republican, it appears all the 2016 presidential hopefuls have been taking notes from President Obama's successful employment of social media during his own 2012 campaign.

It was widely believed, of course, Obama won the Twitter war against GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

For instance, whereas Obama's Twitter account posted 37 tweets during a key 2012 debate, Romney's Twitter handle sent out only two tweets.

It's not hard to imagine which presidential candidate presided over the more successful Millennial outreach strategy on social media.

Even though only a handful of candidates have officially announced their presidential bids, it appears #2016 will be a competitive race, at least as far as Twitter is concerned.