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The Catch The Wave of The 2010 Election

December 4, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

Compared to past U.S. Presidential Elections, what made the 2008 Election different was the use of Social Networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. Pundits and media leaders gave the Obama campaign better grades in reaching out to younger voters, college-educated urban demographic sector, and women (the latter and senior citizens comprise two of the fastest-growing user groups on Facebook).

Later, SN had unexpected roles in the post-election Iran turmoil, the “Arab Spring” political (and military) uprisings in the Middle East (especially in Egypt), the continuing U.S. “Occupy Wall Street” social movement, and incidents like the Chilean miner near-tragedy and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

In the Hawaii State 2010 Gubernatorial race, Social Networking played a significant community-building role. The best strategic decision by then-Hawaii First District Congressman Abercrombie was to let young supporters (especially in urban Honolulu and others on the Neighbor Islands) run his SN campaign. The Republican response did not match the fevered, focused Internet and mobile Twitter-led @exhortations that led to packed campaign meetings and a resurgence of Democratic voter turnout.

The 2002 loss of the traditionally-Democratic Governor’s seat was clear mandate reflecting the frustrations of voters for a change; the Republican victory led to Governor Linda Lingle’s two terms, and the rise of Duke Aiona as the Republican Gubernatorial nominee against a returning Neil Abercrombie.

After the SN impact of November 2010, every Hawaii election – from Neighborhood Boards to U.S. Congress – will feature Social Networking. Some political candidates shall confuse a vast investment of time and resources on SN as “winning” the SN race. However, the goal is to provide an easy virtual “place”, like a neighborhood coffee shop, where people congregate and create their own discussions and points about the candidate – the less the candidate intrudes or organizes the SN “community”, the more likely there is a faster groundswell of support.

Drawing a historical analogy, television played a significant role in the 1970 epochal Governor’s Democratic primary race between John A. Burns and his former Lieutenant Governor Thomas Gill. A 30-minute video with a smooth storyline (“Catch A Wave”*) -- plus many short testimonial commercials bombarding the evening TV programs -- revealed a “human”, compassionate Governor Burns and revisited his support of Japanese-Americans from internment during World War II. This pioneering use of TV to shape voters’ perceptions (now an essential part of any political campaign) revolutionized that race, barely 11 years after Statehood, and Governor Burns won the primary, then the general.

The re-election of Governor Burns** led to a string of successful campaigns by Democratic Party Governors Ariyoshi, Waihee, and Cayetano – up to the 2002 race, so the successful use of television in the 1970 primary election had long-term consequences up to the 21st century.

Today Social Networking can be a positive transformational tool for political candidates, yet it swiftly can become a Pandora’s Box. An “open” community can easily shift from an online/mobile booster club to a cabal of negativity and discontent.

It is one thing to run a hard-fought political campaign, yet another to deal with new job creation, the aging road/transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, sustainable energy, and public education + the State Legislature and the State government. The week of APEC-related Oahu/Waikiki traffic woes in early November that deflected many Hawaii residents’ focus seems ages ago, and it is back to the last months of 2011, barely a year after the climatic 2010 Election.

*A book with the same title by journalist Tom Coffman is an excellent analysis of the 1970 election.

**One of Governor Burns' best remembered lines (his nickname “Old Stoneface” offers a clue to his lack of enthusiasm for speaking) was: “My job isn’t to take stands. My job, like any other Chief Executive’s job, is to make things work. Any damn fool can take stands.”


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