No matter what your social media intake is, it’s hard to deny that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat play a large role in today’s American society. That doesn’t just stop at the polls, social media has shown it played a large role in the 2016 election and it is looking to do so again in 2020.
While 2016 was not the first presidential election of the internet age, it was the first of its kind in the meme age. Both major candidates took to the internet looking for support in different ways.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton famously told the American people to “Pokemon Go!” to the polls, a reference to the popular mobile game at the time. Clinton also posted a “Mannequin Challenge” video, jumping on the internet trend that challenged users to hold a pose with Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane’s “Black Beatles” as the background music.
Republican nominee and current President Donald Trump took a more unique approach. While President Trump already had a large Twitter following, which he maintains as a means of communication with his supporters, he also built a large following on the growing platform Reddit.
President Trump’s supporters mainly congregated on the subreddit r/The_Donald a group that is still ranked one of the most active on the platform. The subreddit consists of supporters commenting on current issues and posting memes, and has also hosted multiple right-wing figures for Q&A sessions, including the then-nominee during his time on the campaign trail in 2016.
Many Trump supporters from the subreddit refer to themselves as veterans of the “Great Meme War of 2016.” According to a Politico’s 2017 article titled World War Meme, “Part of the power of memes has always been their organic, grass-roots quality: They bubble up from the fever swamps of the internet, shrouded in anonymity, as agents of chaos and mockery.”
So what does this mean for 2020? Your opinion on how much of an impact memes had on the 2016 elections can vary, but with r/The_Donald still active, it is sure to play a role on the republican side of the election.
On the democratic side, one candidate has already begun trying to match President Trump’s internet presence with a meme campaign of his own.
In addition to spending an average of $1 million a day over the past two weeks on Facebook ads, according to NBC; Mike Bloomberg has also invested in a “Meme 2020” campaign. The campaign is a group of social media influencers with large followings that are accepting money in exchange for posting political memes on their profiles.
Only time will tell if Bloomberg’s attempt to spend his way to the democratic nomination will pay off. However, his approach to campaigning via online ads and memes rather than participating in non-Super Tuesday primaries is certainly unique and has drawn the attention of his potential opponent.
President Trump tweeted about the candidate last week, saying, “Mini Mike is a 5’4” mass of dead energy who does not want to be on the debate stage with these professional politicians. No boxes please. He hates Crazy Bernie and will, with enough money, possibly stop him. Bernie’s people will go nuts!”
While there may or may not be a “Great Meme War of 2020,” both sides are certainly showing a movement to social media and online presence in order to reach voters.