Friday, December 12, 2008

The YouTube Elections by: Carly Perez and Jennifer Donegan


The most important political venue of the year wasn’t the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO where the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was held, nor was it the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. You could guess that it was maybe one of the cities that held the Presidential debates, but you would be wrong. In fact, the most important political venue during this past 2008 Presidential election was right in everyone’s hands, YouTube. Between the political commercials that were posted by each, the republican and the democratic campaigns, and the user generated videos; YouTube has become a phenomenon and a huge player in politics.
Two of the most viewed videos of the 2008 Presidential Election were “Yes We Can” and “Dear Mr. Obama.” The celebrity packed “music-video” “Yes We Can” was inspired by President Elect Barack Obama’s concession speech given in the New Hampshire Primary on the 8th of January, 2008; the video is a repetitive and uplifting compilation of artists pouring their soul into those three very inspirational words, “Yes We Can.” This video was created by will-i-am and Jesse Dylan, Bob Dylan’s son, and aided with the collaboration of countless other famous and not-so-famous names was not a part of the Obama campaign. Its music-video style was targeted toward the young voter, to spread the word of “Change”, “Hope”, and what it means to vote.
The second viral video on YouTube that has generated the most “hits” during the 2008 election until now is the video, “Dear Mr. Obama”. This video, written, directed and produced by YouTube username “weneedmccain”, or Michael C. Brown, is a video of an injured American soldier speaking directly to the camera or, “Mr. Obama”. His speech is pointed towards President Elect Obama about the disrespect “he” feels that Obama expressed to millions of Americans when he called the war in Iraq a “mistake.”
Our content analysis of “Yes We Can” and “Dear Mr. Obama,” was broken down into two categories, the video content and the content within the comments for each video. Then within the two categories we evaluated them by the number of times they mentioned the presidential candidates, the amount the videos touched on the major issues of the election (the Iraq war, healthcare, economy, terrorism), and finally, we looked at the frequency of election “buzz words” (change, hope, and freedom).
Our content analysis was driven by our studies’ research questions:
• What were the issues addressed in the video content?
• How did viewers respond to these videos through comments?
• Is the YouTube content and the comments of these two videos reflective of the trends that occurred during the election?
Through our content analysis and answering of our research questions, we find conclusive evidence of major trends that occurred during this presidential election that were mirrored in YouTube and the media.

Literature Review/Background:

No longer relying on the daily newspaper and nightly broadcast, news consumers are now looking to the Internet as their dominant news source. In a 2008 study, the Pew Research Center found that before the primaries began 24 percent of Americans said they regularly learned something about the campaign from the Internet; almost double the percentage from a comparable point in the 2004 campaign.3 And more specific to the Internet, Web 2.0 has shown considerable impact on public consumption. Web 2.0 is a term used to describe the evolution of the World Wide Web, which has become an interactive conversation through social networking sites, blogs, and YouTube. With the mass popularity of the Internet and Web 2.0, their main following however, is from young people. Within the same Pew study eight percent of persons under the age of 30 citied YouTube as a campaign news source. YouTube, which is the fourth top site in the United States and has a traffic ranking of three according to the Alexa Web Information Company was having a significant impact on the way people formed their opinions on the election.
Signs of YouTube’s impact on the presidential election began as early as the summer of 2006, a time when during a typical election activity would have been limited. But this year was anything but typical, as one wrong word, mispronunciation, and regretful remark was quickly posted on YouTube and available for the masses to be played again and again and again.
This degree of availability on YouTube created an unattainable standard of perfection expected by the candidates and as a result would cost a candidate the race before it even truly began. This made the candidates need to get things right the first time crucial. In the New York Times article, “The YouTube Election,” the political arena was quick to criticize this new expectation marked by YouTube. “What’s happened is that politicians now have to be perfect from Day 1,” said Matthew Dowd, a strategist for President Bush in the article. A senior adviser to Senator Hillary Clinton added to Dowd’s point saying, “It is a continuation of a trend in which politicians have to assume they are on live TV all the time.”
This presidential election crossed new territory on all fronts. But YouTube was always at the forefront, which was evident when both the democratic and republic parties participated in the first-ever CNN YouTube debates during the summer of 2007. The YouTube debates made history; for the first time ever user-generated videos were used to ask the candidates questions. “YouTube enables voters and candidates to communicate in a way that simply was not possible during the last election,” said Chad Hurley, CEO and co-founder of YouTube in the online CNN article, “Your Voice to be Heard in Historic Debate.” “For the first time in the history of presidential debates, voters from around the country will be able to ask the future president of the United States a question in a video form and hear the answer.”
The YouTube debates were an early indication of the candidate’s ability to work with YouTube. Both McCain and Obama have and had throughout the duration of the election their own YouTube channels featuring speeches, events, and TV ads. Obama specifically took advantage of YouTube’s capabilities. During the primaries, Obama’s pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright was harshly criticized for his outspoken and highly controversial sermons. Many of Wright’s reckless sermons were posted on YouTube only aiding to the public’s distain for him, which was negatively impacting Obama. Obama however, fired right back with a rebuttal YouTube video of a speech he had made in Philadelphia. Obama’s quick response to the controversy through YouTube calmed the ciaos and attracted 5.3 million viewers.4
The progression of YouTube’s impact was evident up until the final months of the election. Initially reporting 24 percent for Americans who watched political YouTube videos, the Pew Research Center found that that number had increased to 39 percent by late October. The American public was taking an active role through YouTube by consuming and producing content for the first time in history. On the day of the election, 28 percent of voters said they had watched candidate’s speeches online.3 YouTube’s role throughout the course of this election was groundbreaking as candidates and the public took advantage of expressing their views and opinions like never before.
Our study focuses on user generated YouTube content. Specifically, a content analysis of the two most popular user-generated viral videos during the time of the election with no political affiliation, “Yes We Can” and “Dear Mr. Obama.”
Description of Video Content and Comment Content:
“Yes We Can” was released to the public viewers of YouTube on February 2nd, 2008 by will-i-am, a political activist musician and member of the popular music group The Black Eyed Peas. “Yes We Can,” is a four minute and 30 second long stylized music video and was awarded the first-ever Emmy Award for Best New Approaches in Daytime Entertainment.
The lyrics of this video are entirely derived from Barack Obama’s inspirational speech in New Hampshire. Musicians and actors echo Obama’s words, as his voice is a constant in the background. Produced by will-i-am and directed by Bob Dylan’s son, Jesse Dylan, this video was an asset to Obama’s campaign that combined the methods of education, inspiration, and celebrity in a fashion that was able to reach out to the youth vote.
Since it’s release on the YouTube channel WeCan08, the video “Yes We Can” has received over 14,419,306 viewers and is growing in viewership at a rate of about 300 or more viewers per twenty minutes. (12/7/2008). The channel itself has 4,827 subscribers, 104,355 channel views and about 1,176 “friends.” “Yes We Can,” has created strong reactions from viewers with a total of 87,507 comments. The following is a comment on “Yes We Can,” posted a month ago by YouTube user “bigpotatofive:”
I believe in Obama, but there is still plenty to fear, we cannot sit back and watch until the work is done and there truly is change. People take it for granted that even though Bush brought many problems, he kept America safe. Our enemies are patient and once we let our guard down, I will be disappointed but not surprised if we are attacked again. Don’t let your guard down.
“Dear Mr. Obama” is a short minute and 55 second video that pacts a powerful punch. The video features Sgt. Joe Cook, an Iraqi veteran, addressing Obama and his disrespectful comments towards the Iraq war. An excerpt from “Dear Mr. Obama” is as follows:
When you call the Iraqi war a mistake you disrespect the service and sacrifice of everyone who has died promoting freedom… Because you do not understand or appreciate these principles Sir, I am supporting Senator John McCain for president.
The video concludes with the veteran walking away revealing that he is an amputee, then the closing message appears, which reads, “John McCain for President, the day we lose our will to fight is the day we lose our freedom.” “Dear Mr. Obama,” was written, directed, and produced by Michael C. Brown, who goes by the YouTube alias, weneedmccain. Brown’s main reasons for creating “Dear Mr. Obama,” circulates around four main points; It is wrong for elected officials to call the war a mistake, officials complaining about the war is a moot point because neither candidate will be able to pull the troops out of Iraq for at least two years, the historical aspect of freedom and the fight against Tierney is what the United States is based upon and, the final point is to support the troops and their mission until they are able to come home.
“Dear Mr. Obama,” has received 13, 381, 492 views to date, has a four star rating, 47,266 ratings, and 3,234 comments. “Dear Mr. Obama” runs on Brown’s YouTube channel “weneedmccain.” The channel itself has 4,604 subscribers and 204,794 channel views. Because of the strong message that “Dear Mr. Obama” provides, comments were highly opinionated. The following is a comment posted by “msw47” a month ago:
The Iraq war has had such a negative view from the media. Quite a few Democrats believe they know everything that’s going on over there, which is not true for the most part. We need to finish the job so that leaders like Saddam don’t rise up again. The Iraqi government needs to stabilize itself in order for this not to happen again. I would’ve voted third party, but I just had to send a message to Obama that I am not supportive of his presidency.

With the content of “Yes We Can” and “Dear Mr. Obama” and the viewer reactions reflected in the comments we attempted to answer three research questions that shaped our study:
• What were the issues addressed in the video content?
• How did viewers respond to these videos through comments?
• Is the YouTube content and the comments of these two videos reflective of the trends that occurred during the election?
This study focuses on how the content of the videos and the viewers comments are reflective of overall trends of the election which are; The strong themes of hope and change synonymous with Obama and the “Obama obsession,” which has been evident in the media’s focus on him rather than McCain. The aim was to see how these videos and comments are reflective of these themes and trends, which we’ve been seeing all throughout this election year.
Our content analysis was broken down into two categories, the video content and the content within the comments for each video (we took a sample of the first 50 comments for each video). Within the two categories we evaluated them by the number of times they mentioned the presidential candidates, the amount the videos touched on the major issues of the election (the Iraq war, healthcare, economy, terrorism), and finally, we looked at the frequency of election “buzz words” (change, hope, and freedom).
To our knowledge, this type of research has never been conducted before which presented some challenges. One of the major challenges we faced was the inconsistent amount of comments, because comments were constantly being added. Because of this factor we decided to time stamp when we began evaluating the comments. The following is an example of our content analysis coding which we used to analyze each video:
Video: Dear Mr. Obama
Length: 13, 341, 957
Views: 47, 052
Comments: 3,234
Video Content
Mention of Candidates:
Obama: 1

Issues Mentioned:
Iraq War: 2
Terrorism: 1

Buzz Words:
Hope: 1
Freedom: 6
Vote: 0
Video Comments
Total: 50
In support of the video: 44
Not in support of the video: 6

Mention of Candidates:
Obama: 33
McCain: 38

Issues Mentioned:
Iraq War: 12
Terrorism: 5
Economy: 0
Health-Care: 0

Through our content analysis of “Dear Mr. Obama,” we found that the content of the video focused on the war and freeing the Iraqi people (figure 1.1). Figure 1.2 shows that the majority of the comments focused on the candidates with Obama having a 31 percent chance of mention and McCain having a 37 percent chance. Through our analysis of “Yes We Can,” we found that the content of the video overwhelmingly focused on the idea of change (figure 1.3). Figure 1.4 demonstrates that the comments for “Yes We Can” had a strong mention of Obama at 69 percent followed by a 22 percent chance of mentioning change.
While researching the viewer comments we found that the “Dear Mr. Obama” video had many more elaborate and educated comments from viewers that seemed to be genuinely interested in why the video creator created the video and what his thoughts were on certain subjects of the campaign. The comment board became a sort of “chat room” with many YouTube users repeatedly making comments as viewers expressed their thoughts and opinions to one another while being able to maintain an educated reproach. Overall the comments were in strong support of the video’s message and in strong support for McCain.
Although there were educated comments made for the “Yes We Can” video, the comments were much more reactive and off the wall. Many of the viewer comments were much more passionate than that of the “Dear Mr. Obama” video. Countless videos were cheers like “GO OBAMA” or very negative remarks against Obama. Overall however, the comments were mainly positive towards the video and its message.
Our study reveals that the content of the “Dear Mr. Obama” video focused on the war and Iraqi freedom, which correlated with the comments that focused on McCain and the need to vote. However, even with a 37 percent mention of McCain in the comments we found it interesting that a video in support of McCain was actually being directed towards Obama. And viewers made mention of Obama in their comments only six percent less times than McCain, although it was a video with a republican backing.
The content of the “Yes We Can” video focused on change, which correlated with the amount of comments that mentioned Obama (at 69 percent). Change was of course, the cornerstone of the Obama campaign in order to distinguish himself from President Bush and his failing policies.
This evidence answers our research question of “is the YouTube content and comments of these two videos reflective of the trends that occurred during the election?” The answer is “yes.” Overall the video content and the content within the comments were reflective of trends occurring in the mainstream media throughout the election; that is the landslide of coverage on Obama rather than McCain and the theme of change. Even when a video was in support of McCain, it is still directed towards Obama, and although the comments for “Dear Mr. Obama” were overwhelming in support of the message, Obama still had a high instance of relevance as viewers were more likely to debate the two candidates. This was not true for “Yes We Can,” where there was only a six percent mention of McCain while Obama was mentioned 69 percent of the time.
In conclusion we found that YouTube was a very effective tool in the elections especially for Obama and that the videos we analyzed were reflective of mainstream media.