Earlier this week — 10 months before candidates for president of either party will be officially nominated — America saw a glimpse of a potential general-election fight, thanks to Twitter.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), taking exception to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s college-affordability plan, tweeted back a repurposed Clinton campaign graphic. Clinton’s campaign re-re-purposed that graphic, giving Bush an “F” on college affordability during his tenure as Florida’s governor.
Then the Bush campaign repurposed Clinton’s logo:
This is far from the first Twitter fight this cycle among presidential candidates, whose campaigns are increasingly tweeting at each other directly. The candidates rarely directly engage with each other on the campaign trail, but tweeting back and forth earns increased attention from supporters and the press alike.
Last week, for instance, Clinton took to Twitter first to condemn Bush’s comments that he was “not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” a comment he was quickly forced to clarify.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), another potential general-election opponent for Clinton, has also scuffled with the former secretary of state. Earlier this week, he jumped on Clinton’s comments about his push to cut state funding to universities, repurposing her graphic from the day before to allude to her established speaking fee.
Though presidential candidates spend months criticising each other in virtually every possible medium, direct confrontations on Twitter are part of several emerging campaign strategies to go viral and reach younger and different audiences that aren’t as tuned in to the day-to-day back-and-forth stories.
Tweets directed at other candidates, unsurprisingly, perform far better and reach far wider audiences than the average tweet. A Twitter spokesperson told Business Insider that Bush and Clinton’s most recent exchange received 5.8 million impressions. Twitter counts “impressions” as the number of times that a tweet has been seen by users.
In a fragmented media environment, the fights provide a space for candidates to get their unfiltered ideas out in front of a larger audience. Tim Miller, Bush’s communications director, told Business Insider that the tweets were successful in getting the attention of users who are not as politically engaged.
“Reaction has been very positive. You get feedback from people who don’t usually follow the day-to-day political news so you can reach a broader audience,” Miller said in an email.
Walker’s team also pointed Business Insider toward a string of pointed tweets directed at Clinton’s comments about him that garnered several stories on their own.
It’s part of a larger strategy by campaigns to reach younger, broader audiences that aren’t as frequently exposed to traditional radio and television campaign ads, on which campaign spend millions of dollars on each year. As more Americans get their news from social media, campaigns are looking for more so-called earned media.
The evolution of campaign-Twitter from a rigid, straightforward platform to disseminate information to one that is increasingly focused on viral content hasn’t been without criticism.
On Wednesday, for example, Clinton’s account asked users to describe their student debt in three emojis. It was quickly mocked by many political observers — and some in the press — for attempting to oversimplify a complex issue.
How does your student loan debt make you feel?Tell us in 3 emojis or less.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 12, 2015
But a cursory look at Clinton’s tweets shows how well it performed. Hundreds of users tweeted back emojis, far more than engaged with some of her more policy-heavy tweets than others.
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