Sanders Campaign Wields Social Media to Great Advantage

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has developed a successful presence on social media, which was evident during a rally in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, May 9.

by / May 10, 2016
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in Sacramento, Calif. Monday, May 9. Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Even before presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders saddled up to the podium in front of more than 16,000 people Monday, May 9, the charge of the Sacramento crowd was already reverberating support into cyberspace through social media channels.

The argument has been well made that other presidential candidates, like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have basked in more than their fair share of the limelight when it comes to the mainstream media outlets — nonetheless, support for Sanders remains. 

On the LexisNexis U.S. Presidential Campaign media tracker, which looks at aggregated data from the last 30 days, the number of articles, Web or broadcast pieces about Sanders come in substantially below his competition.

The Tyndall Report, which examines the nightly news broadcast of ABC, CBS and NBC, also showed a significant disparity between nightly news coverage of the campaigns, citing that in the first 11 months of 2015, Trump received 234 minutes of coverage, while Sanders only received 10 minutes. 

During Monday’s rally, there was a clear sense that the crowd was disappointed in the coverage — or lack thereof — coming out of traditional news sources. This feeling quickly played out online, where supporters began to share articles illustrating the lack of mainstream coverage and naming media outlets in an attempt to draw attention to the cause. 

But there is question as to whether access to traditional media channels is the true source of the candidate’s political power. Some might point to the groundswell seen across social media platforms as a driving force behind Sanders' bid for the presidency.


The crowd at Sen. Bernie Sanders' rally held up smartphones to stream video and share images with their social media friends and followers. Photo by Eyragon Eidam.

Perhaps more than any other candidate, the Vermont senator’s camp has wrangled online assets into a powerful tool for spreading his messages about racial equality, affordable health care and calls for a national $15 minimum wage. 

Where you once might have seen hundreds of BIC lighters or campaign signs lofted at a political rally, at Monday’s event the new symbol seemed to be the smartphone, streaming video and sharing images directly with outside viewers around the country.

On the whole, the online support across the multitude of social media platforms has been a fundamental part of Sanders' vie for executive office to this point, said Campaign Digital Media Director Hector Sigala.

“Social media has been a really big part of this campaign. We haven’t had a lot of coverage in the mainstream media, but we’ve had a lot of coverage online,” he explained. “Our supporters are one of the most enthusiastic group of supporters online, and what I mean by that is you can find 1,000 groups on each platform like Sacramento for Bernie or Bay Area for Bernie … every little thing you can find a full Bernie group on…” 

While one could easily make a case that all of the 2016 candidates are leveraging social media to deliver their brands to the voting masses, Sigala notes that Sanders’ supporters are particularly engaged, arguably because of their age and experience in the social space.

“We have been trying to harness all of the energy we see online and turn it into votes,” he said. “So there really is no big secret sauce, you know? What we are seeing at rallies and pretty much every metric out there is that young people, many of them for the first time, are getting really excited about Bernie’s candidacy. It’s not because Bernie is some cool, hip guy; it’s just really that his ideas are appealing to folks.”  

Most interestingly, much of the material coming out of the campaign’s social feeds is not the inflammatory political attacks typical of an election year. The social media team focuses on issues that resonate with their base and use metrics to keep the conversation flowing with online communities.

Particularly with social media, Sigala said the tool has helped to connect Sanders’ ideas to millennial voters whom he notes are largely disenfranchised with the state of the current political system and have a stake in issues like student debt and the minimum wage.

Behind his computer screen in Washington, D.C., the digital media director said he watched as #BernieinSacramento trended through the evening, and was still trending late Tuesday evening.

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.