Impact of Social Media on Americans’ Perception of Presidential Candidates and Elections

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Introduction: Insights from Diverse Voters Ahead of Wisconsin Debate

As the first Republican debate approaches in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a crucial event in the election calendar, a diverse group of voters gathers at a local bar to discuss the influence of social media on their views about the upcoming presidential election. This panel sheds light on how online platforms are shaping Americans’ opinions about the candidates and the election process itself.

Social Media’s Influence: Exploring Real Voter Perspectives

With an interest in understanding how social media affects the 2024 election, the author meets with voters who represent a spectrum of political viewpoints. For a year, they’ve been running an experiment through the Americast podcast, examining the content different US voters are exposed to on social media. Now, they seek to delve deeper into the tangible impact of such content on individuals’ perceptions of Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the overall election process.

Trump’s Inescapable Presence: Memes and Mixed Reactions

The panel of voters unanimously acknowledges the ubiquity of memes featuring former President Donald Trump. These humorous images depict him as a superhero or even in orange jail scrubs after supposed indictments. While some find these memes entertaining, others, like Andrew, who relies on social media for news, express a growing disillusionment with mainstream politics. The oversaturation of Trump-related content is leading to disinterest for some voters.

The Biden Portrayal: Criticism of Age and Memes

The current president, Joe Biden, also faces substantial online scrutiny. Videos highlight his age and moments where he appears to stumble over words, earning him the moniker “Sleepy Joe.” These portrayals have resonated with the panel, with their main critique being Biden’s age. While some memes exaggerate, they find truth in these depictions. The panel’s sentiments towards Biden vary, reflecting both positive and negative images circulating online.

Challenges and Reactions: Impact on Trust and Participation

The panelists voice concerns about social media’s effects on their trust in political figures and the electoral process. They discuss how memes, viral content, and narratives could undermine their faith in democracy. Andrew mentions feeling unsure about election rigging, leading to distrust in the government. Despite these concerns, the panelists express their intention to vote, emphasizing the importance of understanding the electoral process for building trust.

In-Person Unity vs. Online Division

A common sentiment among the panelists is that in-person conversations offer more positivity compared to the polarization they encounter online. They believe that people are not as divided as social media often portrays. The panelists appreciate engaging in respectful conversations that lead to understanding, recognizing the influence of social media algorithms that amplify divisions. They stress the need to seek common ground and engage with differing perspectives.

Conclusion: A Reflection on Social Media’s Role

The insights from this panel highlight the complex and impactful role of social media in shaping Americans’ opinions about presidential candidates and the election process. The prevalence of memes and content portraying candidates contributes to the formation of public perception. While social media’s influence can be divisive, there is a shared desire among these voters to foster unity and better understand the political landscape beyond the confines of online platforms.

SOURCE: Ref Image from Wall Street Journal

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