Home What's Brewing? A YouTube Election

A YouTube Election

n America’s first YouTube, 24/7, video “view-all” election, the transparency reveals that it was the voters who were in charge — not the campaigns or news organizations.

Out of the top twenty videos focusing on president-elect Obama, only one was produced by his campaign. Three other Obama videos came from McCain’s headquarters, as viewers flocked to see sensational attack ads slamming the Democratic nominee as the latest celebrity. Most of the top videos, however, were created by ordinary people who were energized about politics and pop culture.

The most-viewed Obama video was a simple critique, Dear Mr. Obama, featuring Iraq War veteran Joe Cook, challenging Obama on foreign policy. It ultimately drew over 12.5 million views, far outpacing well-funded online video efforts by the campaigns and media organizations. Another top hit criticized a controversial clip from Fox News in which a guest joked about killing Obama, uploaded by an activist who blogs at DailyKos. Other crowd-pleasers are more irreverent.

Barack Roll, created by an Australian blogger in August, mashes up clips of Obama dancing with Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The song often accompanies “Rick Rolls,” (the popular web prank that draws in viewers with a fake title). Another hit mentioning Obama, 5 Friends Uncensored, taps the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio and Sarah Silverman in an ironic public service announcement for voting. In total, six of the top twenty Obama videos were made by citizens, and another ten were produced by independent groups.

Meanwhile, none of the top twenty YouTube videos about McCain were produced by his campaign. In fact, only one top McCain video came from his rival: Keating Economics, the documentary-style attack that Obama’s aides launched as an online exclusive to rebut attacks about Bill Ayers. Nine McCain hits were made by citizens and ten came from outside groups,
which ranged from the conservative Naked Emperor News website to the progressive Brave New Films, a new media organization run by director Robert Greenwald. He produced one of the most-viewed McCain videos, McCain’s YouTube Problem Just Became a Nightmare, which aggressively truth-squaded McCain with recordings of his past statements.

New-media content has clearly helped activate and sustain interest among young people. Take one rough barometer: visitors to the campaigns’ channels skew sharply towards young people of voting age. While 30 percent of YouTube’s viewers are between 15 and 19, according to TubeMogul, only about 10 percent of visitors to the campaign channels are in that cohort. People between 25 and 40, however, are dramatically overrepresented on both candidates’ channels. Thirtysomethings make up only about 9 percent of YouTube’s overall traffic, but they account for an impressive 20 percent of visitors to the campaign channels.

Ultimately, the diverse blend of independent, homegrown videos, lighthearted mashups and exclusive campaign clips made YouTube center stage for young viewers this season. All told, YouTube videos mentioning one of the presidential nominees drew over 2 billion views. Young people are watching, talking back and voting. [24×7]