The Obama Ideology and Distillation to Emotion
One of the clearest things about the Obama Campaign was its central ideology: hope and change. This message is as simple an idea as possible. It is a direct logical and emotional appeal. If people are not happy with their own situation or with how their government is being run, change is logical. If they are afraid about where the future will take them, they feel a need for hope. While other candidates elaborated on complex, technical plans to help America, Obama simplified his ideology into emotional messages. One person stated his opinion that:
"Obama does a great job of coming down to our level and not talking above our heads. He makes himself seem as common as you are (Bligh, Kohles 485)".
Pictures that emerged during the campaign, such as the one below, demonstrate Obama's ability to translate complex thoughts into simple, common emotions.
Watch a few minutes of the video below and you will begin to get a picture of charismatic,emotional leadership. Notice how Obama tries to involve the crowd in his speeches, rather than simply speaking to the people. In this way, he is making it easy for people to see themselves as part of a larger, national community. He inspires people to help him and to help inspire others. The easiest way to explore the national community created by the Obama Campaign is to discuss the means of circulation of campaign media and messages, since this was a highly cooperative and involved operation amongst Obama supporters.
Social Networks for Assisting Emotional Infection
The most fascinating aspect of the 2008 election was the use of mediums for gaining political power. For the first time in history, all candidates running for office in 2008, including both presidential and congressional candidates, used social networking sites to reach voters (Dutta, Fraser par 4). For this reason, the 2008 election has been called "The Facebook Election" In addition to regular social networking sites, Barack Obama created his own for helping people campaign for him (Stirland par 3). In this way, people could take part in the electoral process from their houses and team up with people around the country, creating a sense of national identity. The Campaign also made extensive use of text messaging. As Patricia Collins states:
"The 2008 Obama campaign, for example, used cell phones to organize populations who had difficulty imagining themselves as being in one community-Latinos, young people, African Americans, and women-and to link this national network to old-fashioned, place- and issue-based community organizing (17)".
She continues, discussing the way in which people could feel empowered by this technique:
"In essence, new communications technologies unsettle notions of a top-down public sphere, where elites control knowledge and public information...these changing patterns...may signal a fundamental shift from a hierarchal, top-down organization of power to a bottom-up, Web based organization...(17)".
Armed with Obama's social networking (myBarackObama or myBO) site and a database of voters' political leanings, volunteers made phone calls and house visits to make sure people voted for the right candidate. In addition, myBO allowed people to find people in their community that were actively campaigning and team up with them. On social networks such as facebook, people could spread the word to their friends of who they were voting for. These tactics were proven to be very effective after Obama won nearly 70 percent of the votes of people 25 and under (Dutta, Fraser para 2). Besides campaign volunteers, other people, such as famous musicians, found ways to contribute to the cause. An example is the music video below, created by William Adams (will.i.am), for the Obama Campaign. (Provided for example purposes only)
Political Environment and Public Reception
The political environment in America during the 2008 campaign was critical to the reception of the charisma displayed by Obama. Crisis times were upon America and people needed someone to think for them and assure them that everything would be okay. Speaking from after the election, one person asserts the difficulty of the times:
"I don't think he's lost his charisma. I just think he's dealing with some serious issues, and that's taken his attention" ("The Case of the President's Missing Charisma").
The seriousness of these issues gave people a strong desire for a strong leader.