Social media highlights & lowlights in California election campaign

150 150 John Guenther

It’s Election Day. While many will be glued to their TV’s to watch states go blue or red, others will take in the election exclusively on social media only…or possibly watch both at the same time.

And before people drop their ballot, they’ll have been bombarded by election ads on TV. But, a Nielsen study showed people are watching live TV less and younger people are watching video online more than any group.

So, would political campaigns pull out all the stops on social media this time around?

When a young woman recently told Gov. Brown that she doesn’t watch TV, he later pondered with his wife about how to reach those people: “Maybe an ad on rock ‘n’ roll radio.”

Let’s call that Plan B, Governor. State Senator Darrell Steinberg had a different answer. “Get on Facebook. Do the Twitter,” said the Senate President pro tem, out promoting Prop 30–or a new dance craze named after the social media tool.

The campaigns for all propositions in California raised more than $250 million by the end of October.

Related: Take a look at our 2012 CAFwd Ballot Breakdown to catch up on your proposition details.

With all that cash at the ready, what does the Internet-only battle over propositions look like in California, 101 years after the state adopted the initiative process? The answer is: it depends on money, time and the subject of your proposition.

  • Yes on Prop 38 was well-funded and opened up accounts for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even the Google+, yet the proposition didn’t catch fire and is well behind in the polls.
  • No on Prop 35 didn’t have a big campaign war chest and had no social media presence, only a website. It won “Vote No” from both the LA Times and the Sacramento Bee, but surveys show the proposition is favored to win handily. Maxine Doogan, campaign director of the No on 35 campaign, told Neon Tommy she didn’t have the time or volunteers to work on social media.

“I don’t have the ability to do it,” Doogan said. “No volunteers, nobody paid to answer all the emails…nor to be able to keep the website updated. We don’t have enough people.”

Most proposition campaigns signed up for Twitter and Facebook accounts and most used Twitter to share the latest endorsements.

Let’s take a closer look at some highlights and lowlights in the social media campaigns for the propositions:


The Yes on Prop 37 campaign was one of only two that took advantage of Pinterest. And it’s no wonder: If people will pin up pictures of food and recipes up on their personal Pinterest pinboards, why not use it for a prop involving food?

No on 34 had their own pro-death-penalty Pinterest account but it was a small but grizzly pinboard only featuring six murders from a victims’ advocacy site.


No on 37 took advantage of the visual benefits of using Facebook, making their cover photo a simple graphic showing all the newspapers that have come out against 37 and GMO labeling.

In the big battle over Prop 32, there was a “Battle of Special Interest Infographics” with both sides well aware that infographics have a good chance of going viral.

Yes on 32 put up their “invitation” mockingly highlighting a politician’s fundraiser where you get a tailored suit and political influence for donating.

No on 32 countered with their own simple infographic, showing what groups are against Prop 32 and who would be exempt from Prop 32. Spoiler alert: The No on 32 folks claim it’s the same list.

Yes on 36 decided charts of their wide lead in polling of their Three Strikes reform was the way to share on Facebook and even titled it “Winning!” Charlie Sheen from two years ago might be proud.

Yes on 39 rode the coattails of the Giants in the World Series in a picture of an aerial advertisement for their tax on out-of state corporations. The campaign also tried to ride the wave of Internet memes and shared their own.


When you have Yes-on-38 money to spend, you can take the time to create accounts for all kinds of social media, even using Google+ (despite many brands not knowing what to do with their Google+ accounts).

No on 34 also went the Google+ route to post op-eds coming out against Prop 34 and adding more victim’s stories to their wall.


The No on 33 campaign, with no discernable Facebook or Twitter presence, did look to the The Walking Dead for inspiration. And why not? Zombies have never been bigger. They employed some people in gruesome makeup in a YouTube video to characterize 33 and 32 as “zombie propositions.”

If you’ve got high-profile backers like Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown like Yes on 30, you make sure you have a YouTube channel to let them talk. Then you can also share the whiteboard-themed video to boil things down and have State Controller John Chiang explain the basics for voters.

Interactive Campaigns

It’s easy to share a photo or endorsement but creating an interactive campaign element shows another level of time commitment, spending–and hope that people will share the heck out of them.

Again with Prop 38 money, you can create a “Benefits Calculator” which will try to demonstrate to voters the local benefits to passing the tax-for-schools proposition.

Yes on 35 even held a contest for schools to win a forum on human trafficking with actress Jada Pinkett Smith to be held on the winning campus.

Dubious Honors in Social Media Campaigning

Just like No on 35, the campaign for No on 36 did not have a big presence on social media touting the benefits of Three Strikes, but it did post two news segment videos on their site–one from 1994 and 1997.

Finally, in the campaigns surrounding Prop 39, the Yes campaign benefited from raising $23 million dollars and created social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Unfortunately for No on 39, the campaign only raised $45,000 and generated a site that is still under construction.

All that said, as shown with Prop 38, a large campaign chest and full-fledged social media strategy do not guarantee a win at the polls. But, with the way media is being consumed by younger demographics, there’s no doubt we’ll see more sophisticated digital campaigns become a standard feature.


John Guenther

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