Democratic presidential candidates will take to the debate stage for the first time June 26 and June 27 and social media is expected to play a critical role in determining which candidates are successful coming out of the debate.
Drew Margolin, professor of communication at Cornell University, studies the way people communicate online and the role of accountability, credibility, and legitimacy within social networks. He says that successful candidates will need to find a way to generate media coverage, potentially through social media, and particularly, Twitter.
“A great path to getting news media coverage, as President Trump showed in 2016, is getting Twitter talking about you. Generally, the way you create Twitter buzz is by being funny, using zingers or other punchy phrases that can be quoted/hashtagged and retweeted with gusto. As Trump showed, even negative buzz is good, especially for front runners, because it can suck attention away from challengers (remember during GOP debate when he talked about his ‘hands’).
“With so many candidates, though, we can expect a mix of strategies. Biden will act like he doesn't even know what Twitter is (he doesn't need it for attention, anyway). Others, especially the younger candidates with slim polls (Gabbard, Castro, Yang) will try to be creative in getting Twitter to pay attention to specific, serious ideas. For example, announcing a hashtag that solicits some kind of serious participation from the audience at home.”
Samuel Nelson, director of speech and debate programs at Cornell University, has taught debate for over 30 years and says that the big question looming over this debate is who will appear to do well enough to beat Trump.
“I think each candidate will try to do four things: 1) Not make a big mistake (a gaffe); 2) Come across as likeable; 3) Leave potential voters with the idea that they could be a good president by demonstrating ‘presidential’ leadership skills like courage and forthrightness; and 4) Demonstrate that they could take President Trump in debate.
“A key question will be: what does ‘presidential’ mean to the public? We’ve never had a women president – so when we watch Elizabeth Warren on the first night of debate, it is possible she will offer a new view of being ‘presidential’ in a short period of time. This could set a standard for the second night of debate.”