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The Divide & Conquer Election of 2012


Dianne G. Bystrom, Mary C. Banwart and Mitchell S. McKinney

alieNATION presents research conducted by a national election team and leading scholars in political communication that explores a range of important topics and variables affecting voter attitudes and behavior in the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
In exploring the messages, issues, and voters of the 2012 election, these studies employ multiple methods including experimental design, content analysis, rhetorical criticism, and survey research. Whereas other election research tends to investigate either the content or effects of campaign communication, the more comprehensive and systematic nature of this collection enables alieNATION to cohere thematically around considerations of voter alienation, political engagement, political efficacy, and ultimately, citizens’ voting decisions.
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Chapter Five: “No One Puts Baby in a Binder”: The Resonance of Social Media Messages with College Students During the 2012 Presidential Campaign


← 78 | 79 → CHAPTER FIVE


The Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns both competed for the support of key voting demographics, saturating the social media environment with campaign messages during the 2012 presidential election. In particular, both campaigns targeted women through tailored online appeals. In the 2008 presidential election, 10 million more women than men voted (Casserly, 2012; Riccardi, 2012) and Obama won a majority of the female vote. Yet, in the 2010-midterm elections, more women supported the Republican Party (Doocy, 2012; Pew Research Center, 2010).

This chapter explores how the presidential campaigns’ gender-based social media messages resonated with young female voters. Since these female college students have grown up in a time when many rights for women (i.e., access to health care, birth control, and reproductive choice) may be taken for granted, it was unclear as to how campaign messages focused on women’s issues and aimed at activating their gender identities would resonate with young female voters.

Both campaigns framed their messages about women’s issues in divergent ways. Romney used a “family” frame and an “economic” frame when talking about issues affecting women, whereas Obama used “civil rights” and “female independence” frames. Citizen-generated “memes” commenting on current developments in the campaign added to the gender-focused messages in political discourse, referencing the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign; Patrick Swayze’s character from the movie “Dirty Dancing”; and a cultural icon of female empowerment from World ← 79...

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