Wolf, Wagner relying on social media to reach voters directly

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

The two York County natives going head-to-head in the gubernatorial election are relying on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to deliver their messages directly to voters.

Incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, who didn't face a Democratic primary challenger, wasted no time after state Sen. Scott Wagner claimed the Republican nomination Tuesday, May 15.

The very next day, Wolf's campaign posted a video to the micro-blogging site Tumblr, which has 34 million users — nearly half of whom are between the ages of 16 and 24, according to Business Insider.

"For years, Wagner's been playing the Harrisburg game," a banner across the video reads. "Putting special interests over the people's interests ... Do we really want a guy like Scott Wagner as our governor?"

More:GOP picks state Sen. Scott Wagner to challenge Gov. Tom Wolf

Most recently, Wolf's team launched a digital campaign on Tumblr to "highlight how Scott Wagner would take Pennsylvania backward," according to a Tuesday, May 22, news release.

Gov. Tom Wolf and newly elected Lt. Gov. running mate John Fetterman (not pictured) speak to the media at Manchester Cafe in Manchester Township, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The campaign dropped two videos addressing Wagner's policies on education and health care that morning, calling him the "worst of Harrisburg."

Wagner's campaign is employing similar ads against the governor, but it's sticking to more conventional social media platforms like Facebook, or simply his website.

Scott Wagner is congratulated during an election party at Wyndham Garden York after it was announced that he won the Republican primary contest to challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

Wagner's campaign website reads, "Hard-working Pennsylvanians are being abused by a broken system in Harrisburg, and I believe they need a Governor who’s on their side — one who’s a lot more like them." 

The online marketing so far has been less aggressive than Wolf's, but it touts the same "I'm just like you" strategy — although both candidates are prominent local businessmen worth millions. 

Most recently, Wagner's Facebook page attacked Wolf over his disagreements with President Donald Trump's tax cuts.

More:Trump plan promises huge tax cuts, but big questions remain

"Governor Wolf is campaigning on taking those savings away from you," the ad reads. "The Governor is running to make you pay more to heat your home, I'm running to keep Harrisburg out of your wallet."

The candidates' untamed criticism is nothing new in politics and makes sense "because negative works," said David La Torre, president of La Torre Communications, a Harrisburg-based public relations firm. "We see that time and time again."

However, it remains to be seen how that tone plays on social media, where users tend to skew younger overall and more so on platforms including Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter.

Younger audiences might be more focused on the educational aspects of social media campaigns rather than aggressive ads, according to Shane Coolbaugh, 24, a York City resident and president of York County Young Democrats, a chartered branch of Pennsylvania Young Democrats.

Moderator Shane Coolbaugh, left, of the York County Young Democrats shares a hug with York County's NAACP chapter president Sandra Thompson, following her remarks regarding recent events of alleged discrimination at a local golf course, prior to the democratic debates for three contested Democratic primary races at Marketview Arts in York City, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"It comes down to the politician really telling their story over the platforms and also engaging with the people who comment and react to their content," he said. "When people feel like their political candidate or elected official is accessible to them, it breaks down the disenfranchised feeling that many people have felt for so long."

However, social media "cannot replace face-to-face interactions with people," Coolbaugh added.

Regardless of the nature of the messages, social media platforms are important tools for campaigns, according to La Torre.

"It's more important than ever to try and be creative with a political campaign," he said. "Websites like Tumblr are an effective tool because it helps to reach young voters. The ability to blog gives you an opportunity to communicate a message in a much more robust manner. Gubernatorial candidates definitely know what they're doing." 

In fact, both gubernatorial campaigns boast about their social media capabilities and how their respective efforts will lead to celebrations on election night.

"Social media is valuable and is the perfect platform to ignite conversations about what is important in Pennsylvania," Beth Melena, Wolf's communications director, said. "These conversations ultimately encourage people to see how powerful their voice is online."

Wolf will see an easy victory, she added.

"Our social media campaigns engage all Pennsylvanians with issues that they care about most," she said. "Gov. Wolf will defeat Scott Wagner because of the stark differences in their records."

Wagner's campaign mirrors Wolf's confidence.

More:York County as the center of Pa. politics: coincidence or overdue?

"While everything Gov. Wolf does, like a typical out-of-touch politician, is scripted and calculated, we will use social media so voters can get an authentic view of who Scott is and what he stands for," said Andrew Romeo, Wagner's campaign manager. "We're confident that our social media initiatives, like all the other aspects of our campaign, will be superior to Tom Wolf's."

In the end, whether these social media campaigns will make a difference depends on the audience, said Wade Gingerich, 50, who runs an online antiques and collectibles business and lives in York Township. 

"In today's political climate, for people who have been following state and local governments, social media will have little to no impact on the view of the candidates," he said. "I would suspect people who have voted in the primaries have already established in their mind who they will be voting for."

However, for the youth and those who aren't politically inclined, the messages can be more effective, Gingerich predicted.