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David Pendered

Social media campaign may be energizing Gen Y’ers who don’t show up in polls, could swing outcome

By David Pendered

A great unknown in the campaign for the transportation sales tax is the effect of the social media campaign that’s tailored for young voters – most of whom are presumed to support the tax in order to expand transit.

Traditional campaign measures may not capture these voters. It’s not even clear from the crosstabs of recent polls how voters were contacted. If pollsters used only phone calls on landlines, there’s a good chance the results don’t reflect opinions of the 20-something year olds who tend to communicate on smart phones with calls, emails, texts and Tweets.

Atlanta bike

This bike sail is free and being advertised in a Twitter conversation about Metro Atlanta’s transportation sales tax campaign. Credit: http://bit.ly/Q2TbLY #TIA2012 #TSPLOST

These Generation Y voters could emerge as a significant part of any possible silent majority that will mobilize to pass the referendum. The way things look now, the vocal majority is poised to shoot the referendum down in flames, according to a July 11 poll by WSB-TV that showed support from just 33 percent of likely voters.

A more positive sense of the campaign than is evident in the polls appears on some of the Twitter pages where the tax is discussed.

For instance, there’s fair amount of chatter about Emory Farmers Market, a weekly event open on Tuesdays.

The main buzz is about how shoppers this Tuesday will have a chance to participate at 12:30 p.m. in a summertime ritual: A watermelon seed spitting contest. Plus, Parsons Farms is in the news for planning  to bring products described on the market’s Facebook page as, “The last juicy peaches of the season, as well as fresh and delicious blackberries!”

A smaller buzz, but a buzz nonetheless, is that absentee ballots also will be available at the farmers market.

The ballots will appear as a courtesy of Emory University’s Office of Sustainability. Absentee ballots can be used by any voter, and there’s no need for the voter to explain why he or she can’t go to the polls to cast a ballot on election day.

Vote No Tsplost (TIA 2012)

Opponents of the proposed transportation sales tax are spreading their message through social media. Credit: https://twitter.com/NoTSPLOST

The voter outreach event at the farmer’s market is likely to reach a set of voters who are completely estranged from those who were the target of a traditional media event Monday morning.

The morning event included high-ranking executives who gathered to, as the press release said: “Bring awareness to a critical transit project for the region and the Clifton Corridor.”

The project is the proposed $700 million MARTA rail line that’s to link the Emory area with MARTA’s Lindbergh Station, in Buckhead. More than 10,000 riders a day are forecast to use the route, and it is to facilitate more than 250,000 potential individuals who want to work at one of the Emory-area job centers.

The media event is part of the traditional ground game of electoral politics. The farmers market event, not so much.

In traditional practice, a media event is staged for TV cameras to set up in front of a podium, with reporters in the second row. Speakers – either politicians and civic leaders, or Joe and Jane Sixpack – talk about why voters should see things their way.

MAVEN postcard 2:2

A forlorn child is a main image in a glossy brochure sent to voters by MAVEN. Credit: Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network

The idea is to create a news story that will sway opinion through the speakers’ prestige, or because voters can relate to the Everyman standing behind the microphone. Studies show that viewers give news stories more credibility than paid advertisements.

This traditional approach is the one evident in the TV ads, and the big postcards and brochures delivered to mailboxes, that urge voters to support the sales tax.

These are the messages that grab people by the collar and seem to state: “Look at this picture of traffic congestion and a child sitting alone. Now, do your part and vote yes for the sales tax.” These are not the messages that reach out to the sort of voter who uses social media to keep abreast of local events.

Opponents also are active in social media. Some of the messages are quite clear:

“ATL Chamber Of Commerce provides list of politicians who don’t support TSPLOST. Reward them with your vote! http://politicalvine.com/politicalrumor … ‪#NoTSPLOST‬

`MAVEN postcard 1-A:2

This glossy brochure emphasizes the amount of time commuters cannot spend with their families because of time spent in traffic congestion. Credit: MAVEN

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. SpaceyG July 17, 2012 9:58 am

    Hashtags are cute. Very useful even. Especially for gauging “buzz.” Love ’em longtime myself. However, no one has yet to EVER prove or show that they (Gen-Y users of hashtags and social media shares and such) send a Tweet then march (bike) right to the polls. No, they sit around and stare into screens and slouch in a nonchalant manner over at Octane, mostly. But oh how I wish at least a tiny fraction of the large (now mostly failed, according to Saporta) marketing campaign could have gone to poll on whether Gen-Y lovers/users of social media have ever even once gotten up and gone to vote for something so macro, so local, so something other than Obama for POTUS in ’08.  Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia July 17, 2012 8:38 pm

       {{“But oh how I wish at least a tiny fraction of the large (now mostly failed, according to Saporta) marketing campaign could have gone to poll on whether Gen-Y lovers/users of social media have ever even once gotten up and gone to vote for something so macro, so local, so something other than Obama for POTUS in ’08.”}}
      And therein lies the rub on this whole convoluted process of the Georgia Legislature asking the voters whether critical infrastructure improvements to the road and rail network should be made, as if critical transportation infrastructure improvements are somehow optional.
      I find it to be rather strange that our direct economic and civic competitors in Dallas don’t seem to regard important improvements to their transportation network as being in the least bit optional as the State of Texas is spending $5 billion on just one project alone to double-deck the I-635/LBJ Freeway Loop across the Northside of Dallas in order to accommodate rapidly-increasing volumes of freight truck traffic.
      Dallas is also continuing to expand their rail transit network as the Dallas Region now has 130 centerline miles of rail transit track compared to only 48 centerline miles of rail transit track for Atlanta which started building out their rail transit network roughly about 15 years or so before Dallas.
      The Dallas Region and the State of Texas did not ask the voters if these transportation projects should be funded, the political powers-that-be in the Dallas Region and the State of Texas just went and out did their jobs that the voters elected them to do and came up with the money.
      The Georgia Legislature should not have to ask the voters to do the constitutionally-mandated jobs that the voters have already elected them to do in keeping the transportation infrastructure in a state of good working order. 
      Critical transportation infrastructure improvements to the road and rail network should not be about how many Gen-Yers and Xers can be duped into voting to affirm the horrifically-bad transportation policy of our incompetent policymakers.Report

  2. Ready2Drive July 17, 2012 3:46 pm

    The Facebook page for the Untie Atlanta page has been quite active.  With over 5,000 likes and active engagement on a daily basis, Gen-Y users are definitely tuned in.  There are also numerous events that have been posted to the Facebook page showing people out and about at festivals, rallies and things of that nature registering to vote and picking up absentee ballots.  Some of which I have seen for myself.   There is also the Tweet Up that was held last Wednesday that discussed the transportation referendum and people were actively asking questions and discussing the issue.  Some of which I have seen for myself.  So although you may think social media has not had an impact on this campaign that is completely false.  Report


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