Social media and immigration comms are the 2016 trends to watch

The GOP has learned its lesson from 2012 on social media; not so much on immigration.

Two huge — HUGE, as Donald Trump would say — 2016 trends have emerged in recent weeks but really came into focus in the past seven days: the changing candidate social media landscape and the significant shift in Republican messaging on immigration. 

Both will have implications throughout the primary process, the general election, and even the next few election cycles. 

Let’s start with social and how the game has changed since 2008 and 2012. For one, don’t expect the social media landscape to be the wholly owned territory of the Democrats this time around. After establishing themselves as the dominant party in digital in the last two presidential election cycles, the Democrats will have to work much harder to own the conversation this time around. 

Some great work by The Hill shows why. Which candidate has the most Facebook likes? Donald Trump, and in second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth are Republicans. Hillary Clinton comes in seventh with 1.1 million likes, Bernie Sanders in eighth with 1 million. 

Twitter is a different story with Hillary Clinton leading the pack with 4 million followers, trailed by a pack of seven Republicans. On Instagram, Trump and Clinton are the only candidates with six-figure follower counts (Clinton has 217,000, while Trump is close to 300,000). 

Some caveats: The hotly contested GOP battle royal has gotten the lion’s share of media coverage, and the party’s parade of candidates ensures Republicans will dominate lists like this. However, it also shows they are determined not to be left in the dust on social media any longer.

It’s also a matter of quality, not just quantity. Republicans are better and more natural at using social media this time around. That’s led to some fun-to-follow feuds between the candidates’ official accounts, and those of high-ranking staffers.

Will any campaign throw a punch on social media that’s the political equivalent of Oreo’s Super Bowl "Dunk in the Dark" post, one that actually changes minds as well as entertains? That’s something to watch as the primaries go on.

The more far-reaching trend that unfolded this week is the Republicans’ growing embrace of hard-line immigration policies.

No doubt spooked by Trump’s early but nonetheless substantial lead in GOP polls, other candidates are echoing his stance on halting the flow of immigration, most notably Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor, whose campaign is off to a disappointing start, changed course with a hard right turn on immigration this week, saying that he, too, would build a wall on the US border with Mexico.

What’s bound to be even more problematic for Republicans is the strong stance that Trump and other candidates have taken against automatic citizenship for children born in the US. Some even used the term "anchor babies," which is especially offensive for many Hispanic-Americans.

This is much more a calculated communications strategy – or just posturing – than a serious policy proposal. Amending the Constitution to change the 14th Amendment, a process that would require two-thirds approval by both houses of Congress and ratification by a vast majority of states, is a non-starter. And then there’s the political reality: angering the fastest-growing and increasingly influential Hispanic voting bloc just isn’t very smart.

Flash back to November 2012. As pundits dissected how President Obama won a second term by defeating Mitt Romney, one statistic stuck out above the rest. Seventy-one percent of Latinos voted for the incumbent versus 27% for his Republican challenger, according to the Pew Research Center. Other calculations found that Obama won as much as 75% of the Latino vote.

Think Mitt Romney would like a do over on his right turn on immigration in the 2012 primaries?

Frank Washkuch is news editor at PRWeek.

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