The digital army behind Sanders, explained.
Onstage in front of California Democrats during the first weekend in June, Bernie Sanders warned that there is “no middle ground” on issues such as abortion and health care, taking a thinly veiled swipe at fellow presidential candidate Joe Biden. Soon after, Sanders’s campaign and online grassroots supporters, including ones in a behind-the-scenes Slack group devoted to his support, began to spread a #NoMiddleGround hashtag across the internet, and it started trending. By Monday, volunteers in that Slack channel had created a “No Middle Ground” Facebook group, complete with custom graphics, which they used to spread his message even further.
It’s an example of the power of Sanders’s online edge. He may have lost the Democratic nomination in 2016, but his campaign’s online savvy was on par with that of Donald Trump, who harnessed populist support on social media (not to mention an assist from Russia) to help catapult himself to the White House.
Digital strategy in politics is focused on raising money and adding to email lists, not necessarily persuading undecided voters, according to Travis Ridout, a professor of government and public policy at Washington State University. The money politicians raise through digital they can then use for television ads, which, while less targeted, may be more successful in reaching and persuading broad swaths of voters — it’s harder to skip over a TV commercial than an online video.