The Presidential Candidates vs. Selfies

By
Presidential Candidate Senator Bernie Sanders Townhall Meeting At St. Ambrose University
Senator Bernie Sanders poses for a selfie.Photo: Daniel Acker/© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

The New York Times, always on the bleeding edge of trends, is now sort of out in front and calling 2016 “The Selfie Election.” The paper takes a look at the extra pressure selfies are likely to put on candidates as they work crowds and fund-raisers, as well as how those candidates and their staff feel about the phenomenon. They report that the selfie gauntlet following a campaign appearance can now add as much as two hours on to the event for a candidate, and hint that it may soon be possible to do a kind of power ranking based on how deftly politicians can efficiently handle or take advantage of selfie requests.

The Times claims that Jeb Bush, as an example, comes pre-equipped with a “selfie stick of an arm” thanks to his six-foot-three-inch height — and that’s not even factoring in his selfie tutoring skills:

Other politicians are developing their own abilities as well. Apparently the barrage has definitely made Scott Walker a better photographer, while Rand Paul has not only learned the term “us-ie,” but his campaign staff now sets up branded backdrops so they can do some marketing through the images. 

Most candidates didn’t go on the record with deep thoughts about the practice, though Ben Carson penned an op-ed against selfies earlier this year (in short: dangerous narcissism!). Lindsey Graham is a fan, though, calling selfie-taking “the beauty of American democracy.” The senator, who apparently doesn’t know how to search Twitter, went on to suggest, “I don’t think Putin really does this.”

Meanwhile, another sub-trend to watch is the growing likelihood of media members wanting candidate selfies as well:

But of course, the main uncertainty candidates face is whether the selfie request is from an actual supporter or someone just looking for a social-media trophy. Case in point, the Times also talked to Iowa-based lobbyist and compulsive candidate-selfie collector Maggie Fitzgerald, who is out for the whole set:

She is undecided in the race, but said she gained some insight into the candidates by their demeanor during selfies. “Most of them aren’t stiff about it,” Ms. Fitzgerald added. “Some of them might be. But they shouldn’t be president.”

Luckily, America isn’t alone in this ordeal, as the British have just gone through their own Selfie Election, at least so far as U.K. commentators and political strategists proclaimed in the midst of the recent campaign there. Here’s how British Wired’s James Temperton summarized that trend this past April:

Out on the campaign trail people don’t care about David Cameron’s long-term economic plan, nor do they want to hear about Ed Miliband’s “fairer deal” – they want selfies. And then there are the photos of the people taking selfies – behind-the-scenes shots of the great unwashed pressed up against the political elite, selfie-taking arms outstretched, teeth bared. It is, perhaps, a damning indictment of political apathy that the general election is reduced into a mad dash to capture a blurry, awkward photo of Nick Clegg pretending to smile outside a pub.

And fair warning: The most selfied candidate in the U.K. election, it seems, was the roundly defeated Ed Miliband, thus proving how all that camera-phone love means little when it comes to actual support.