Republican lawmakers embrace new interactive YouTube platform

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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They may be a little older, but lawmakers — particularly Republicans — are finally becoming a part of the YouTube generation, thanks to a new feature developed by the ubiquitous video sharing site.

Unlike its familiar one-video-per-page format, YouTube’s “Town Hall” section pits Republicans and Democrats against one another, debate-style, on a single page. User’s can select topics ranging from education to the economy before filing through short, video answers submitted by national politicians. “Town Hall” allows users to actually see the lawmakers positions on hot political topics, all on one user-friendly page. The YouTube experience wouldn’t be complete without audience involvement, though, and Town Hall not only allows users to vote the numerous videos up or down, but also chooses user-submitted questions from which lawmakers base their video answers.

Of course, the Democratic responses appear on the left and those of their Republican counterparts on the right.

The new, integrated platform was launched by YouTube in late May and the response from both the public and lawmakers have been great, said a YouTube representative. More than 115,000 votes were cast on the 25 videos submitted for the first round of question, and a second round of topic questions was launched on Wednesday.

If the Town Hall’s  “Leaderboard” is any indication, Republicans are winning the video debate. New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall did received the most votes with his video “Time for Afghanistan Transition,” but the other top four June videos of come from Republican leaders. Only Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Chris Van Hollen make the list of the best videos of “All Time.”

The Republican strides in social media should come as no surprise. Republican congressional leadership has been spearheading efforts in the past year to engage voters online. In 2010, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor launched YouCut, which asked the public to vote on the government programs they’d like to cut. Last month, Republican lawmakers participated in the second-annual House Republican Conference New Media Challenge, a March Madness-style bracket to see who could get the most YouTube, Facebook and Twitter followers.

(Republicans unveil YouCut II, now with real legislative power)

The House Oversight Committee and its chairman, California Rep. Darrell Issa, have been leading the push online, particularly with YouTube. The committee has hit President Barack Obama over the poor economy with short, well-produced videos. Just this week, as part of the new Town Hall platform, the committee released “Let’s Fix This,” a more positive video encouraging voter participation.

“The American people are speaking out online, sharing solutions to challenges we face. House Republicans are harnessing digital communications to engage in dialogue with taxpayers and deliver a more open government,” Issa told The Daily Caller. “I’m glad to match their common-sense solutions against the worn-out suggestions of those who still believe more government spending and red tape will grow our economy.”

And engaging they are. About 80 percent of the House Republican Conference is actively using new media. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the slightly younger class of GOP Freshman, participation is at 90 percent, according to young Republican staffers put in charge of guiding the members’ online engagement.

Other efforts include GOPLabs, a monthly events series that brings in speakers from the likes of Facebook, Google, and the Washington Post. GOPLabs is just one of the efforts by the three-year-old Republican New Media Caucus, which got a two year head start on its Democratic counterpart created just last year.

With the all the work being put into the Republican social media arm, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, vice chair of the conference, obviously sees YouTube’s new Town Hall platform as another great messaging tool.

“YouTube Town Hall provides just one more opportunity for our Members to harness the Internet, and specifically web video, to communicate our positive solutions for the country’s most pressing challenge,” McMorris Rodgers told TheDC. “We hope the Town Hall platform adds to the conversation we’re already having about issues like job creation, economic growth, and the many other challenges facing America.”

“Town Hall” is currently aimed at specific national issues and YouTube is still looking into developing the platform for more local politics, not to mention the 2012 election, according to a spokesperson. So while the videos aren’t as popular as, say, “The Citizen Kane of cat videos,” Republicans are certainly looking forward to a virtual fight against their Democratic opponents.

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