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‘Roll ’em’: The Rise of Video in Politics

Members have hired video production staff to promote their messages

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland released a "Star Wars"-themed video after an LGBT anti-discrimination measure failed on the House floor.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland released a "Star Wars"-themed video after an LGBT anti-discrimination measure failed on the House floor.

When things didn’t go Rep. Steny Hoyer’s way on the House floor, he channeled The Force — of video, that is.   

House Democrats had just lost a contentious vote relating to same-sex discrimination, and Hoyer, the House Minority Whip, tweeted a video explaining the debacle with “Star Wars” theme rolling text, and the caption, “The Republican Empire Strikes Back to Allow Discrimination Against LGBT Americans.”  

The social media post was one of the latest examples of lawmakers using videos to promote their messages. And, according to Hoyer’s office, it worked.  

“The LGBT video, in particular, was shared over 2,500 times and reached over 720,000 people so we feel it’s an effective way of reaching Americans with our message,” Hoyer’s spokeswoman Mariel Saez wrote in an email.  

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And Democrats aren’t the only ones turning on the video cameras.  

The House Republican Conference established a full-time video production unit and in-house studio in 2013, with a renewed emphasis to push the GOP message outside the nation’s capital following the Republican loss of its second consecutive presidential election.  

According to a conference spokesman, it began as a way to help conference members record messages to their constituents. Today, the unit has a full-time staff member and full-time intern. On average, the studio produces 40 lawmaker video messages a week.  

The conference also produces videos to promote its members, and highlight some unique aspects of its members through series like “snapshot.” A recent video , for example, delved into Wisconsin GOP Rep. Sean Duffy’s experience on MTV’s “The Real World.”  

“We’ve always focused on letting innovation and new technologies guide us in developing new ways to connect with the American people how and where their conversations happen; and lately that’s video content,” explained GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.  

Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office also has its own staff members who work on video production. The Wisconsin Republican’s staff has been active on the digital front, posting 99 videos in the six months since Ryan became speaker on his YouTube channel .  

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The videos range from speeches and press conferences to lighter “get to know you” segments, and are all made by the speaker’s communications team, led by digital director Caleb Smith.  

Some of the videos promoting Ryan’s “Confident America” slogan even have a campaign-style feel to them, fueling some of the speculation that Ryan was eying the White House, and even prompting a ribbing from Saturday Night Live . But, Ryan’s office said the videos are about reaching the American people.  

“Upon taking this job, Speaker Ryan committed to being a communications speaker,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong. “An important part of that involves speaking directly to the American people through our digital efforts, including videos. Speaker Ryan’s videos ensure the ‘People’s House’ is open and accessible to everyone.”  

House Democrats also churn out roughly 40 videos a week through the Democratic Caucus’ own studio. Members often use the studio to produce live streams, Facebook Q&A’s, and interviews, which Democratic lawmakers can also do in Spanish.  

Some of their videos also focus on members of the caucus, such as a video released on before Veterans Day, highlighting Democratic lawmakers who served in the military.  

“We’ve got members who come in and record four videos in one sitting, because it’s one of the best ways to reach constituents in a conversational way back home,” said Democratic Caucus spokeswoman Sarah Lovenheim. “Once a video is produced, we go a step further to make sure the clips are seen by members at our Caucus meeting and most importantly, via social media.”  

The Senate is also getting in on the action. Senate Republicans snagged Jonathan Gallegos from the House GOP conference, who developed a recent Senate video making the rounds on social media.  

“Senate Squad,” which shows Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walking through the Senate hallway, waving to various Republican senators and listing their accomplishments, has garnered more than 80,000 views on various platforms in four days. According to a Senate GOP aide, Gallegos discovered the funky music, and the video grew from there.  

The aide explained that Republicans have been sharing their accomplishments with constituents.”Sometimes, though, you need a different approach to break through,” the aide said. “We wanted to find a unique and even entertaining way to tell the story. That’s why we took a different approach with this particular video.

Chris Arterton, a political management professor at George Washington University, was not surprised to hear some offices had hired their own production staff, noting high quality videos will help maintain viewers’ attention.  

“I think the question really is the accessibility of these,” Arterton said of the Hoyer and “Senate Squad” videos. “One has to have a pretty extensive social media presence in order to get the attention of people who will look at a video.”  

These sorts of congressional videos, Arterton added, have yet to achieve the reach they need.  

“This is a nice try but so far we haven’t seen one that has hit the mark in terms of gaining any real substantial visibility that would have any political punch,” he said.  

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