Podcasting and Politics - dummies

By Tee Morris, Chuck Tomasi

In the political arena, innovation can be a political candidate’s best strategic option in winning an office. The podcasting fad that some of Capitol Hill’s old guard snickered and scoffed at is now part of its own outreach initiatives. Individuals interested in holding office — be it local, state, or national — are side-stepping conventional media and adding to their platform the people who listen in the podosphere.

What is defined here as a political podcast is a podcast hosted by a political figure or an individual seeking a political office. (This doesn’t refer to podcasts where a host discusses current affairs, rants about the state of the world, or cracks jokes about the latest scandal.)

So, what can a podcast do for you, the tech-savvy politician?

  • Podcasting (and its companion blog, if you use a blog as part of your delivery) connects you directly with your constituencies.
  • Podcasting can reach young voters, the elusive demographic that can easily make or break a victory at the polls.
  • Podcasting avoids the bias that creeps up in media outlets, allowing you as a candidate to present agendas and intentions uninterrupted.

When going political with a podcast, whether you’re running for the U.S. Senate or podcasting your term as School Board representative, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep your podcast on a consistent weekly schedule. Monthly podcasts don’t cut it; the tide of politics is in constant flux. Daily updates are less than practical, but weekly podcasts work well for ongoing political issues, and you can shape their content to remain timely enough to fit the podcasting medium. Set a day for delivering your weekly message and stick to that schedule.
  • Focus on the issues, not the opinions. A political podcaster will always walk a fine line between public servant and political commentator. You need to stay focused on the issues. If you suddenly start hammering away with opinion and commentary, you’d become more like Hannity, Beck, or Maddow. If you want politics as your podcast’s subject matter, ask yourself whether you’re looking to help listeners understand the issues accurately and take meaningful action, or whether you’re just ranting and venting to entertain people who want their opinions reinforced.
  • Give your listeners a plan for action. When you cover the issues in your podcast, provide possible solutions to the pressing matters of your community and your constituents. Whether you’re detailing blood drives or fundraisers, or launching an awareness campaign for cancer research, increase that divide between political figure and political commentator by offering listeners ways they can get involved in the community and make a difference.

Podcasting is definitely an avenue to explore if you’re venturing into the political area, but this is not your sole means in reaching out to voters. You will need to campaign, of course. Get out on the road, shake hands, kiss babies, and the like. Unless you are recording said baby-kissing and hand-shaking, campaigning will mean your podcast goes on the occasional break. Make sure to communicate to your listeners that changes in the posting schedule are upcoming. When you can, give a podcast from the road to keep the communication lines open.

Anytime a podcast goes public on the issues, its creator walks a fine line between public servant and political commentator. The podcasters described in the following paragraph all keep their content focused on the issues and less on what they feel about the issues.

The first politician to host a political podcast of this nature was North Carolina Senator John Edwards with the One America Committee Podcast with John Edwards, covering poverty, Internet law, and environmental issues. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards, was also featured, raising awareness on breast cancer.

The success of the One America podcast caught the attention of the govern-ator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who podcasts his weekly radio address. Then, direct from the Oval Office, George W. Bush and Barack Obama hosted podcasts on a weekly basis, much in the same manner as FDR’s Fireside Chats only this time happening on your mobile devices. And Senator Bernie Sanders podcasts from the left side of the aisle while Senator Ron Paul offers a look at the issues from the right.

Bernie Sanders podcast
Senator Bernie Sanders has embraced podcasting as a viable platform for making constituents aware of issues through The Bernie Sanders Show.

If you’re a politician and you want to get in touch with the people (to respond when voters complain about poor communication with their representatives or the candidates running for office), why not invite them into your kitchen, offer them a cup of virtual coffee, and ask them to relax a bit? Instead of dishing up prepared statements from professional speechwriters, you can offer voters (and worldwide listeners) impromptu, candid, sincere opinions on issues facing the country and the world.