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Social media play an increasingly important role in daily life. They have shown themselves to be extremely effective tools of communication, organisation and mobilisation, a fact which has not escaped the attention of Puerto Rico's many political parties. With varying levels of success, each one has sought to establish an online presence as a means of reaching out to their supporters and — even more importantly — of attracting potential undecided voters.
For the more recently formed parties, which do not boast the same vast financial resources as the two most popular ones, social media are the most convenient way to have an impact on large groups of people whilst keeping publicity expenses to a minumum. But the two largest parties in Puerto Rico, the New Progressive Party [Partido Nuevo Progresista] (PNP), which is currently in power, and the Popular Democratic Party [Partido Popular Democrático] (PPD) have also tried to reap the benefits that social media offer, although perhaps not with the same creativity as the so-called emerging parties.
The Traditional Parties
As an example, the PNP candidate, who supports the union of Puerto Rico with the United States as a solution to the perennial problem of the Island's political status, has, like the majority of the other parties, a Facebook page with more than 110,000 likes, a Twitter account (@pnp_pr) with more than 11,000 followers and an official YouTube channel. Their Facebook page is used principally to share photos and videos of their caravans all over Puerto Rico as well as TV spots, which also appear on local television. The PNP is the party that has attracted the most followers on social media.
The situation is similar for the PPD, which has spent years alternating in power with the PNP and is the oldest of the so-called ‘traditional’ parties. (Each of the traditional parties has existed for several decades, unlike the emerging parties, which were established more recently.) It also boasts a Facebook page, with more than 39,000 likes, a Twitter account (@ppdpr) with more than 10,000 followers and a YouTube channel. Interestingly, despite possessing a similar number of followers on Twitter to the PNP, they have not attracted as many fans on Facebook.
Overall, the online strategy of the three parties mentioned above mirrors a traditional political campaign, which could be summarised as a bombardment of overly optimistic and self-confident publicity.
The Emerging Parties
The Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party [Partido Puertorriqueños por Puerto Rico] (PPR) is the oldest of the recently established parties. The PPR took part in elections for the first time in 2008 and, surprisingly, received more votes than the PIP, which boasts many decades of participation and therefore more experience. But it would seem that the PPR has not been able to maintain this advantages considering that their Facebook page has a mere 115 likes. It must be said, though, that the party leader's page, Rogelio Figueroa, has more than 13,000 followers, a number comparable to Juan Dalmau's Facebook fanbase. His Twitter account, however, has only 2,000 followers, which seems to indicate that the PPR has yet to successfully make the most of the potential offered by social media. The tone of its publicity is markedly different to that of the three traditional parties, distinguished sometimes by its humorous nature.
In Puerto Rico, political parties tend to be defined according to the their stance on the country's political status. As previously stated, the PNP wishes for Puerto Rico to become the 51st State of the US whereas the PIP
defends complete independence. The PPD demonstrates two currents of thought: the sovereigntists — who urge for free association, an option which would would allow Puerto Rico to choose which powers it cedes to the United States (such as defence), if any — and those who defend the status quo on the grounds that, owing to some subtleties in the interpretation of the current relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, Congress did not retain complete power over the Island when the current agreement was made. The latter faction is the one that channels the PPD's official discourse.
It is therefore unusual that the PPR has chosen not to support any particular political status. The reason they give for this is that they believe it possible to resolve many of the country's problems regardless of its status.
The second of the so-called emerging parties is the Sovereign Union Movement [Movimiento Unión Soberanista] (MUS), which supports sovereignty by means of a Constituent Assembly in which ‘decolonising’ options [i.e. make decisions that would reduce the US's power in Puerto Rico] would be chosen as a solution to the problem of political status. This year marks the first time that the MUS will participate in elections. Their Facebook page has more than 5,000 likes and its Twitter account has more than 3,000 followers. But what has distinguished the MUS in their use of the internet is their live streaming of debates — broadcast to the general public before the MUS became a party — in which they explained why they support sovereignty. They have yet to place as much focus as other parties on producing TV spots, instead selecting snippets of interviews and podcasts to spread their message amongst potential voters.
But it is perhaps the final party to be mentioned, the Working People's Party of Puerto Rico [Partido del Pueblo Trabajador] (PPT), which has capitalised on social media the most. Just like the MUS, this year marks the first time they will participate in elections. In a matter of months and with scant financial resources they have successfully ingrained themselves as a hot topic in the Puerto Rican political psyche with a campaign that has very effectively brought the party away from anonymity. Despite that on Facebook they have a little less than 3,000 likes, the governer candidate's official page, Rafael Bernabe, boasts more than 17,000 likes, more than any other minority party (Arturo Hernández, the MUS candidate, has 870 likes at the time of writing). On Twitter the party has little more than 2,000 followers. The PPT has also failed to embrace any stance on the country's political status, believing it to be a divisive rather than a unifying issue, although unlike the PPR its candidates have expressed their personal preferences regarding the Island's status.
The three emerging parties have used social media not only as a marketing tool but also as a means to recruit poll workers and announce training programmes for them.