ApplicationVirtual Reality

Influence of Virtual Reality on Election Campaigns

The 2016 Presidential Campaign was a great example of virtual reality and its use in the political sphere. It became the stepping stone into a new world of technology during election processes.

Virtual reality is continuing to transform our world in many ways. From entertainment, to social interaction, to enhancing work processes. The list of things that VR touches keeps expanding. It may be the technology that redefines much of how we do things, and continue to shape the world we live in.

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One of the more unexpected VR use cases are election campaigns. With the upcoming Election Day in the United States, how can the future of selection of public officials use new, innovative technology like VR? We had the opportunity to see the first steps during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. This has laid the foundation for future political use cases.

Politics and technology already have a close relationship, as politicians always try to adapt to new forms of media to allow them to connect to their voter-base. In most election cycles, big data analytics are the go-to in how candidates shape their campaigns. With good data analytics strategies, come big advantages.

Virtual reality may now be the new edge over the competition. With the combination of these data and immersive technology, a whole new world is available for campaign managers.


Using Virtual Reality as a Social Space for Political Events

In 2016, the Presidential election was a bitterly divided campaign. Virtual reality social network, AltspaceVR teamed up with NBC News to test if they could bring users together in a positive manner. They created a full virtual re-creation of the NBC News Democracy Plaza at New York’s Rockefellar Center. Then, they  hosted a presidential debate watch party, complete with a screen for watching the live debates. Additionally, there was a map for counting states on election night, and appearances from NBC journalists.

AltspaceVR users gather together at a virtual Rockefellar Center - VR for election campaigns
AltspaceVR users gather together at a virtual Rockefellar Center

Virtual reality users were able to join these live events leading up to the election with their voices attached to their avatars. They could even participate in live Q&As with political experts. They also had the ability to mute another user, and a team of moderators were able to kick anyone out, should there be any bad behavior.

Question arises – can social spaces in virtual reality help bring people together in order to be more connected politically? In this case, the result was very well-received by the press, and was a finalist in the Shorty Awards.

According to statistics provided by NBC News, it had nearly 100 pieces of media coverage. Up to 73% also used in-experience tools such as messaging and emojis, to engage with hosts and other virtual reality users.

NBC hosted political events in AltspaceVR in a virtual democracy plaza through election night - virtual reality election campaigns
NBC hosted political events in AltspaceVR in a virtual democracy plaza through election night

Immersive Content to Bring You Closer to Politicians

360º video is allowing people to be right there for campaign events. It provides the ability to place a virtual reality user directly into the middle of these events they wouldn’t normally have access to. This is cultivated by the immediacy and intimacy of the experience. The power of VR as an election campaign medium could be used as a tool for cultural and political empathy. This means connecting with potential voters in a personal way, and using this to sway votes.

One example was during the 2016 Democratic Primary. The Bernie Sanders campaign became the first in history to appear in virtual reality. One of his fundraising events was recorded with a 360º camera and shared with the world. Los Angeles based virtual reality studio, Virtuality Lab conducted this shoot. VR users could put on a headset and observe Sanders at the event giving his speech.

News outlets have also recognized the possibilities of virtual reality and the content they can provide. CNN teamed up with content creator, NextVR, to record and present the first Democratic debate of the primary season in 2016. This debate broadcast in VR provided the experience of being in the audience in real time.

The New York Times created a virtual reality documentary on their VR app for Android and iOS, chronicling the first few months of the 2016 primary season as well. “Experiencing the Presidential Campaign: A Virtual Reality Film” places the viewer in the role of an observer. The viewer immerses them in a variety of events with Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Hillary Clinton. They could customize their viewing experience with viewpoints as well as pop-up information.


Technology Will Change the Elections in the Future, Not Personal Campaigning

Expect election campaigns in the next races to state and government to use more technology, including virtual reality. This medium has an unprecedented power to transform the way we interact with media. It allows us to engage and connect with others in ways that were previously impossible.

An election campaign is really about advertising. A combination of a good social media presence and different types of technology, such as VR, will allow messages to get out and reach everyone.

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The 2016 Presidential campaign was only one of the many portals through which we can see a glimpse into the future of virtual reality in election campaigns. We hope to see the evolution from this in the next upcoming elections.


Patricia Chang
the authorPatricia Chang
Patricia Chang is a South Florida-based freelance Digital Project Manager and XR Strategist. She is also a U.S. Navy veteran born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has also resided in the states of California, Hawaii, and New York. With her B.S. in Computer Information Systems and Master’s in Project Management, Patricia has a decade of experience working with businesses at strategic and operational levels from technology start-ups to major corporations. When not doing project-based initiatives, you can find Patricia obsessing over anything VR/AR related, including attending a VR development academy, in hopes to fine tune her future digital consultancy business.