Twitter is probably one of the best ways to make connections with people across the globe, but it’s hard to have a serious political conversation at 140 characters. Despite this limitation, politicians are using a Twitter Town Hall as a way to get their message across and interact with voters. It’s not a bad strategy, but depends on how it’s used and what questions get answered.
For most politicians it’s easier to answer questions from supporters. For one, it helps them expound on their agenda. It also allows them to see positive messages they can play off of. Best examples are probably President Obama’s #my2k town hall in 2012 and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine’s #AskTim town hall on July 16th and 17th. Simple questions, simple answers. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s #Randchat town hall with Reason had more positive questions than negative. But some of Paul’s answers were against the standard Republican answer and helped establish his libertarianism even more. Plus Paul actually talked policy, which not everyone is willing to do.
One of the more entertaining town halls was one given by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Abbott is running for governor and used the #AskAbbott event to differentiate himself from Governor Rick Perry, especially on how contracts get handed out. He did a good job, but the best part was probably his willingness to take questions from Democrats, when they crashed the party. It’s not something politicians normally do, probably because they know the opposition isn’t going to be happy, regardless of the answers.
But Abbott was willing to play along, especially when Battleground Texas, an organization run by former Obama campaign members, stepped in. They first asked Abbott if he could speak Spanish, which didn’t get an answer. They decided to ask another one which, this time, Abbott answered.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) July 18, 2013
Quick translation: Battleground Texas asked if Abbott could talk to the Latin community. Abbott said, in Spanish, his wife is Latina and he will be able to communicate to all voters. It’s a great response and pretty much shut Battleground Texas up for the night. But it shows how politicians on Twitter can respond without it disintegrating into a shouting match. It also shows a willingness to engage with people who don’t agree. Some questions aren’t worth answering because they’re either too snarky, too stupid or require an answer that’s far too nuanced for 140 characters. The nuanced answers are best for a one-on-one conversation or a column or a radio interview. But that’s Twitter.
There’s a big difference between what Abbott did and what politicians normally do. He talked to opponents without beating them over the head. Not everyone was happy, but that’s politics. It certainly beats the same ol’ questions and the same ol’ answers. If anyone still cares about that.