Why Political Candidates Can’t Afford NOT to Caption Their Videos

April 7, 2016 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: June 3, 2019

The 2016 US presidential election is shaping up to be one of the most contested in recent memory. In a race this tight, presidential candidates need any edge they can get.

The 2008 election proved how valuable social media is in getting the word out and building buzz around a campaign, and ever since then politicians have been eager to harness digital media to their advantage.

And with 2015 unofficially dubbed “the year of video marketing,” online video is the most powerful tool in a campaign’s digital arsenal.

One thing that not every politician understands yet: online videos need captions to be fully effective and accessible.

Why Online Videos Need Captions

Video captioning offers important benefits that politicians would be foolish to ignore.


First of all, closed captions make web video accessible to over 38 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans — about 13% of the US population.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people have a strong voice politically, as demonstrated by last year’s successful advocacy campaign for the White House to caption their social media videos.

Older voters are more likely to have hearing loss due to age, so captions are all the more essential to reach that demographic.

And as for younger voters: a study conducted by Google and Ipsos Connect showed that 59% of likely voters who watch online videos to inform their decision are between age 18 and 34.

Mobile Viewing

Now consider how most people watch online video.

This year mobile video is set to exceed desktop video viewing.

The mobile video viewing environment is not always conducive to audio, whether the viewer is in a noisy place, a quiet place, a public area, or whether they simply don’t have headphones with them.

For videos to be effective on mobile, they should display captions so they are watchable in any environment.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Voters named online search as their preferred method to research candidates, second only to TV news and debate coverage. So how does a political candidate make their videos rank higher in search results than their opponents’?

Increased watch time impacts video search rank in YouTube and Google. The longer people watch, and the more people watch, the higher a video will rank. A Facebook study found that captions increase watch time for video ads by 12% — how’s that for an SEO impact?

Closed captions themselves are indexed by search engines, which further boosts a video’s chances of being discovered through search. Compared to videos without captions, captioned videos get an average of 7.32% more views.

ESL Viewers

Closed captions improve the viewing experience for people whose native language is not English. By displaying the speech on screen, captions clear up misunderstandings that can happen if the speaker is talking too fast, using unfamiliar vocabulary, or has a thick accent.

Once a video is transcribed, politicians can add subtitles in other languages. With 27.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in this year’s election, adding Spanish subtitles to campaign videos is a no-brainer.

What If You Don’t Add Captions?

Ignoring all the benefits listed above, politicians who don’t add captions to videos are essentially excluding all of the following people from watching and understanding their message:

  • Deaf or hard-of-hearing people
  • People who aren’t fluent in English
  • Anyone watching on a mobile phone where they can’t use audio

But that’s not all.

Unless candidates add accurate closed captions to their YouTube videos, the automatically generated captions will display by default. And these can be embarrassingly bad.

Here are some real examples of automatic captioning mistakes on presidential candidates’ official YouTube channels:

caption reading: our country needs competency we need a smart president we need a great later we

Donald Trump thinks we need a great “later” — or did he say “leader”?

caption reading: boldly and with some of the or where of the Keystone pipeline was excavating in

An entire chunk of Bernie Sanders’ speech is missing in between type-os. Should be “boldly and quickly from fossil fuels. Let me just talk about some of the differences that Senator Clinton and I have on that issue. Some of you are aware of the Keystone pipeline”

caption reading: definition now last time I checked that you're in trunk and my crack about that

On Ted Cruz’s channel: “you’re in trunk and my crack about that” should be “that’s you and Trump, am I correct about that”

everyone who's ever been knocked down but leave here is to be knocked out I'm

Hillary Clinton’s channel used closed and open captioning on several videos, but not all of them: “but leave here is to be knocked out I’m” should be “but refused to be knocked out.”

How to Closed Caption Online Videos

Politicians can get their videos transcribed and captioned a number of ways.

They could have a staffer transcribe and create the captions manually.

They could activate crowd-sourced captioning on their YouTube channel and encourage their supporters to add captions and translated subtitles to their videos.

If they host videos elsewhere, they can use Amara to crowdsource captions on different video platforms.

For reliable accuracy and quality, candidates can order professional closed captioning from a vendor.

Once they have captions, they should be sure to add captions to videos everywhere they are published.

Here are some tutorials for step-by-step instructions:

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