2012 is the year of the political GIF. Not just for Internet forum users, now established journalists and even Presidents are using this venerable image format to convey instant commentary. (The Live GIF off, anyone?)

The GIF’s rise in prominence this election year even prompted PBS Ideas Channel host Mike Rugnetta to ask: How Will The Animated GIF Affect The Presidential Election?

Answer: The animated GIF’s impact on this election – given its newness factor as a political tool – is slim or hard to gauge. “You’d probably be exaggerating… a lot” if you said GIFs will turn the tide one way or another, Rugnetta allows. But that’s not the point. The political GIF has already changed the way we talk about politics, how we cover politics, and even how we campaign as politicians. GIFs, like memes, are “The Way We Election Now.” 

Critics of the political GIF could point out it further reduces a politicians message to soundbites, one-liners, gaffes and spectacle, but Rugnetta asserts “a GIF is more complete than quotes on paper, because the words are reunited with the actions and attitudes of the person who spoke them.”

“The time where there is an official campaign GIF maker doesn’t feel too far off,” Rugnetta speculates. As Colin Horgan wrote in The Guardian, “perhaps soon, a candidate could succeed or fail not on the strength of their zingers during a debate, but on the gifs they generate afterwards.”

You hear that, political campaign consultants? Animated political GIFs really could decide an election.