Technology is a bigger part of campaigns than it probably ever has been, said Alex Torpey, village president of South Orange, N.J. “Ten years ago, people were just starting to really use the Internet to campaign, but it still hadn’t really filtered down to the local races.” Now, however, technology is so inexpensive and accessible that anyone can use it.
“I think that has amazing democratization implications for the political process, which ironically enough could seriously use some democratizing,” he said. Torpey, the second youngest mayor in New Jersey, says he won his election “by bringing technology to government and government to the people.”
Despite all the advancements in digital technology to support campaigns, the new technology largely still exists to support traditional campaign mediums like television. The next shift must move beyond brand building and fundraising.
“It’s frustrating,” said Liberty Concepts’ Karush. “The democratic utility of all the things we can do online is so much more than TV. But online is still very much about mobilizing money to buy more TV ad space. We haven’t cracked all the applications of ‘get out the vote’ online.”
Outside of the federal sphere, the challenge between TV and online is not nearly as relevant. “In local races, where TV and radio don’t make much sense, online platforms provide those with the forethought to use them a big advantage,” Torpey said, adding that online fundraising is the lowest-hanging fruit. “I was able to start raising money online in the first two weeks of my website launch. That helped us print material and buy advertising going forward. Sharing content is probably the second piece, allowing someone with a Facebook account and an email list to broadcast content cheaply, quickly and massively.”
Right now, online technology can be harnessed to organize volunteers, manage walk and call lists, drive donations, create events, tap into social networks and more, all of which can drive real world action, as can gathering geospatial data, connecting to voter files, social graphing, micro-targeted scripts and a real-time data stream back to the campaign. Ultimately, to be effective, online campaigning needs to deliver actual results — public sentiment and votes at the ballot box.
“While 2012 isn’t showing a lot of innovation on the front end, we are seeing enormous development at the back end,” Karush said. “The database building efforts are virtually Amazonian — they’ve gotten really, really good at voter profiling. While there is no game changer, this election cycle shows more refinement.”