WASHINGTON – It may come as no real surprise,but the proliferation of mobile technology has forever changed the face of political campaigning.
At least that is what a panel of digital media whizzes,political scientists and data collectors agreed on at a Brookings Institution forum Tuesday. As further backing,according to two recent Pew Research Center studies from the 2010 mid-term elections and the lead up to the 2012 presidential primaries,the data agree with them.
So rather than discussing the upswing in use of this new technology,the speakers focused more on its effect on voter outreach,advertising and fundraising.
“I don’t think this is a flash-in-a-pan thing,” Katie Harbath,a former chief digital strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee,said.
The use of mobile devices has “skyrocketed” over the past few years,signaling to her that campaigns that want to succeed ought to put more effort into their mobile presence. Building smartphone apps,mobile websites or even producing geo-targeted mobile ads could be the push that turns a campaign into an administration.
The difficulty lies in a campaign’s tendency to build it and then forget it,she said.
“Don’t forget about the fundamentals,” Harbath said she stresses to campaigns interested in building mobile outreach networks. “If you’re not looking to see what your website looks like on those [mobile devices],you’re really doing a disservice to your supporters.”
Former external online director for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign,Scott Goodstein,agreed. A campaign needs to approach this from a voter’s perspective,he said.
“People are demanding more from a text-messaging program,” he said. Connecting with supporters via text messaging was innovative and fresh back in 2007 and 2008 when he was heading Obama’s online outreach,but now he said it has become quite “ubiquitous.”
Goodstein stressed campaigns need to be wary and not fall into the robocalling trap with texting. Campaign phone calls used to signal a candidate’s interest in possible voters,but people now tend to see these automated calls as too much.
Instead,he said a campaign would be better off,“if you could tap into the culture of what others are already doing.” Mobile technology and social media have become major forms of outreach for companies and individuals alike – campaigns need to find what works and incorporate it into their own strategy.
Forum moderator and Brookings Institution expert,Darrel M. West,added,“There is a growing distance between politicians and people.” Many politicians are forgetting about the changing nature of communication,creating a gap between them and possible voters,he said.
Questions about geo-targeted ads and mobile technology’s impact on fundraising also brought up some interesting discussion.
Although the Pew Research Center’s Aaron Smith said data collected from other fundraising applications show that ads on mobile devices and fundraising can go hand in hand.
“It’s about hitting people when they’re out and about,” he said. “That type of donation is more ephemeral.” It’s of a more impulse driven nature.
While many charities already accept donations via text messaging,using it for campaign fundraising presents another challenge. When someone donates to a campaign,the Federal Election Commission requires a certain amount of personal information to ensure there is no foul play. For the most part,phone companies are not willing to give up this information.
California and Maryland allow small campaign donations in state elections by text message.
Reach reporter Elijah Herington at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.