Howdy folks, Epolitics.com is back from a short holiday and an accompanying publishing break. Sorry for the hiatus, but never fear: this year we’ll beat the summer heat with plenty of sweet digital politics goodness, including an upcoming pair of articles from a regular contributor. But first, some news on the e-book front: “How Campaigns Can Use the Internet to Win in 2012″ has now been downloaded over 2000 times! Thanks for spreading the word, folks — whatever you’ve been doing has been working.
You’ll be shocked shocked SHOCKED! to hear that the free PDF version has out-”sold” the Amazon e-book by a ratio of about 20 to one, but we’re not in this for the money (we’re in it for the love), so who cares? What really matters is that it’s getting out into the hands of campaigns across the country. I’d be happy if they were campaigns I actually supported, but information will flow where it will — knowledge wants to be free, after all (unless it’s on Amazon, in which case it’s $2.99).
Thanks again, y’all! One other note: the two previous e-books continue to race off the online shelves, with “Learning from Obama” downloaded about 650 times and “Online Politics 101″ about 400 times so far in May (each has also sold a handful of copies in the Amazon store). Very cool.
The Dashboard aims to give supporters information about local efforts and let people see how their efforts compare with those of other volunteers.
The Dashboard’s appearance borrows a bit from Facebook’s white-and-blue layout. On the left, volunteers see recent local activities, including people who updated their profiles or joined a volunteer team such as “Women for Obama.” From the home page, users can get phone numbers of would-be voters. Staffers can use the program to organize and track volunteers’ progress.
“If you’re going to build an online grass-roots campaign, you need to make it as easy as possible for people to help out,” said Colin Delany, editor of ePolitics.com, a website devoted to online campaigning.
A true fact indeed: it’s dumb to make volunteers jump through hoops to get involved, a rule that’s broken ridiculously often online. And is that mention of seeing “how their efforts compare” a hint of gamification in form of competition among activists? Interesting…. Thanks go out to the Journal’s Amy Schatz for dropping me a line and asking for comments.
Very few people have ever used “cool” and “redistricting” in the same headline, but longtime readers will know that I’m a bit of a redistricting nerd — my first substantive political experience was as staffer in the Texas Legislature during a 1992 redistricting special session, and I’ve never quite recovered from walking into my first (absolutely literally) smoke-filled room in its waning days. Anyway, with this year’s post-Census line-drawing just about done (about whose implications you were warned in 2009), Google’s put together a handy map of new Congressional districts across the country:
For a good example of why redistricting’s so important in determining the make-up of Congress, let’s zoom in on lovely Austin, Texas — a liberal hub in a conservative state:
Sure, Pinterest and Tumblr are cool, but what tools really matter for campaigns in 2012?
1. CRM Platforms: If you’re trying to stay in touch with a few thousand (or a few million) people at once, you’ll need a database to do it. Fortunately, modern CRM (Constituent Relations Management) tools are up to the challenge. Many political consulting firms offer their own platforms, and campaigns can also take advantage of standardized toolsets like DLCCWeb (on the Left) and NationBuilder (nonpartisan). A good CRM automates the process of signing up for your email list, and most will let you track (and target) supporters based on their past actions or indicated interests. An effective CRM is crucial for any campaign trying to get the most value—in time, money or both—out of its supporters.
2. Fundraising: Speaking of money, online fundraising is where it’s at, whether you’re building a network of small-dollar grassroots donors or trying to increase the efficiency of your big-money bundlers. Every transaction is easier to process if it comes in electronically rather than on paper. Remember, too, that grassroots donors typically give small amounts, meaning that they can donate again and again without reaching FEC limits.
3. Advertising: Online political advertising will be everywhere in 2012. Woe be unto you if you live in a battleground state and hate politics, since you’ll have to turn off all electronic channels to avoid the campaigns. Though even if you hide under your bed, someone’s likely to be figuring out a way to run ads on your dust bunnies
Of course, one reason Republican “independent” expenditures are so high this year? These wealthy activists are involved in an ideological war for the future of the Republican Party, which is playing itself out in races like Lugar’s. Some of their spending will be offset by labor unions, trial lawyers, environmental organizations and other liberal-aligned groups in the general election, though one rich guy’s $50,000,000 campaign requires A LOT of fundraising to match. Another alternative? Start recruiting supporters now — online.
Campaigns are turning to Twitter this year to ding their opponents directly. We saw some signs of this trend earlier in the cycle as Republican presidential candidates jockeyed for position. Now that Mitt Romney’s the nominee-to-be, his campaign and President Obama’s team regularly trade shots via Tweet.
David Axelrod and Romney campaign manager Eric Fehrnstrom have emerged as their respective campaigns’ primary duelists, but even Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, took to Twitter to respond to the recent “Ann Romney never worked a day in her life” kerfluffle with Hilary Rosen.
The audience for these exchanges is once again those journalists, bloggers and activists who dominate the political twitterverse. The tweets themselves serve as fodder for news pieces and blog posts. Of course, campaigns have sniped at each other for years via press releases, public statements and TV ads, but Twitter speeds up the process dramatically. It also personalizes it. We’re talking about Axelrod tweeting, for instance, not the Obama campaign in the abstract.
Data-Driven Politics: Should Pollsters Be Nervous?
Let’s think more deeply about where data-driven politics is really catching on: Targeting and field. Not coincidentally, both areas are already havens for data nerds.
Direct mail mavens have been using voter files and consumer databases to target messaging and fundraising appeals for decades and data-targeting online ads is a natural extension of that mindset and skillset. Likewise with grassroots, since field organizers are consumed by numbers related to canvassing and its results. Walk-lists, after all, come from a database, and voter contacts yield plenty of information ripe for tabulation and analysis.
Polling is a third area of data-heavy politics. Online polling has its problems, chief among them the eternal issue of getting a representative sample of the population whose opinions you’re trying to measure. That’s where digital advertising comes in. Google and Facebook ads can help figure out what voters care about at a broad level, and campaigns can also use them to test which messages resonate with which voters in which contexts.
Three years ago I was on a panel with Eric Frenchman, John McCain’s digital ad expert in 2008. He talked about being able to see trends in the political environment days ahead of the rest of the campaign by looking at which ads were being clicked on. In 2010, my friend Soren Dayton was already combining Facebook and Twitter ads to test messages on particular slices of the electorate for the campaigns he worked on.
If C&E's CampaignTech conference is any indication, online politicos are going to fight on two different kinds of ground in 2012, and they’d better be ready for both. We might think of them as the air war and the ground war, but those words also apply to television advertising and grassroots organizing. A better metaphor might be retail vs. wholesale—one-on-one vs. mass communications.
Online advertising shows the distinction clearly. The majority of today’s political digital ads are intended to recruit supporters, donors and volunteers for particular campaigns or interest groups. Using interest, demographic and geographic matches, advertisers can target Google, Facebook and display (banner) ads with ruthless precision.
It’s even now relatively common practice to zero-in on individual people (if anonymously) by matching a campaign’s voter file with the “cookies” placed on consumers’ computers by commercial advertisers. Retail politics, indeed! At the same time, digital campaigners can run ads with the entirely different goal of influencing the broad public conversation. These ads may not be geo-targeted in the same sense as the recruiting ads mentioned above; instead they try to reach influential voices like reporters, bloggers and political activists.
This just came in over the proverbial transom: basic social media numbers on several politicians being mentioned as potential Romney Vice Presidential picks. These data were compiled by experienced digital marketer Al DiGuido, about whom you can learn more at AlDiGuido.com. Note that Marco Rubio leads the pack, for what it’s worth — as we’ve seen here more than once, raw numbers about Twitter and Facebook are no predictor of electoral success. And of course, these are simply follower numbers, which give you no hint of how someone actually uses the channels. Also note Biden’s equivalent standing, included for comparison.
Good times on internet radio last night: I sat down with the FDH Lounge’s Rick Morris for one of our occasional political bull sessions. Rick’s a self-proclaimed “paleo-conservative” and I’m a bit of a Lefty, but we always have great time tossing ideas around. Last night was no exception: we covered topics ranging from the politics of Obama’s gay marriage support to the changing demographics of North Carolina to the effect of Romney’s Mormonism on evangelical voters, with plenty more in between. Check out the audio below, and I hope Rick and I can reconnect a few more times before Election Day rolls around. Also see Rick’s recent blog post, How the anti-left killed the right, which we discussed at length.
Howdy folks, one of our Epolitics.com contributors, Kayle Hatt, has launched his own digital politics/political commentary blog, so go check it out! He’s Canadian, the poor frozen bastard, so he’s writing (appropriately enough) at KayleHatt.ca. Very cool, and welcome to the club!
Also, I believe I may have #failed miserably by never formally welcoming the Netroots Foundation’s “Winning the Internet” blog when it launched a few months back. They’re already doing great work by gathering “curated strategies and tactics for change,” and from Day One they demonstrated their profound understanding of the ‘tubes by including a cute kitten in their logo. Brilliant! So go check them out, too.
Lots of online talk today about the Obama campaign’s new two-minute(!) anti-Romney attack ad airing in battleground states. Here’s the video, and note the RomneyEconomics.com website promoted via a custom overlay:
This video is apparently the online-optimized version; I assume the TV ad (part of a $25,000,000 Obama buy) mentions the website as well, perhaps right before the “I approve this message” line. I bring this point up because of the integrated nature of the anti-Romney message: the site strongly reinforces the ad with details about Bain Capital’s involvement with companies that later laid off workers, via a sliding set of screens similar in presentation to what we saw in the “Life of Julia” infographic. Plus, each story has a mouseover-controlled timeline and is individually sharable on Facebook and Twitter. To top it off, the site has a share-your-own-story feature to further encourage supporters to get involved.
Regardless of what you think about the substance of the Romney Economics critique, this is good work all around: robust online engagement to capitalize (hah!) on offline promotion. We should see more of this kind of integration in the months to come, assuming people are doing their jobs.
Update: Mere moments after I published this piece, the first DNC email arrived promoting RomneyEconomics.com…yet more integration.