What Political Tools & Technology CAN’T Do

Here’s a great reminder from a tweetchat hosted by the National Democratic Institute’s political parties team today: political technology can help a campaign or an organization do a lot, but it’s not magic. If you don’t have the right candidate or the right ideas, no amount of technological savvy can save you. The tools amplify traditional political strengths, not replace them!

For one example, think about data-driven grassroots organizing, which was key to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories as well as other political success stories from Terry McAuliffe to Thad Cochran. But when I talk with veteran field staff, they’ll often say that even the best grassroots outreach is good for maybe 3% at the polls. If your candidate is close, 3% will put you over the top. But if you’re down by 20 points, even the most sophisticated voter outreach driven by the best data modeling imaginable won’t win the day.

Email fundraising is another powerful tool, but only if you have an agenda or a candidate people want to support — even the best email writers in the business can’t pry money out of the wallets of people who just don’t care for you. Online advertising? Likewise: data lets us target digital ads with remarkable precision, but they won’t do you a damned bit of good if your messaging doesn’t resonate with the people you’re trying to reach.

Political observers used to talk about the “3 M’s”: man, message and moment. In these more-enlightened times, let’s retain the alliteration and change it to “messenger, message and moment,” though the idea’s the same: you have to have the right people, the right messages at the right time. If you do, technology now gives you tremendous opportunities to reach potential supporters, convert them to your cause and put them to work to help change the world. If you don’t? Work as hard as you want, but all you’ll do is help to keep some vendors in business — which is cool and all, but probably not your goal.

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