Technology’s Influence on Political Campaigns

by Jerry Bustamante

cell-phoneThe use of the most current technology to influence the outcome of an election is nothing new in modern campaign history. Successful candidates have usually made better use of new technology over their opponents to win an election. The first candidate in modern history to use technology was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who did a masterful job using radio to win over voters with his gift of gab. John F. Kennedy embraced television and won over voters with his good looks and youthful energy. Ronald Reagan used satellite technology and prerecorded videos to be at every GOP campaign rally and fundraiser across the country. And in the 2008 Presidential Election, Barack Obama’s election team used digital technology and social media to win over young voters and raise a lot of money through smaller donations.

Despite the rise and influence of technology on political campaigns, the basic methodology and fundamentals of getting elected into office have not changed. As much as the game of football has evolved, blocking and tackling are still the most basic fundamentals in which winning teams excel. In political campaigns, those basic fundamentals are still about getting a candidate’s message out, raising money, connecting with voters and building support, raising more money and, finally, getting voters to the polls on Election Day to cast their vote.

Technology is helping candidates achieve the basic methodology of getting elected into office faster, more effectively and at a lower expense. Political teams use modern technology to manage large amounts of data on analytics and modeling to identify new voters. These models allow them to accurately target and aggressively recruit a precise voter block which they call a “micro target.” Digital technology has created a new environment where candidates can now engage voters at a whole different level. This new level of conversation is more dynamic, more personal and is transforming how candidates get their message out. Candidates whouse modern technologies also convey an image that they are in touch with, and represent, a new generation of leadership. Image is still everything in political campaigns.

As much as today’s technology continues to change how political campaigns are run, television is still the primary source where voters are introduced to and learn about candidates. Once introduced to a candidate, voters are then driven to the candidate’s website, which is the central hub of their political campaign. Even if voters are introduced to a candidate on social media (YouTube, etc.), the next stop is their website. The candidate’s website is where the messaging is expanded, volunteers are mobilized and, most importantly, where contributions are made.

Meanwhile, political teams that pioneer the use of the most state-of-the-art technology still cannot compete with a strong and divisive political climate that can create a “wave election.” A wave election is an election when one of the major parties wins a substantial amount of races over the other party. This usually happens when the American public is very unhappy with the party that controls Congress and/or the White House. We had wave elections in 2006 when Republicans got steamrolled, and in 2010 when Democrats “took a shellacking,” as President Obama put it. So during this election season, I encourage you to sit back, get introduced to the candidates and their message, and identify what creative uses of technology they are using to win you over.

Jerry Bustamante is the Sr. VP of Public Policy & Southern Arizona, ASBA.

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