Originally posted on CompleteCampaigns.com and written by Benjamin A. Katz
Ten years ago, there was a legitimate question of whether the Internet had a role to play in political campaigns. That question has been decided. The Internet is here. Nearly 80% of Americans use email. Over half of US homes have broadband connections and wireless access is common and growing. As for political campaigns, the Internet has been accepted. Asking if a campaign uses email is now nearly as absurd as asking if they use the telephone. The question is not if they’re using the Internet, but what elements are they using, how much do they use it, and what’s working for them? During the 2008 cycle, my company, CompleteCampaigns.com provided online campaign management tools to over 1000 campaigns ranging from Presidential to local school boards. In doing this, we were able to see first hand how they were using the Internet. Campaign use of the Internet broke down into three main areas: internal uses, engaging supporters and persuasion efforts. In this paper, I’ll provide a brief overview of what we have observed in each of these areas and compare that to the recent results from the E-Voter Institute’s 2008 Survey of Voter Expectations.
Within campaign teams, there has been massive adoption of Internet tools and applications for communication. The Internet is now the core of any modern campaign’s infrastructure.
Most significantly, we have seen the acceptance of email as a primary communication tool within the campaign team. Email has become the primary method for transfer of information and reports within the campaign team. Consultants send polling results, mail piece proofs, draft fundraising letters and nearly everything else imaginable via email. Staff and volunteers can be managed in large part remotely using information transfer over e-mail. Last minute updates can be sent out with very little lead time or cost.
News Sites and Blogs
We are also seeing our clients increasingly turn to online news sources, including both blogs and the websites of traditional news outlets as a primary source of information.
While newspapers and TV are still monitored, the online outlets are often the first source of breaking news about a campaign. Aggregation tools, like Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts) and Technorati (http://technorati.com/) allow campaigns to receive instant notification about key news that can impact their race. Web-Based Solutions The internet is no longer just a faster way to exchange information from one party to another. There are now web-based applications to replace desktop software for almost any purpose, and campaign management is no exception. In 2000, few, if any, campaigns were using any web-based tools. Now, the majority of Congressional campaigns are using at least one online application, as are many who are running for state or local office. There are hundreds of tools available for a wide variety of campaign needs.
Email & Fundraising
As with internal communication, for engaging supporters, email has become the most important and most widely used method of communication. It’s cheap, widely used and rapid.
It’s also shown itself to be amazing effective for on-line fundraising. The record breaking online fundraising numbers shown by the Presidential campaigns, and mirrored on the smaller scale, by state and local campaigns have primarily been driven by email. Most critically, this is widely accepted by campaign supporters. Of the very political active respondents of the E-Voter Institute 2008 research, over 75% of those 18+ expected candidates to use the Internet for both fundraising and email.
Although the 2008 cycle is still underway, it appears that the major online success falls in the intersection between engaging supporters and persuading. Rather, as the Obama and McCain campaigns have already realized, nearly every candidate has a large number of unknown supporters. Both of these Presidential committees have embarked on revenue positive online advertising campaigns seeking to identify and engage these invisible supporters. While local candidates lack the name recognition that Presidential candidate hold, the E-Voter/HCD survey suggests that this model should work on the local level as well.
There has been an explosive growth of distributed campaigning tools since 2004. The use of online systems allows campaign supporters to contact voters and otherwise assist the campaign without coming into the campaign office. Both major parties have pushed online systems that have allowed party activist easy access to voter lists for persuasion and GOTV efforts.
Voter persuasion remains the holy grail of online politics: repeatedly rumored and sought but as of yet, unfound and unproven. The E-Voter Institute 2008 survey shows that the less politically active someone is, the less likely they are to want to be contacted by candidates via online methods. For example, while 37% of the very politically active thought that email was a good way for the candidate to contact them, only 15% of the not engaged other than voting thought that was a good way to contact them. Conversely, 64% of the not engaged thought TV or cable ads were a good way to contact versus 61% of the very active.