Ol’ Dogs of Politics Versus New Technology

Originally posted on CompleteCampaigns.com and written by Art Murray

This article originally appeared in Winning Campaigns Magazine.

In today’s world, technology has soared so that those who are technologically current have a decisive advantage over those who are not.  You may consider this to be sad, but make no mistake about its truth. It’s a new political landscape out there and the tools of the modern campaign are changing with each and every new election cycle. 

The truism for the 21st Century may well be “the candidate having the best campaign plan, the money to implement it, and the most current technology, will win every election.” 

In other words, waging the battle of a campaign from a technologically backward position will, in almost every case, doom you, no matter how well you plan your campaign strategy. Telephone systems, fax phones, cell phones, pagers, computer networks, servers, personal printers, high speed copiers, palm pilots, the Internet, Google, voice mail, and email are all common elements of today’s campaign. 

Add to that, the vast improvement to information systems, Blackberry, robotic calls, blogs, town meetings, VOIP, RSS Feeds, and SMS messaging technology and tell me, which of us can keep up? Notwithstanding, we can be very sure of one thing, and that is, despite having no idea where the technology train will take us, we had better get on board, if winning is your goal. 

If you have any experience with today’s technology, you will be unable to remember what we did before we had VCRs, microwaves, and faxes. These gadgets have been in our daily routine for over thirty years and we take their use for granted every day. Clearly they are yesterday’s news and can not be considered a part of 21st Century technology. 

We have become a society dependent on its electronic gadgetry. The growing use of these advances is no less apparent than in our own industry. If you need further proof of our increasing dependence on electronics, just attempt to avoid communicating with anyone, in any electronic form, for a single day. 

Am I really saying that you can not win an elected office without today’s current technological advances? Actually, I am, but I suppose I could refine the statement to say, if you do not utilize today’s current technology in your arsenal, you had better hire someone who does or have a veritable army of volunteers in order to keep pace with the analysis, voter contact, and message communication. 

Unfortunately, in today’s hustle and bustle world, an army of volunteers is near impossible to assemble, no matter how loved your candidate might be. 

Where does this leave the “old dogs” of politics? Can those who entered the world of political consulting with a pencil, a calculator, a newspaper, a phone, and the people-power of many devoted volunteers, ever compete with the vast technological weaponry that is available to the industry today? In other words, will these old dogs learn new tricks and adapt to this ever changing climate? 

Computers are the center of the technology revolution and they remain the most critical step forward in the transition from the past to the present. Without the development of the computer, most other advances would either not be possible, or not be necessary. 

For example, the strength of the Internet would certainly be lost without a computer in every home. The old dogs of politics are not only learning the time saving value of their PC, despite their frustrations as they hunt and peck at their still wired keyboard. Slowly, they have come to realize that the work of one computer will eliminate the need for literally thousands of volunteer person hours and hundreds of their own. Reluctant or not, we are all caught up in this technology revolution and only our age defines the speed with which we make use of each new opportunity.

While the ol’ dog of politics is burning the midnight oil in the back office, working on what to do with the volunteer attack tomorrow, the technologically astute are at home in bed, while their use of technology is contacting a specific voter target and delivering their morning message via email, SMS messaging, and website blogs.

When the ol’ dog goes negative in the last few days of the campaign, technology is ready to counter punch with its response via electronic messaging and robotic calls. The ol’ dog may argue that personal contact is more effective, but his ability to deliver that personal,  direct mail, radio, or even television message to voters will be both expensive and subject to “days before” scheduling. 

The technological response will be less expensive, will deliver a more targeted message, will have greater coverage to the most interested voters, will be delivered multiple times, and in a real time atmosphere. 

Let’s not misunderstand my thinking. It is not that I believe that the sage wisdom of an experienced ol’ political dog can simply be replaced by the efficiency of new technology, However, new technology in the hands of those knowledgeable about attaining maximum utilization, can simply overwhelm the best laid political plan with its ability to respond quickly, effectively, and with greater penetration. 

The modern campaign is not so much about creating a strategy, as it is about matching the opponent’s strategy more effectively. This is where technology is most effective. The best technology will continue to be incapable of creating a political strategy. On the other hand, with each cycle, technology increases our opportunity to respond to any political punch with a faster and more effective counter punch. 

Unfortunately at some point not to far into the future, technology will cause the ol’ dogs of politics to suffer extinction, not unlike the American Lion and the California Grizzly. The methods of the past will be replaced by the continuing growth of electronic technology that will drive targeting, contact, and the speed of response. 

As I indicated earlier, these ol’ dogs can only delay extinction by jumping on board and making use of today’s current technology themselves or by hiring someone who can. 

In the meantime, we must take advantage of our current environment as it will soon cease to be available. For a while yet, we will still have the opportunity to learn all that we can from these ol’ dogs of politics, so that we will have the greatest opportunity to apply their wisdom to the utilization of not only today’s, but also to tomorrow’s technological arsenal.

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