July 14, 2014

Political icons

Democrats and Republicans are looking at tech to target voters. Credit: DonkeyHotey / Flickr Creative Commons

Guest:

  • Teddy Goff, Digital Director of Obama's 2012 campaign

The upcoming midterm elections are probably the last thing on your mind right now – and that may still be the case on Election Day in November. But while you might be tuned out until the true horse race of the 2016 presidential election begins, techies are working behind the scenes on how to change your mind with data. 

Social Media

By now, you probably know that a successful social media campaign — like President Obama's — can make or break an election. But it isn't just a race to see who can get more "Likes" explains Teddy Goff, Digital Director of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

"The last thing we want is for people to be sitting around on their couch, following us on Facebook, and having that be the extent of their political involvement," says Goff. What's more important for social media is trying to stoke passion among your followers.

"Our data showed that the person following us on Facebook or Twitter was already a supporter. We weren't trying to get them to vote for us, or even trying to get them to vote. What we were trying to do was just be a part of their lives, in the hopes that what they would do is go out and talk to their friends who were undecided."

Especially in today's environment, voters (and non voters) are increasingly skeptical of politicians and political ads – and trust in the government is at a 50-year low. But those people still trust what they hear from friends and others in their community. Technology can't really help change politics without leveraging human connections.

Big Data, Micro Targeting

The traditional campaign model, still very much in effect, was to throw a bunch of money at radio, TV, and print ads, and hope that you reached the right people. Naturally, a lot of that money went to waste – but we're entering a time when big money will increasingly be spent on using data to slice and dice the electorate in creative ways. 

For example, Goff explains, "pretty much everybody saw more or less the same version of BarackObama.com, and that's not going to be how it goes in 2016. The same applies for social media, the same applies for email. Basically every aspect of the campaign is going to be much more highly targeted, highly personalized."

That means that campaigns will know exactly what your looking for in a candidate, and target their ads to you.

Starting this year, Dish and DirectTV will allow Big Data ads, so essentially, a political campaign can say: I want to run this ad in households with people over 60. But I don't want younger households to see it.  Politicians can also target people by gender and by income. Currently, that's doable in about 20 million households. It will spread to more as cable set top boxes get replaced with more sophisticated hardware.

Which basically means that, if you're interested in the environment, you might see a commercial about a candidate's views on climate change. But your next door neighbor will simultaneously see something supporting military spending — all based on what the campaign knows from data they collect about you.

You could call it the era of the tailored campaign. We’ve already dipped a toe into this future, but the really powerful technology is being developed as we speak. So get ready.

Another Game Changer?

Teddy Goff is quick to point out that while innovation continues, you can't always expect things to be totally upended.

"Those two major developments of mobile technology and social networking, those are historic developments that don't come around in just any old presidential cycle. No one should expect revolutionary change of that scope and scale every four years."

Still, Goff argues, the main thing to keep your eye on in 2016 is the use of data. In many ways, the hype of a new technology in the current election doesn't really reach a critical mass until the next time around.

"In a weird way, each presidential campaign fulfills the promise or reputation of the last. People thought that 2004 with Howard Dean was this groundbreaking election in terms of small dollar fundraising. But it really wasn't until 2008 that that change happened in a massive way with the Obama campaign. Then, 2008 people thought was a social media election – but social media was still pretty young. 2012, I think people think was the sort of micro targeting election, and I think funnily enough it was actually the social media election. That would suggest that 2016 is when we'll really get the micro targeting election that we think we had a couple years ago. When I think what's going to be possible in 2016, it's going make what we did look pretty unsophisticated indeed."

politics, Teddy Goff, Culture, elections, social media

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