by Jessica Duda, American Unversity
The 15th Annual Politics Online Conference brought together political campaigners, bloggers, activists, software developers, consultants, and online researchers to talk about using internet and mobile technologies in political campaigns.
Top Democratic and Republican strategists and software consultants presented on the challenges, opportunities and services available for campaigns to implement “constituent relationship management” (CRM). With more online sources to collect voter information, this data rich environment and the new technologies have brought consumer marketing strategies into new heights for political canvassing and campaign management.
The four plenaries covered online campaign management software, voter and donor data management, web organizing, and the future of political reporting.
ALL-INCLUSIVE, ONLINE CAMPAIGN MANAGEMENT
The plenary, “On Demand Politics: Lessons from the Business Web” essentially provided a testimonial of Salesforce.com, a web-based software program to manage internal and external operations described as software as service (Saas).
- Daniel F. Burton, Jr., Salesforce.com
- Laura Quinn, Catalist
-Jeff Burkett, Washingtonpost.com - Newsweek Interactive
-Jim Yu, United Way of America
Moderator: Andrew Michael Baron, Rocketboom
Daniel Burton said Saas was the “secret weapon” of the 2008 campaign. Campaigns can manage their files, database, schedules and any other information, all hosted online. Campaigns can input donor activity and query them across many variables: donations to other campaigns, contribution history, event attendance, interaction with the campaign, age, policy interests, or stock portfolio (kidding.)
Off-the-shelf, one-top-shop was certainly the theme of the plenary with Jim Wu and Jeff Burkett concurred that Salesforce.com conserved their internal IT resources and avoided the delays and errors associated with legacy IT issues.
Technology is only as effective as the people using it
Wu warned that it is easy to over-estimate to implement the new technologies and organizations/campaigns need to have “the people, strategies and mapped processes,” otherwise the technology will have “you spin your wheels.” Although Burton mentioned Salesforce is “secure,” he did not provide any specifics about preventive, continuity, or investigative capabilities, particularly in context of current cybersecurity threats.
Data Sharing among political campaigns/organizations
Laura Quinn explained how Catalist’s software helps progressive organizations store, manage, and share voter information. In days past at the end of campaigns, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) reports and documents on were left in someone’s trunk, basement and eventually out to the trash. Now campaigns can store and create time series datasets to predict voter behavior. They can also deploy PDAs with voter information to canvassers for them ‘speak’ to the individual voter’s issues of concern and document their responses.
MANAGING VOTER AND DONOR DATA
In “Got Data?” Republican and Democratic database consultants discussed challenges and best practices in using the abundance of voter information to win “just 51 percent” of the vote. (Apparently a true majority isn’t necessary.)
-John Simms, CMDI
-Mark Sullivan, Voter Activation Network
-Stu Trevelyan, National Geographical & Political Software
-Riley, Republican National Convention
Moderator - Jacki Schechner, Internet Reporter, CNN
John Simms provides national marketing databases for Republican and conservative candidates and organizations, such as the RNC and Citizens for Sound Economy. He explained that the aggregate contributions (and respective donor data) was a total of $300 million at the RNC Convention and $250 million in the general election for 2004. To reach these targets, campaigns obtained 4.5 million contributions from over 2 million donors. Despite aggressive web-based outreach, 51 percent of total Republican fundraising is from direct response of which, 91 percent is from direct mail.
Demographic changes and antiquated campaign management strategies are the key challenges to managing data. People are living further apart and moving frequently (15 percent annually) which challenges collecting and scaling accurate data. Although large consumer data mining companies (Axiom) are tracking changing addresses and family characteristics/behavior, in politics such data mining is largely limited to registered voters. Campaigns are funded, managed, and controlled in top down, command and control style, and they require database systems on voters, donors and campaign interaction. This imposes a higher learning curve on the staff to analyze the data, fundraise and GOTV.
They find that even online users still send in contributions in response to direct mail. Campaigns need to use a variety of voter engagement (direct mail, events, websites, surveys, contact information) and tracking to understand the data on multiple levels.
Tim Riley was a bit tight-lipped and briefly noted that consistent data points and correlation does not necessarily yield a clear and productive way to leverage the findings. For example, in the early 80-90’s, the data points, showed insight on voting behavior between Pontiac car owners and non-Pontiac owners – useless data for fundraising. Even today the models are not always right, whereby golfers and stamp collectors are known to be Republicans but direct solicitations are largely futile.
The Democrats see a clear incentive to move offline donors to online in order to reduce costs and increase donation frequency, likelihood, and amounts. Credit card payment encourages quicker response and higher donations. Even providing so-called member benefits for online donations, such as an online button and other ways to participate online, seem to provide a sense of community for donors.
Mark Sullivan explained that no campaign has one “database nirvana” and new technologies seem to create more problems with integration, apparently that no one solve. Doing the following can help:
- Streamline databases: combine large voter files with other pots of critical data (political, contacts,
volunteers, core activists, party officials, membership);
- Use less and flexible software: find one-stop solutions to reduce training time and specialized staff; and
- Make vendors talk to each other: have them integrate their systems for you.
Stu Trevelyan noted the proliferation of voter data and more campaigns are operationalizing CRM with the new technologies to conduct more modeling and micro-targeting. The internet (among other technologies) is driving the need/opportunity for campaigns to link supporter, donor, and candidate files with these practices:
- asking supporters for more information about themselves,
- hiring a data manager to advise staff on CRM uses,
- integrating data early to avoid the typical information silos, and
- being cautious of false positives. Sending the “wrong spin” can alienate constituents when messages go to
voters whose data seeped into the wrong dataset.
ONLINE CAMPAIGNING and PUBLIC RELATIONS
“How to Build a Web Team” covered recruiting and integrating the web outreach staff to reaping new online opportunities to speak directly to voters. This panel followed a conversational, informal format which yielded a fair amount of consensus on the needs and opportunities - aside from debating whether which party had the most bloggers.
- Jerome Armstrong, Forward Together PAC, founder MyDD.com
- Joe Trippi, Trippi & Associates, JoeTrippi.com, Howard Dean campaign
- Chuck DeFeo,Townhall.com and Salem News/Talk Online
- Patrick Ruffini, Mayor Rudy Giuliani's Presidential Exploratory Committee
Moderator - Chuck Todd,The Hotline
-Recruitment: Online organizers should have offline organizing experience, eg local campaigns, fundraising,
communications outreach, to best fulfill the campaign goals.
-Integration: online campaigners should be involved all aspects of campaign. Online organizers need to talk to
communications, finance, fundraising, and other key campaign departments. On some level, there is a tendency
to think of web outreach as the “other” and those who can unleash the “magic bottle.”
-Senior-level Buy-in: Campaign managers and the candidate need to support and buy-into web campaigning.
Now, most campaigns have internet teams, but campaign managers restrict their freedom to utilize their skills
and creativity. The campaign needs to elevate the web crew with the other departments; they are not just
More Venues for Campaign-produced Media
Campaigns need to be ready to respond to anti-candidate YouTube and other video viral campaigns quickly. They need to flood these portals with their own, pro-candidate, anti-opponent messages in the event of another “Macaca moment.” Presidential candidate, Gov. Mit Romey (R-MA) confronted anti-videos by posting an interview with a blogger onto YouTube.
Candidates are using online video portals to send out a variety of their own media. Like all video footage, much political ad material was left on the cutting room floor. Candidates now can post videos and essentially have ‘built-in’ focus groups. Trippi noted that an unnamed campaign has started to hire their own “journalists” to disseminate their own message which the other panels condoned as serving as a new form of press releases and avoiding journalists’ pesky questions. Trippi claimed such content could be considered “news” and posted on Google News.
R&D in Online Campaiging
There was divergence on when to conduct online research and development. Chuck DeFeo felt R&D was inimical to the fast-paced, stressful campaign cycle. Republicans do it before general elections and focus on with online venues that already attract an audience, as opposed to starting or going to new online venues.
Conversely, Jerome Armstrong had Mark Warner, who has a technology background, go from blogging to the virtual world Second Life. “The political types did not like” - yet this is where an early-adopter can benefit from getting their first. Warner continued to check in himself and saw that other Linden people were still there even after the election.
Predictions for Technology in Politics
Moderator Chuck Todd asked the panelists for their predictions of online politics.
Jerome Armstrong - The new technology will carry the candidate who can be the online video version of Walter Cronkite. [Let’s hope it will be a woman this time.]
Joe Trippi - One candidate will hit the jack pot with small donations, whereby “5,000 women will give more than the 100 the big donors.”
Chuck DeFeo – We keep waiting for that 1960 TV moment for when the internet has arrived…it will be a series of moments, especially as broadband penetration brings more people into the process.
Pat Ruffini – We need to learn how to address unmet needs. Mobile can be the next frontier; how do we bring it into people’s daily lives?
FUTURE OF POLITICAL REPORTING
Most panels about the media and politics today tend to be bi-polar. On one side, the media doesn’t do its job; cuts in reporting staff hinders coverage; reporters only follow the “horse race” and more. On the other side, candidates only provide rhetorical, packaged spin and control all access. The internet is supposed to solve all of our problems with muckraking candid camera and two-way, candidate-voter interactivity . . . In “You Don’t Need Ink to Be Heard,” the panelists bemoaned these issues and more.
- Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism, NYU, PressThink
- Jim Brady, Washingtonpost.com
- David Poltz, Slate
Moderator - Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine
Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism, NYU, implored that citizen journalists and independent bloggers have the potential to force candidates to ‘de-control’ their message. (Had he attended the rest of the conference, he would – or should – have been less naïve, given campaign data mining and micro-targeting for canvassers and web staff to frame messages to voters.)
Jim Brady, Vice President and Executive Editor, Washingtonpost.com, spoke to his frustration of the horserace vs. issue story conundrum. When the Post covers ‘state of the country’ and the candidates’ issues, those who complain either don’t notice them or others ask for them to cover the horse race, as David Poltz concurred.
Candidates Being ‘Candid’ & Online Video
The “Macaca moment” represented a theme of ‘catching’ a candidate, yet risking them to be even more guarded on the campaign trail. In this regard, the panel missed the point that former Sen. Allen (R-VA) knew who and why he was being filmed, yet he deliberately isolated then-candidate Webb’s tracker from the stump to call him a racist name. This was not a candid moment otherwise thought private or “among friends.” As one participant noted, political reporters play a key role in providing the context for these incidents, which happened with reports of Allen’s past discriminatory statements.
Moderator Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine, note that there is a symbiotic relationship between web and media as in the Allen "Macaca moment." Independent coverage starts on web, spreads online, and then attracts mainstream media, hence, national attention. Although some candidates are seeking out a positive approach to engage with voters online, as with Clinton’s ‘let’s have a conversation’ of online town halls and McCain’s public video portal, these efforts are inevitably scripted or curated when delivered through candidate websites.
The consensus of the panel was that the internet is opening up the political debate, and though the media and candidates are trying to retrofit the technology to fit their comfortable, long-standing roles, “political campaigns are about coalitions and the internet can coalesce” these efforts, Brady concluded.