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New Tools for Politics

by: Elaine in Roanoke

Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 10:48:45 AM EST

We all know by now just how feckless and ineffectual the campaign of Martha Coakley was in trying to hold the U.S. Senate seat of Ted Kennedy for the Democrats in Massachusetts, but the way Scott Brown won that election hinges on much more than that.

Brown's campaign bought Google ads for keywords related to the race,  including their opponent's name, so when anyone Googled "Martha Coakley," a Brown ad popped up at the top of the results page. Bob McDonnell did the very same thing in Virginia's gubernatorial race.

Brown spent nearly 10 percent of his total campaign ad budget online. For example, his Google ads were hit by Massachusetts citizens over 65 million times. (Note that the population of Massachusetts is about 6.5 million.) Unfortunately for Democrats, the complacent Massachusetts state Democratic party didn't play the Internet game.

While I know that the McDonnnell campaign in Virginia used Google ads and other Internet techniques, that race didn't come close to the Brown one in being tech-savvy. It hardly mattered since the Deeds campaign was hopelessly lost in how to use the old tools of electioneering, never mind the newest ones.

I have some thoughts on the lessons the Brown campaign has for Virginia Democrats.

Elaine in Roanoke :: New Tools for Politics
Salon noted that Brown's media director, Rob Willington, said recently, "The running joke in the campaign is that when you go to [President Obama's] Web site, it says, 'Powered by Hope'...You could say, 'Powered by Google,' for the Brown campaign."

According to Salon, Brown didn't just purchase Google ads. Campaign workers also used Google spreadsheets and forms to collect information from volunteers and supporters, essentially using the search engine's products to create their own version of what President Obama's campaign team built for themselves during the 2008 election cycle.

Volunteers for the Brown campaign used software on iPhones and BlackBerries that pulled names from their voter target list and used a GPS location to create lists of which doors to knock on. Their phones had the text of a script for interactions with voters and a form to fill out responses, eliminating the need for paper get-out-the-vote walk sheets.

(Note also how efficient such a system is in organizing information from the campaign into one data bank.)

On Election Day, the Brown campaign used Google Voice to run hotlines where supporters could call in to report any allegations of fraud or voter intimidation.

The campaign even changed their ads in the last days before Election Day, so voters who were likely to support Coakley didn't see any additional reminders of the special election. In other words, potential voters who lived in heavily Democratic areas did not see ads from the Brown campaign reminding them of the special election date. Republican-leaning areas did get that message.

What is the lesson for us in Virginia? For starters, we need people in Richmond at the DPV who are absolutely comfortable with the latest Internet technology. Critical to being sure that is true would be to expect the state party's communications director and political director to be knowledgeable about the latest technological tools.

Also, those "consultants" who earn big bucks deciding where campaign advertising and other budgeted funds will be spent must understand how to use these tools. If they don't, they shouldn't be hired by Democratic campaigns.

Local committees also need somebody on board who understands how to use the Internet effectively. There should be a communications chair who is fluent in these new technology tools, if at all possible. That might be a great job for Young Democrats to undertake.

So, the Democratic Party of Virginia doesn't just need to have a clear statement of what it stands for. It may well need an extensive turnover in personnel. Indeed, whoever is in charge of hiring at the DPV better know how to find the expertise needed for the future. If not, resign and let someone who can do it fill the job.

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New media, new technology
which is not all that new---- Thank you! Thank you! for your post. DPVA still seems mired in the past, and I certainly hope that now that Kaine has been promoted to DNC that he does not trail these antediluvian Virginian attitudes with him. Given that Obama made such good use of the new media, and that Al Francken in Minnesota did, too (see my article in on the "Long Tail of Nanotargeting"), it boggles the mind that the entire Democratic organization at every level has not moved full speed into such campaigning.  Instead, it is the Republicans who apparently watched Obama and learned the lessons, not the barnacle-encrusted Democrats.

In drawing up a 2010 Business Plan for City (not County) of Fairfax Democratic Committee, I added two new offices: Training and Messaging/Communications, complete with job descriptions, pushing for exactly the new approaches you describe. To my dismay, this year's proposed budget had a line item for acquiring robocall software, a modernized type, true, but still very much in the old style of campaigning. I personally think the heyday of extensive phone banking is past, and the future of the most effective campaigning lies in exactly the new media Google approach described in your diary here.

The grassroots is far ahead of the party leadership here, and my question is: how do we goose that leadership into the revolution in campaigning?  

I Agree
I certainly agree that phone banking is ineffective, except perhaps to remind those who have been identified as supporters to go to the polls and vote.

With caller ID, cell phones replacing land lines, etc., the old-fashioned phone banking is, well, old-fashioned. Far more effective is targeted advertising, door-to-door, town halls where the candidate interacts with people, etc.

The new technology of using tools like Google, Facebook, etc., is going to become the way to connect with people in the next decade.

We Democrats can get on board the technology train...or we can be left behind.

[ Parent ]
Change the leadership???

[ Parent ]
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