IT Management Slideshow: Tech's Role in the Presidential Campaigns

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 10-16-2008

Tech's Role in the Presidential Campaigns

The ground game is big news in this election cycle, thanks in large part to a big push by the Barack Obama campaign to register new voters and get them to the polls. The stakes are high: the better ground game can be worth 2-3% on Election Day, says veteran strategist Joe Trippi. Tech plays a major role in the ground game, and the Obama campaign seems to have a clear advantage.

Tech's Role in the Presidential Campaigns

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Obama is using tech to create a large, relatively unstructured army of volunteers to register voters and get out the vote; Republicans are relying on a more conventional approach. The GOP once led in connecting huge voter data to volunteers; Dems narrowed the gap, and also created a powerful Web interface for users in the field. Meanwhile, McCain started relatively late, launching his social networking site, McCainSpace, in August.

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The Obama campaign has connected huge voter-file databases to browser-based web apps that allow volunteers to organize without much staff supervision. The team does not waste time knocking on every door, but goes instead to targeted homes identified by the campaign database. After registration is done, the team will turn their attention to a get-out-the-vote effort. Using the Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool, volunteers know who to call and the right doors on which to knock.

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Mobile technology could be a big factor in 2008. Obama captured almost 3 million text addresses by promising to break the news of its vice-presidential choice through text messages, and it harvests more addresses by asking attendees at its rallies to send messages to the campaign before the candidates speak. The McCain has used mobile devices effectively to turn out crowds for rallies and other events.

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While applications for the iPhone have the potential to help volunteers reach an ever-wider pool of contacts, proven tools like e-mail lists are still powerful. Some of the technology work is invisible to the volunteers. They see a simple interface, through which they get marching orders and enter updates; what they don't see is the array of workstations in a Boston-area data center, or the man-hours of labor required to build the system.

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The RNC is using established social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to activate motivated volunteers. But MyBarackObama.com capitalizes on the path-breaking success of those sites, while doing things they cannot. MyBarackObama redirects the energy of social networkers to specific, campaign-oriented tasks, such as canvassing neighborhoods.

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We have heard that the 'first Internet campaign' was upon us. Whatever that might mean, 2008 looks like the first campaign in which modern technology is deeply integrated into every phase of a presidential campaign organization, not as an add-on or an afterthought, not siloed away from the mainstream, but as a defining element of the operation. Trippi says that popular culture often leads the way, making people comfortable with tools that campaigns later adopt.

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