and spent almost nothing on television ads compared to his opponents. While Trump may not believe in the power of data, he certainly understands the power of social media. His controversial statements on Twitter have generated huge media coverage, and he has referred to his social accounts as being worth “$2bn in free advertising” for his campaign. He boasts over 10m followers on Twitter and around the same on Facebook – although reportedly less than half of those are within the United States. This huge following helped power Trump to his victory in the Republican primaries, enabling him to control the media conversation and portray himself as a renegade outsider who would say what other politicians wouldn’t. But while this tactic worked wonders in the primaries, leaving other Republican candidates unsure how to respond to his idiosyncratic approach to politics, could the same methods work in a general election? Trump’s social media platforms are a megaphone, broadcasting his views to everyone, and these are echoed back and forth by the free traditional media coverage they generate. But electoral politics relies on targeting swing voters in key states and districts. Trump’s tweets are seen by everyone, from die-hard supporters to vocal critics, but they are as likely to be retweeted by those mocking him as those praising his leadership. Social media may be free, but can it compare with the power of a data-driven campaign that targets the voters who could truly swing the election one way or the other? There have been signs that as Trump adapts to being the Republican Party’s nominee and the different nature of the presidential campaign, compared to the primary, he is revising some of his views on digital. According to Politico, he has recently hired digital firm The Prosper Group, who worked with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio during the primaries, to aid online fundraising, and officials from his campaign recently met with an analytics firm, along with RNC representatives, to discuss targeted messaging. While Republican political consultants and campaign workers struggle to bridge the gap between the party’s nascent digital ambitions and Trump’s reliance on his outlandish social media persona,
Can Hillary Clinton successfully build on the lessons learned from Obama’s 2012 campaign and harness social media to overcome her perceived ‘authenticity problem’?
Democrats are facing a different challenge. Following Obama’s success in 2012, the campaign for Hillary Clinton is asking how it can build on and evolve the most sophisticated digital election in history.
Rise of the machine When describing political campaigns, it’s common to trot out a number of mechanical clichés – running like a welloiled machine, politicians who grease the wheels, etc – but if the traditional campaign is a machine, it’s a locomotive, often running on tracks that have been laid by decades of conventional wisdom. The vast and complex nature of a political campaign makes it hard for those involved to pivot quickly based on new information in the same way an agile
startup can. But that is exactly the kind of tactic that the Democratic National Committee has been trying to instil in its workers over the past four years, at every level from the presidential contest down to local races. The DNC hoped to take the lessons learned from Obama’s 2012 campaign and expand on them, integrating digital and data-driven campaigning throughout its political operations. The party ran political ‘war games’, pitting operatives and politicians against each other in the race for fictional congressional seats to demonstrate how data science could help power donations, extend the reach of advertising and even build the party’s volunteer base. These projects are part of the party’s efforts to maintain a digital edge in a world where every advantage counts. To stay ahead of the competition, Democrats have to push even harder to embrace new technology and new methods of campaigning. Hillary Clinton’s campaign team has had a considerable overhaul since her first attempt at the Democratic nomination in 2008, when she was on the receiving end of Obama’s technical proficiency. She has since brought in a younger, more technically proficient team headed by Katie Dowd, who previously served as a senior adviser to the White House’s chief technology officer, and worked on tech projects at the State Department.
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