After President Obama was elected in 2008, I had the highest hopes for OFA and Democrats.org. They talked a big game about using these organizing tools to help enact the Democratic agenda. And they were right - If Democrats could harness the technology that helped the President’s revolutionary campaign and modify it to work at the state and local levels, we’d have a set of tools to help us win future elections and build a sustainable political movement dedicated to helping the middle class.
Imagine the innovative tools from Obama 2008 being brought to campaigns of every level. Revolutionizing phone-banking, outreach, engagement, etc. Of course, they didn’t do that, and instead the technology and organizing tools stayed dormant while we got trounced in the 2010 midterms. Here are a few things that could have made a difference:
Centralized supporter database. Democrats.org could have become the hub of activity for millions of party supporters across the country and connected them with local candidates. It should have been as easy as a user saying “Yes, I support Dem Candidate X” to opt-in and receive local information. And for volunteers, as easy as “Send Dem Candidate X my information and what I’m good at,” which would send the campaign a list of activities that the volunteer likes best and is most effective at, based on the info on MyBarackObama. Over time, we’d have very robust profiles of our best volunteers and supporters.
Standardized local canvassing tools. We re-invent the wheel every year on this front. Are you using paper lists, spreadsheets, etc? Whose maps are you using? Which walk-lists are most effective? This is data we KNOW, and the parts we don’t know can be created and standardized for future efforts. Why shouldn’t a local mayoral or statehouse candidate have access to the same data as a congressional candidate? Why shouldn’t a congressional candidate have access to the same data as a Senate candidate? When we fracture, we fail.
Social media and information distribution tools. The Obama campaign was incredibly smart about using text messaging to reach out and excite supporters at key times during the campaign, drawing them back to the website and increasing participation. That’s a really tough thing for a local campaign to do for various reasons. It could have been huge in educating people about their local congressional candidates in 2010.
Fundraising. If you’ve read some of my other work, you know I think that technology will cause a tipping point that makes organizing more important than fundraising, but I’d be a fool to say it’s not important. It’s still vitally important, and standardizing it can help campaigns raise more money.
Enhanced engagement mechanics and reward strategy. MyBO was revolutionary in large part because it significantly lowered the barriers to participation. You didn’t have to know your local precinct captain or party chairman – you just had to sign on and see what you could do to help. It encouraged you to get to know them, but it also gave you feedback and challenged you to do more to help the campaign. Every campaign I can think of could benefit from that, and could have helped us be better organized in 2010.
Election Day GOTV. Who is most likely to vote? How can we convince them to do so? Can we give them a ride (for seniors and the disabled)? Can we get people to tell us when they vote so we don’t focus effort on them? Again, all things campaigns unequivocally want to know and act on, but rebuild from the ground up every year.
Shared services and tools reduce operational burdens and allow campaigns to focus on what they are best at. Data has become cheap to collect, analyze, and reuse. Some creativity could have revolutionized the Democratic Party in 2010, and possibly changed some election outcomes.
But instead what we got was a voter drive and a generic site about how voting is important. It was a huge disappointment to me and many other digital campaign/new media professionals. Will 2012 be any different? How can we look beyond that and see the potential of a sustained effort to excited our supporters and keep them involved?
The implications couldn’t be more vital to our party and our beliefs. Technology and online organizing aren’t exclusive to Democrats, and if we lose our lead, we’ll start losing elections as well.