Over the next few months there will be a lot of prognostication and fervor about the 2016 presidential elections, some of which will be focused on determining the digital flavor of the cycle. Big Data, native, addressable TV, sponsored, email, programmatic, Google, Facebook, Snapchat – these are all words you can expect to hear featured as supposed critical tools that will help win the election.
But they won’t.
Well – that’s not necessarily true either. It cannot be denied that candidates today have the best tools to reach voters almost anywhere. And the past four election cycles have taught Republicans most of all that digital is at least somewhat important to reaching voters.
But next year isn’t going to be about a killer tool.
It’s going to be about math.
You see, the Republican nominee will likely face an electoral uphill climb with most states solidly either red or blue and Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, expecting to receive 247 (or more) electoral college votes while the Republican nominee will only have about 206. This means that the Republican nominee will likely need to win 64 votes (essentially Ohio, Virginia, Florida and either Iowa, Colorado, or Nevada). All Hillary Clinton needs to do is win Florida.
The name of the game in 2016 will be about GOTV and turnout. This cycle more than ever it will be important to register new voters (particularly, if possible, the ones that will vote for your candidate), reach out to the base, and turn out low-propensity voters through a mix of voter contact methods particularly in these target states.
And that’s where digital can help make the difference.
In 2012, Republicans saw the Obama campaign diversify their media efforts to match up against their voter targets – placing media where their voters were and reaping cost efficiencies across many channels. It sounds pretty simple but in reality it’s a massive effort to constantly optimize a multi-million campaign across multiple media markets with one real day of sale.
So digital is where they tested. And tested. And tested again.
But this cycle, we can expect digital to be more than a testing ground. It is going to be the second battleground for your vote. Television still has significant value (particularly for the GOP’s older and more rural demographics) but digital will offer significant cost efficacies and the ability to hone in on voter segments, test messaging, and follow up with near-personalized appeals for donations and votes based on assigning and categorizing users against their values and beliefs.
The Republican nominee is going to have to use nearly every single potential tool to reach voters. Snapchat? While nascent, it is becoming a heavily used platform by Millennials to watch and share content. And as such, the Republican nominee must develop a strategy to at least test the efficacy of the Snapchat platform. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But not trying the platform means you’ll never know. Twitter continues to be an incredibly important channel for narrative setting through media relations and offers some options for email recruitment.
This goes for nearly every single tool as they all require testing and optimization. There are proven channels such as email, search, display, video, and Facebook for voter contact. A winning campaign will use these channels to plan, execute, and optimize their campaign to fundraise and increase voter turnout. One new tool won’t win you the election, but using new platforms in concert with proven tools and aligning your campaign communications and media plan will help reach and turnout voters.
We’re just weeks away from the caucuses and primaries and we’ve already begun to see the different strategies and tactics being used by different campaigns to try to move the needle. We’ve seen Snapchat filters, search ads, Facebook video, live streams and soon we’ll begin to see the field winnow. Then digital will become even more important as the campaigns must balance burn rates and a very competitive and hectic calendar. But ultimately this will all come down to GOTV and winning 270 electoral votes.