One fine day, I was managing a campaign for a typical Republican candidate in a slightly left-leaning district when, about 48 hours before Election Day, I was informed that I’d need to take 30 of my volunteers off important jobs like phone banking, door-knocking, and giving voters a ride to the polls, and have them sit in the polling stations next to the Big Book of Registered Voters, using their cell phones to tick off the names of the Republicans who came in to vote for some new technological doo-hickey thingamabobber…apparently the state party had put this all together for all the Republican candidates. I still don’t know what it was, because it probably hasn’t been used since.
Anywho, I tried to cobble together some kids to do this incredibly boring task, but when E-Day came, I had better things to do and, whoops, apparently my race was the ONLY one not popping up numbers on their fancy new thingy they probably spent WAAAY too much money on, and boy did I get an unprofessionally worded phone call from my napoleonic boss!
Oh, but I won that race. By a significant margin. And you know who didn’t win? Every. Other. Republican. In the state. Well, running for a contentious seat in the state legislature. We lost a ton of seats that year.
And what did I get for my insubordinate success?
But I was like –
And I moved to DC and never looked back. Luckily, this experience was on-the-job learning gold. After that, I had a whole new set of rules and tools that helped me avoid future techno mistakes.
So without further ado, here are the 5 rules of political technology:
- Don’t be distracted by shiny new gadgets or digital online thingies that promise to make Election Day run smoothly and give you the biggest win since GW the original was nearly crowned king of the USA.
- Facebook likes and re-tweets are not votes. And they never will be. Even national level candidates still need to learn this fact. I’ve actually seen campaign plans that based their numbers on the idea that maybe they were.
- If it’s not already in the budget, don’t spend money on it.
- Yes, there are a few ‘technologies’ that you should invest in, the first being a website. But not a $3,000 website some scheister tries to sell you on. One your teenage son makes for you for like $10 a month through Hostgator (like this one!) and then uses to double as his final project for computer class. You should have a presence on Facebook and Twitter because it’s fun and it’s free and it’s a great way to communicate, but it is NOT worth spending ‘real’ time or money on.
- Don’t let the state party, local party, a special interest group, or any other entity or person outside your campaign push you into spending time or money on something that’s not in your campaign plan. You may be a Republican, but that does not make you beholden to them!
- Bonus rule! You are running for county commissioner (or an equally local race), dude. You do not need some crazy start up business sending texts on your behalf to every cell phone in your area code! Do not pay for that $h*t!
- anything online, including email and online fundraising
- anything on cell phones, like apps voters can have on their phones, or texting services.
- most things that give you ‘data’ that you can’t somehow dig up yourself, like a voter database.
These are the types to avoid, at least, because at the local level they’re really not worth the money. If you’re in a really hot race and they really are worth the time and money, I guarantee a friendly special interest group will be more than happy to shell out the cash and manpower to make it happen. If they aren’t willing to pay for it themselves, it’s probably not worth paying for.
In conclusion, while technological advances have definitely changed the way campaigns are run and won at the congressional and presidential levels, they simply don’t make much of an impact below that point yet in most of the country. In more urban areas, *free* technology (not specifically political in nature, however) like Facebook has proven to be a method of breaking through the noise to get some attention, but still has no real impact on election results. Stick to the basics, the methods that have worked from our nation’s Day 1, and you’ll carve out a clear path to victory.