Conservatives, we can talk all we want about fixing the message and following principles, but even if we fix both—we can’t win elections if we keep using campaign tactics like it's 1999. For a real conservative comeback, we don’t need to become Democrats. We need to become conservatives with brains.
Right now, conservatives’ technological lifeblood could use a dose of digital steroids. But, some of us on the Right are on, dare I say, the right path.
Voter Gravity, the database technology tool developed with the great Political Gravity guys and American Majority Action, got some love from techPresident, but since the article is behind a paywall, I thought I'd highlight a few blurbs about Voter Gravity and the future of campaign technology.
"Gravity was a novelty on the right: It was a mobile interface into voter data designed for grassroots advocates. . . .A smattering of other right-wing groups, including FreedomWorks, enjoyed the benefits of this new tool. While its deployment was limited and it had its own share of bugs, the software is a sign that there's still technological life among conservatives."
But as I mention in the article, the use of tools like Voter Gravity were not widespread enough to have a significant national impact—that’s one huge reason Romney lost. When it was used, and used right (as in going to targeted doors on a smart phone device to have live conversations with voters), it had the desired outcomes:
"Not all of the campaigns that used Political Gravity were involved in small-bore local contests. Local Tea Party activists used Political Gravity to touch about 28,000 doors in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which went for Barack Obama by over 9 percentage points in 2008 but was carried by Mitt Romney very narrowly this November. Advocates point to similar bumps in some Wisconsin and Ohio counties where, even if Democrats held on statewide (as they did in Pennsylvania), Republicans were much more competitive than four years ago."
All that being said, Voter Gravity 1.o was a good start, but unless we acknowledge on the Right that there is an "arms race" in political data and technology, we will continue to fall behind and lose to liberals like Barack Obama.
An experience last week only furthered my thinking on this front. I had the opportunity to attend Google's Political Innovation Summit. It was an enlightening day. Obama's digital and field team and Romney's digital team were present, with the rest of us an eclectic mix (mostly Left-leaning mix) of party entities, academics, and outside groups like American Majority.
It was really an off-the-record meeting, but there was permission given to discuss/Tweet thoughts and ideas without direct quotes or citing of the panelists unless there was specific permission given. There's much more to say than what I'm going to write about.
My bigger conclusions are that the Obama team was light years ahead, not only in skill, but in time (some had been doing the work for 6 years) and staffing with 150 staff on their digital team. The real success was that they were, mostly, able to integrate data analytics and technology with targeted messaging (online and offline) and voter contact. In short, they developed great tools, great data, and were then able to have organizers on the ground train (and train . . . and train) the grassroots volunteers on how to use all the tools available to make meaningful work happen (as in going and knocking on targeted doors to have conversations with voters). Conservatives and Republicans are nowhere near their level of sophistication and integration.
But, what struck me at the summit was even though the focus was political innovation, two themes kept popping up: there must be local organizers on the ground, and those local organizers must train the grassroots on technology while organizing the grassroots into meaningful, targeted work; essentially community organizing and political education, and a lot of both.
Community organizing and political education sound boring, but people, are we going to do what it takes to win or not? How long will we keep our collective heads in the sand?
Unless those on the Right emphasize a broad-scale usage of data analytics and database technology, with local organizers on the ground--years before an election--with significant amounts of training to make database technology second-nature to the grassroots, I would say our odds of winning, while not impossible, are significantly diminished.
Let’s play smart, learn from our losses, and get back to winning.